Michael Sayman is a key figure in Silicon Valley, having worked at Instagram, Google and, now, Twitter.
However, he stands out in many ways. The twentysomething Saymanan openly gay Latinowas only in his teens when he hit it big. At 13, he started coding apps for the AppStore (relying on Google and YouTube videos to learn how to code), and quickly was making enough money to support his family.
In App Kid, Sayman talks about achieving that initial success; meeting the stars of the tech world, including Facebook CEO/co-founder Mark Zuckerberg; and going on his own coming-out journey.
Windy City Times: What compelled you to write App Kid?
Michael Sayman: That's a good question because, to be honest, I never thought would be in a book. I mean, there was certainly some drama but I didn't think it was enough for a book. Then some friends at work said, "You have to write a book about this." Then the more I thought about it, the more I realized this book could be an opportunity to inspire others to realize that success doesn't have to go the way they think it [should]. We all don't have to be perfect.
In other ways, I realized that the point of being aliveat least, for meis to find the opportunity to help other people from my mistakes and my successes. What better way to do that than to share that with a broader audience?
WCT: Was there one part of the book that was harder to write than the others?
MS: Oh, yeah. I think the part about my ex and discovering I'm gay was definitely the hardest. [Laughs] I was so scared, you know? Growing up in a Hispanic family, [sexuality] wasn't discussed often. So it was a little weird writing about that.
WCT: Are things cool with your family now?
MS: Yeah, yeahthankfully, they are. Now and then, there's somethingbut, to be honest, that's to be expected. I like the progress of the change. I'm one of the lucky ones.
WCT: You're also one of the lucky ones in terms of discovering your passion early in life.
MS: Oh, yeah. I look at people who go back and forth in college, trying to decide what they want to do. I realized that, yes, I got very luckyand it just happened with something I was playing with. It definitely took some effort to get there, but without the passion, I wouldn't have put in that effort.
WCT: One of the most intriguing parts of the book involves you meeting Mark Zuckerberg.
MS: [Laughs] Yeah, that was crazy; I can't believe that happened. I don't think I could've imagined myself in that world, especially because my world was so different. Growing up in the suburbs of Miami, I didn't think I'd meet a billionaire. [Laughs]
WCT: And then the way you described him: having a cold handshake…
MS: You know, he's definitely much more nerdy and much less expressively emotional than the movie The Social Network painted him to be. But I would say it was an interesting beginning, for sure.
WCT: Have you heard from him about the book?
MS: Actually, that's the most fascinating part of this. [Laughs] I'm not sure how to approach him with this. We're friends on Facebook and I'm sure, at some point, I'll reach out. I've been a little shy about this.
WCT: So you see yourself as a role model for the LGBTQ+ community and/or younger people?
MS: Mmmm… I don't know about the [term] "role model." I would say I'm an examplean example of someone who "got there." There are many examples of people to learn from, whether they did right or wrong. To me, a role model is someone you want the follow in the footsteps ofand I'm not sure that's the case with me.
WCT: You reveal that you didn't officially graduate from high school, but they allowed you to walk during the ceremony.
MS: I kinda convinced them to let me do that when I said there'd be a documentary [crew] here to film me. So the school wanted in on that, but they still didn't give me a diploma, which was really frustrating for my mom. But that's life. It was strange at one point: My mom said that, at one point, whenever the phone rang she didn't know if it was a debt collector or a TV interviewer. [Both laugh.]
WCT: I loved how you describe your mother in the book.
MS: [Laughs] She's so funny! I told her they were thinking of doing a series based on the book and she [replied], "Do you think they'd want to? I don't think it's that interesting." I told her, "You're the most interesting person in the world."
WCT: And who would you want to play you?
MS: I have no idea. If the book takes place from when I was a teenager, I really don't know that many young, nerdy, Latino actors.
WCT: And your mom?
MS: The question really is who would SHE want to play her. [Laughs] My mom's answer would probably say "Sofia Vergara."
WCT: I was researching you and I saw a very honest and emotional TED talk you gave a couple years ago. You said the concept of success was very elusive to you. Do you feel you have a better handle on that now?
MS: This is going to sound like a cop-out answer but I've started to discard certain words that I feel have been overplayed. It's like listening to a song so much you don't really hear the song anymore. People talk about the word "success" so much that I feel, like, "Who cares?" And, at the end of the day, I don't even have time to even think about it. I was so laser-focused on my little work that defining success was a weird challenge for me.
It's interesting to me. A lot of people would consider me successful, I guess. I think I'm successful in some ways and very unsuccessful in others. And, frankly, I think it's better to think that our paths are unique mixes of all kinds of things, like worries and fears.
WCT: What I liked about the talk is that there was no facade. Sometimes you can detect one when people speak.
MS: Yeah; I was tired of just doing the same talk: "I'm a happy, successful man and you can do it, too." Then I asked myself, "Why am I doing that? What's the point?"
WCT: You've worked at these large tech companies. There has been a lot of talk about privacy, the dissemination of certain forms of speech, etc. What degree of security do you think should be offered by those companies?
MS: To be honest, this is one of the scariest times because of how unchartered the territory is that we're building on. Social-media platforms have grown so quickly that we haven't evolved enough to learn lessons from them.
An analogy I used is when Stone Age parents taught their kids how to hunt for food, they learned that skill from their grandparents. Tools progress. That even extends to something like writing letters. People don't even do that anymore, and the tools the child uses to communicate with now may be something the parents haven't heard of. So we don't have the human experience, and trial-and-error and understanding, to know what the effects of these are. We're accelerating our growth and progress very quickly, but is that always a good thing?