As Apple's annual Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC) approaches, we asked Kode With Klossy founder Karlie Kloss and 16-year-old ThinkSTEAM founder Jothi Ramaswamy to sit down with each other (via video chat!) to talk entrepreneurship, coding, and women in STEM. Jothi shared her account with Teen Vogue, along with their discussion.
When I first started coding, it was the summer before 6th grade, and mainly I did it because I didn't want to get my lazy self out of bed early to go to camp and needed something better to do. Never did I imagine that coding would bring me on a thrilling roller coaster that led me to interviewing Karlie Kloss — a model, coding aficionado, founder of Kode with Klossy, and one of my greatest (and tallest) role models. One of my biggest aspirations is to combine STEM with the creative elements of the arts, hence STEAM, and Karlie is a huge inspiration. As someone who is deeply committed to creating an impact in the world, Karlie completely embodies exactly what I want to be in the future with poise and humility. While I was talking to her, I found out that we actually have quite a bit in common. We both enjoy the wonders of code, yet still also love exploring the world outside of computers. I found out that she loves to run, which is a hobby that I have had for years. Catch us running in a marathon together soon :)
I got to learn more about her aspirations with Kode with Klossy and share some of my goals in pursuing my STEAM 501(c)(3) non-profit, ThinkSTEAM. As an app developer who is about to attend Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference next week for the second year on a full scholarship, she gave me great advice and told me to make the most of the knowledge I will gain, meet other developers who equally share my passions in STEM, and most importantly, enjoy every moment that I have throughout the week. I am so inspired by everything about Karlie Kloss and absolutely cannot wait to see what success unfolds in Kode with Klossy’s future. Check out our talk below to see what went down in my awe-inspiring conversation with — I still cannot believe it — Karlie Kloss!
Jothi Ramaswamy: I'm really curious, what inspired you to join STEM in the first place? Was there a specific moment that you realized, I want to learn how to code?
Karlie Kloss: Yeah, I think for me I've always been super curious about the world. I love science, I love math. Long before I ever started modeling or traveling and even long before we all carried around these, I've always had a curiosity around kind of understanding how things work and understanding how science is kind of the language that can explain how the world works. I was really fascinated by all of these companies that were building amazing ideas and able to scale them using tech, and the language that powered that technology was code. I was like, what is code? It's the secret language behind all of these big companies. It's something that these entrepreneurs know that I don't know. So, I took a coding class. A very kind of basic introductory one-week class with a great teacher, and I had my eyes opened to the power of code and how creative of a skill set it really is.
JR: That's awesome. Must have been incredible though, when you first finally created your first program, just that moment.
KK: Totally, and same for you. I feel like I want to know how you got started. I know your mom is an engineer, which you're very lucky, you probably got exposed earlier to code. How did you get into coding?
JR: Really funny story, actually. It was the summer before I was in sixth grade and I really just didn't want to go to camp; I didn't want to wake up early. I also didn't really just want to sit at home and be bored and do nothing all day. I decided to ask my mom what she does at work, because I've always just heard her on her work calls and I never understood a thing she ever said. I was really curious, too. I wanted to know. So, I asked her, and I begged her actually, to teach me how to code. She let me find resources, learn HTML code and start off simple like that. Then she taught me code in Java and then I learned Python, and I just kind of started experimenting from there, more and more coding languages and I fell in love.
KK: Have you been able to get [your friends] excited or interested in kind of these different languages and kind of code and technology?
JR: I was able to bring a few of my friends into it, actually through some of ThinkSTEAM's workshops. We held workshops last year at Facebook and Google, two of them. Those two workshops specifically got a lot of girls interested because we were actually able to bring girls to these workplaces in the city and show them around. They were really motivated and fell in love with the area and just coding in general. They're just like, if this is what coding is like, I can make my own because I have this freedom and it's a really nice office environment, too.
KK: Same with Kode with Klossy, girls in our camps in our communities kind of have that a-ha moment where they really realize how these skills that they're learning [translate]. When you're starting to kind of learn the ABC's of code, it feels very abstract and you can't put your finger on it. You can't see it, you can't feel it, but when you're able to kind of have that a-ha moment of realizing how code actually builds these really creative ideas and companies when you're in that work environment.
JR: What motivated you to start Kode with Klossy to really encourage other girls to code?
KK: I really wanted to share the access to the learning. My dad's a doctor, he's not an engineer, but he was somebody who always kind of encouraged me to pursue science. So, I wanted to use any kind of influence or voice that I have to help young women realize that these skill sets of learning how to code can actually be so powerful, even if you don't want to go study computer science at college, or if you don't want to work in the technology industry.
I was like, what is code? It's the secret language behind all of these big companies.
JR: Why do you feel it's so important for more girls to be motivated to pursue STEM?
KK: There are so many really creative, great jobs that exist and there are currently more jobs open for people with these skill sets than people equipped with the education to fill them. I think we need more young women being supported and prepared to be able to have those jobs. The sky's the limit, you can do absolutely anything and these skills can certainly help you get wherever you want to go.
JR: As a model, exposed to the power of fashion and the arts every day, what's your perspective on combining STEM with the arts, like STEAM?
