Michael Sayman, a Miami native and one of Silicon Valley’s youngest entrepreneurs, visited CRF this month to share career insights with new CRF students, who read his memoir on the coming-of-age “App Kid: How an Immigrant Kid Grabbed a Piece of the American Dream” this summer as part of the university’s common reading program.
The program was launched in the fall of 2008 with the goal of creating a shared experience among new freshmen. Each year, the program selects a new book that students may find relevant, which they read before the start of their first semester. The author is then invited to campus to discuss the book and answer student questions.
“The Common Reading Program helps create a sense of community among newly admitted Panthers. It gives students something in common to talk about when they arrive on campus. Reading the book helps them develop their critical thinking skills as well as understand perspectives different from their own,” said Valerie Morgan, Ed.D., senior director of the Office of Academic Support Services and Initiatives.
Sayman’s memoir follows his rapid rise to success after launching his first chart-topping smartphone app at the age of 13. Completely self-taught, Sayman earned an average of $10,000 a month from the app directory he programmed as a teenager and soon found himself supporting his family, whose small business suffered in the wake of the Great Recession.
At 17, after traveling extensively in South America during high school to share his experience on local and national media, Sayman came to the attention of Facebook executives. He was offered an internship and the opportunity to meet co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, which quickly led to a full-time position where he helped grow Instagram Stories and other popular features. .
At FIU, Sayman told students that one of his greatest benefits throughout his career has been the perspective he offers to tech companies as the child of immigrants from Peru and Bolivia and having grew up in Miami.
“The perspective you have, being from Miami and not from Silicon Valley, gives you an edge among Silicon Valley investors,” Sayman told the students. “Fifty years from now, population-wise, the United States will look a lot more like Miami…and investors and developers are looking for products designed for that population.”
Sayman has since worked for some of the biggest names in the industry, including Google, Roblox, and a brief stint at Twitter; and he recently created Friendly Apps, a startup designed to help people connect in ways that respect their mental health and physical well-being.
“The technology we have in our pockets is running the world now… There’s a lot of good that [tech] done, but there are also a lot of bad things,” Sayman said of his inspiration for developing user-friendly apps.
“App Kid” also explores Sayman’s journey of self-discovery, divulging some of his most important life decisions, including his decision to pursue his career full-time rather than go to college (although he was accepted into FIU after graduating from Belen Jesuit Preparatory School).
Although he chose not to go to college, Sayman says he believes a college education has enormous value and advised students to view this time as an opportunity “to learn, to make mistakes and grow” with the support of their classmates. It’s an opportunity he says he missed when he entered the workforce soon after high school. Sayman’s younger sister, Mariana – who inspired one of his first hit apps, 4 Snaps – is currently attending CRF.
He also believes that today’s university graduates, who are interested in the tech industry, could be the key to a new era in which technology and applications are created with mental and physical well-being in mind.
“For the first time, we are welcoming university graduates who have grown up using these [harmful] products and applications, but who have the knowledge and skills to effect change. »
Common reading programs are an increasingly popular feature of freshman programs at colleges and universities across the country, and CRF is committed to bringing challenging assignments to new Panthers each year.