After an internship with Microsoft, 19-year-old Sasha Alston from northeast D.C. decided to write a children’s book with the hopes of inspiring young African-American girls to code.
While a senior at McKinley Technological High School in Northeast, she began the process of penning “Sasha Tech Savvy Loves to Code.” Two years later as a information systems major at Pace University in New York City, she finished her first book.
“In high school, I interned at Microsoft and I didn’t know anything about coding, but I used coding to make a video game,” Alston said. “I didn’t know all the things you could do with technology like coding video games, and I encountered many people who didn’t know, so I wanted to tell people about it.”
Alston said that coding simply means giving the computer a set of instructions that it understands in a different language such as Java or Python.
“I hope my main character, Sasha Tech Savvy, will inspire girls to pursue opportunities in STEM because I see firsthand how underrepresented women and girls are in this area in both college and the workforce,” she said. “I recently saw the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ and I was totally inspired. I don’t want to be a hidden figure and I don’t want other girls to be either.
“With enough support and sales, I will be able to donate some books to schools, community centers, and nonprofits that uplift girls,” she said.
Alston said the first thing she did in preparing to be an author was visit local libraries and check out children’s books starting in April 2014.
“Once I finished the picture book, I started sending it out to agents and they suggested I write a chapter book,” she said. “Even though the agents gave me good advice they still weren’t interested. In the process I had kids that I knew read it to give me their feedback.”
Alston got major help and direction in self-publishing her book through her mom, Tracy Chiles McGhee, a former lawyer who became an author herself.
“My mom definitely helped me, but I had to find agents particularly for me,” Alston said. “She just published her first book a historical fiction novel named ‘Melting the Blues.’ It’s set in Arkansas in the ’50s, and it’s about her experiences growing up there.”
She created a Kickstarter where supporters can preorder and donate for the book’s release in May 2017.
The campaign launched on Jan. 15. Two days after its launch, $2,500 had been pledged by 34 backers.
The campaign will end March 1, 2017.
In the meantime Alston wants to touch young girls with her book by speaking at elementary schools, camps and after school programs.
“I also want to speak to middle and high school students and have a full children’s line of coloring books, bags and school supplies,” she said. “As an African-American girl, I think there is a lack of diversity in the tech field. There is also a stigma that STEM careers are for nerds and I want to break that stigma.”
Alston said the driving force behind her effort to be an author while in college is the need to be an inspiration.
“I haven’t had many mentors, a few, but no one to truly guide me and I would love to be that person for someone else,” she said.
Find Sasha’s Kickstarter at www.kickstarter.com/projects/sashaariel.