KK: From STEM to STEAM, I think the creative approach, or kind of the way that I think if you look at any of these industries, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, there actually is such an art to all of those skill sets and certainly in those industries, there's so many creative applications of those technical skill sets. I think the Worldwide Developers Conference is really the intersection of kind of the arts intersecting with technology. Apple is such an incredible company that continues to innovate and create and change the way that we all connect and communicate. This is your second year that you're going to the conference, right? I heard that you got a selfie with Mrs. Obama and Tim Cook, is that right?
JR: Yeah, I didn't get a selfie with Mrs. Obama, but I did get to hug her, so that was pretty great. My school only ends at the end of June, so I went last year the week before my finals and Michelle Obama, she asked me and a couple other developers, "Okay, so you're done with school now, I suppose?" And I'm just like, "No, I actually have my finals, as soon as I come back." And she was like, "Wow, tell your teachers that the First Lady said to give you a break before your finals." At that point, I was like, oh my god.
KK: I remember when I went to the WWDC for the first time. I was there the year that they unveiled Swift, and I just remember thinking, whoa, that's so cool. There's going to be a language that will make it kind of easier to create something in a more visual and creative way. How did you get the ideas for the different projects that you've started?
You can never know if coding is not in your reach if you just don't try it.
JR: A lot of the ideas I actually got just simply from conversations. I went to something called the she++ summit last year, last April, and I got to meet 29 other fellows in California last year in the Bay Area. Four of the other fellows, also like me, noticed that inner areas around the country, there is a really high prevalence of sexual assault, and we all wanted to do something about it. So, we created the app Safetipin, which is like a hub with a lot of different resources that you can use to prevent sexual assault and get legal justice choices.
KK: You're already so accomplished and working on so many amazing things, what would you say are kind of things that you aspire to do over the next years? Where do you go from here?
JR: I'm really just looking to just reach out to more girls and just inspire more girls to pursue STEM and STEAM, as many girls as I can inspire, the better. So, that's my main goal now. [Girls] who might not have the resources that I have, just to encourage them and empower them.
KK: I'm sure you see this with the work that you do, we certainly see it with Kode with Klossy, when you're able to kind of touch one person's life and open a door for them to have access to the learning, or even to realize how powerful this skill set is. If you can just kind of open this door for someone else, that has an impact on their life, that is just... I guess for me I never realized the kind of impact it would have on these young women's lives. The young women in our community have gone on to do great things with the skills that they're learning.
JR: What's the biggest lesson you've learned with your journey of Kode with Klossy?
KK: Don't underestimate the impact that you can have even on one person. I'm really excited we're reaching 1,000 girls, but even just when we first started we had 20 girls in our camps and each one of those girls, it was as meaningful to be able to support 20 girls. What are your plans for ThinkSTEAM? Where do you see your organization going?
JR: We actually just held a STEAM-A-THON — an all-day event for 75 middle schoolers, and we had various STEAM workshops throughout the entire day that the girls went to. They got to learn different things, whether it's the art of food science and they got to create their own sodas, and then they got to code animations with Swift with the playgrounds which is really fun, and they also got to learn about virtual reality. So, I think in the future I would like to expand the STEAM-A-THON much more, maybe even have one big day where we have multiple STEAM-A-THONS going in our different chapters. So, that's definitely something I want to do.
KK: What advice would you give other young girls your age who may think coding is out of their reach or not for them?
JR: Mostly, just try it out. You can never know if coding is not in your reach if you just don't try it. Go for it, explore it, do whatever you want with it. Just try it and get your feet wet with it, because a lot of girls, they may not think that they can do STEM and they can code and they'll like it, but once they start it's like a whole new world. Incredible.
You know what's so cool? You're going to be that person for other young women.
KK: I agree. I'm 100 percent with you, and today Swift is one of the fastest growing programming languages. Is Swift would you say, one of your favorite languages to build in?
JR: Yeah, for sure. Definitely, because I just love the user interface of Swift. It lets me explore my own creative ideas with simple Swift code and just play around with my app ideas really easily. So I really like it.
KK: I agree. We're building out a Swift program in Kode with Klossy this summer, so for the first time ever we're going to be able to teach girls in Swift for two weeks and they'll be able to build projects. I agree, I've loved plugging into Swift too, because exactly that reason.
KK: Who have been some of your role models?
JR: My role models? My mom is definitely one of my biggest role models, definitely since she's the one whose really encouraged me to learn how to code. I always look up to her when it comes to coding, and just life in general. So, she's definitely my biggest role model and my rock. After that, definitely all the females that have made such a big impact in STEM in the world today; you're definitely one of my biggest role models. Reshma Saujani of Girls Who Code and Laura Butler, the first female Technical Fellow of Microsoft — I got to interview them for ThinkSTEAM and it was just incredible.
KK: You know what's so cool? You're going to be that person for other young women. When somebody else asks a young woman, "Who are some of your role models?" They're going to say you someday, or maybe they already are saying that, to be honest. I'm going to start saying you. It's awesome.
JR: What advice do you have for other girls who would like to code and maybe even launch their own tech startup?
KK: I think any young woman who's passionate about building a startup, building a company, building an organization, be fearless. Be unapologetic about it, and chase that dream. Give it everything you've got. I think the biggest challenge sometimes is what we think or say to ourselves in between our own two ears. I really believe that we're all capable of anything we set our minds to and so, why not you?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Check this out: