Takara Small: The journalist bringing tech to underserved communities
#movethedial had the opportunity to catch up with Takara and talk to her about founding VentureKids Canada and her career, including her recent interview with CEO and Co-founder of Square and Twitter.
1. Did you always know you wanted to work in the technology industry? What was it about it that attracted you?
I've always known that I wanted to make a difference in my community and the technology sector, especially here in Canada, enables me to do that and so much more.
It's been proven that when underserved communities have access to affordable technology (whether its internet access or computers they can borrow) it's not just good for the economy, but also boosts social equality as well.
2. You recently interviewed CEO and Co-founder of Square and Twitter Jack Dorsey. Tell us all, how was it?
Interviewing any entrepreneur who is passionate about their work is always a rewarding and eye-opening experience for me, but with Jack Dorsey it was really interesting because I had a chance to ask him questions that extended beyond his professional accomplishments. His routine (which includes two hours of meditating, at least seven hours of sleep a night and healthy eating habits) were something that truly surprised me.
In the tech sector people often idolize and worship founders who never sleep and prioritize putting the work ahead of their personal health, which over time ends up hurting their business.
While not everyone can afford to work less or eat healthy in the early days of their company I'm grateful that our interview highlighted how true, sustainable success happens when entrepreneurs adopt a healthy work-life balance.
3. VentureKidsCanada is an amazing organization that you founded to teach kids from underserved communities to code. Tell us about where the idea came from and how it’s going today!
VentureKids is a nonprofit that helps youth from underserved communities learn front-end development and entrepreneurship skills. I've volunteered as a tech mentor or teacher for years, but truly was inspired to launch the nonprofit startup because I personally knew so many people from underserved, low-income communities who wanted to participate in Canada's booming tech economy, but didn't have the skills or opportunity to do so.
I'm so proud that our free programs are creating a diverse talent pipeline in the country and that we're working working with some of Canada's largest organizations to ensure everyone--no matter their background or where they're from--has the ability to learn fundamental digital skills.
We work in communities that need our help the most and this year includes partnering with Toronto Community Housing (Canada's largest community housing organization in Canada and second-largest in North America after New York City) and the Toronto Public Library (Canada's biggest public library system).
4. Technology is transforming everything – from the way we use transportation to the way we look for employment. What are you most concerned about for the future of technology?
Ensuring youth living in low-income or underserved areas are taught critical digital skills is definitely important, which is why VentureKids is so important and why we choose not to charge for our programs as well as provide free laptops to our students who can't afford them and meals so everyone can learn on a full stomach.
We could charge for our services (and have been told to many times by other entrepreneurs in the city), but it's more important to me that we give the next generation the tools they need to succeed.
5. We always love to ask who “moved the dial” for you? It could be a family member, friend or co-worker who changed your career trajectory in a meaningful way.
This is a tough question, because I've had so many amazing people and mentors in my life who have helped 'move the dial' for me in a myriad of ways. For instance the #movethedial family and Jodi have helped VentureKids, but there are so many other people that have helped!
6. Any final pieces of advice that you’d like to share?
One of the best things I've been able to do is find mentors (yep, more than one) to help navigate this industry. I'm black and a woman in an industry that is still grappling with diversity, so I've found that finding mentors in the industry who I can go to for advice and share my experiences with has been incredibly beneficial.
Another unexpected benefit of having a mentor (or even community of supportive people) is that you realize you're not alone. The challenges I've overcome are often not that different from those that other women like me have experienced in this sector.
By: Róisín Nestor