School: Howard University
Major: Computer Science
Graduation: Spring 2018
We heard about this really cool app, SwypeShark, that you've been a part of developing. Tell us a little more about it!
Absolutely, SwypeShark is a service that helps students buy and sell cafeteria points, or Swypes as we call them. We started it last semester and so far it is been an amazing experience growing an idea into fruition.
What inspired the vision behind SwypeShark?
My sister Hannah, who is also a CS major at Howard, came up with the idea when she noticed the vast dichotomy between students with extra meals and students without a meal plans. Last year we took two classes at Howard called Bison Startup and Bison Accelerate, and they really helped us understand how to launch a startup using the Lean Startup methodology.
What challenges can you identify that come with developing a startup?
In my experience, launching a startup is largely about overcoming adversity. This adversity can come in multiple forms. For example, issues with engineering are bound to surface. My main tip to overcoming this is ensuring that the team is focused on accomplishing the original vision of the venture.
How are you currently preparing yourself for future career endeavors?
To prepare for my future endeavors, I am participating in various forms of education enrichment. For example attaining my computer science degree is definite preparation, but I also learn a lot outside of the classroom. I use the internet as a means to learn almost anything, from investing to content marketing. Also a major key, learning from the people around me.
What excites you about the tech field?
The technology field is the gold rush of the twenty-first century. I am a prospector!
Currently I am on a class research/engineering team, and we are working on creating a method to charge a cell phone by converting the kinetic energy from walking into electricity.
Tech enables us to build anything, it excites me.
Are there any aspects you wish to innovate about the tech field?
Teaching the next generation of innovators and engineers is crucial. I would like to help the education system adopt a more holistic approach to tech education.
What other new technologies would you like to see Blacks in tech develop?
I would like to see more Blacks in technology develop products for the sole purpose of harnessing the buying power of the black community. Specifically products that generate revenue for our communities, form the commoditization of our culture.
Who's an activist that inspires you?
Mark Lamont Hill, activist, and distinguished professor of African American Studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.
What's a hashtag that would best describe your personality?
Yung Guru, a Howard graduate and the sound engineer for Jay Z, created the hashtag #EraOfTheEngineer. I feel best describes because I am always building things.
As the BLOC, our mission is to empower black collegians to achieve, connect and engage. We are really focused on enabling students to enact powerful change on their campuses and to bring the activist spirit and ethic into their given industry. How do you maintain your social consciousness / awareness while still staying focused on your studies?
I stay connected to my faith and grounded in the knowledge of my people. Watching current events unfold through the lens of history.
What can we expect from you and SwypeShark in 2016?
We have a big surprise that I cannot reveal yet… But stay tuned for our promo video and expansion to other campuses in the DC area. Follow us at @SwypeShark Instagram and Twitter.
Follow Alston's next big moves as a young techie on Twitter and check out the SwypeShark app on swypeshark.com