Cameron King is a junior at Duke University, an All Star Code Scholar, and a technology entrepreneur. He is currently studying abroad in London.
How long have you been in London?
I’m studying abroad for the semester, just for the term, taking two computer science electives there, just for fun. It was a good opportunity to go abroad so I figured I’d take advantage of it.
That’s awesome. What are you studying at Duke?
I take computer science and visual media studies, which is part of the graphic design / video production major.
Where did you grow up?
I’m from Brooklyn, New York, from Sheepshead Bay. I lived there for like my life and then I went to Elizabeth Irwin High School. I did All Star Code the summer of my junior year in 2015. That was my first introduction to computer science. I didn’t know what I wanted to study or what profession I wanted to have.
How did you find All Star Code?
I did a program called Prep for Prep. My adviser knew that I was interested in engineering through the classes I took in high school and recommended All Star Code.
You were in the second year of the program, right?
Yeah, I was in the second cohort.
What was it like the first day?
A: Yeah, so the first day — I went to the All Star Code workshops before I applied to the program so I kind of had an idea of what the program was like, and I knew some of the people who went to the workshops before. So on my first day, I followed people I saw at the workshops and we formed our own cluster.
We were in Alley NYC and it was a really a cozy kind of environment. And so we were just sitting on the chairs, talking and introducing ourselves. Then I remember going to the classroom and then meeting my teacher — his name was Ruben — and then the TAs and then the teaching fellows. They seemed cool and all. It was kind of intimidating just because I didn’t know how to code so just seeing all these people around me who were way smarter…but the first day I just kind of took everything in and I saw the schedule and the agenda for the summer and I thought that was pretty intimidating too, because I felt unsure about programming languages that I’ve never seen. I didn’t know what it meant. I did more research afterward about what I was getting myself into.
How did the Summer Intensive progress for you? How was it after that first day?
After the week, we got our computers and we adjusted to everything. We were pointed to resources to learn more afterward if you wanted to, so after I left I was still working for a couple of weeks on the project that we started. Just to get ahead on what I was doing. That took up my whole summer.
How was the end of the Summer Intensive, the Demo Day?
I worked on this project with two other students. It was called Briclo but then we changed the name to Cryptmessenger because the idea changed. The project that we worked on was a messenger app that would take in a message and then when it’s sent, it’ll show random Emojis so that if somebody were to look at your phone, they wouldn’t be able to read any of the messages that you received. But if you were to type your password into the keyboard, it would decrypt the messages so you could see them.
So that was our pitch on Demo Day.
How was that?
A: We spent a lot more time practicing just delivering it. One of our teammates was really nervous and shy and so the two of us had more speaking roles and he did the technical demonstration. I never really get nervous speaking and so Demo Day I was the one with the mic.
It was fun! We were at Google, so it seemed really big for us. I’d never been to Google and I was able to meet software engineers and it gave me a glimpse of what computer science was professionally.
Q: Did you get to meet other like men of color who are in Google?
A: I think I did. I honestly don’t remember the actual engineer that I met. I remember our conversations more though. It was more like them talking and recommending which programming languages to learn, what website… I hadn’t known about.
You’re at Duke now, right? How’s it going?
It’s good! I’m in my third year now. It’s going by really fast.
You’re still pursuing computer science?
Yeah! I find technology really interesting. I know that I want to work in the tech space. I’m not sure if it’s as a software engineer, because I like design and more of the graphics side as well. But I feel like computer science is something that I should have the fundamentals of.
Do you find yourself using any of the other things that you learned during that summer?
Yeah. I remember one of the core principles we learn is accepting failure and not beating yourself up about it. Especially for computer science, it was really rough starting out. I was always an A student in high school. But for the first time I was getting Cs and failing midterms and stuff like that. It was really new for me. I would get really upset with myself and kind of give up, especially when I was taking computer science courses, and also just because a lot of the students in my Comp Sci 101 and Java classes had prior experience. A lot of the students had taken AP Computer Science in high school and so the curve wasn’t always on my side.
That sucks. I’m sorry. Did you have AP Computer Science at your school?
No, my high school didn’t have any AP classes.
Learning to accept failure was definitely important. Even now, with internships. I’d applied to a ton of companies and not heard back, or make it to the final round but then not got it. This past September, I did my final-round interview at Google. I didn’t get it, but had I not been accustomed to just trying to do it over again it would’ve been harder.
After weeks of not hearing back, I just accepted an offer with Vimeo for next summer as a front-end engineering intern on their Growth Team. The growth team is responsible for ideating new product features and rapidly testing it. I’ll be working with a company that combines both of my majors at Duke.
Do you find at Duke or in the other places where you’re coding that there are a lot of people who look like you or who have your background?
No, not at all. At Duke I feel like there’s only like two or three Black guys in my classes and we always stick together, like we always take our classes together just because we knew if we didn’t we’d be by ourselves. There aren’t a lot of girls and there are barely Latinx people, and so it always felt like there are students who had a lot of experience with class and then there are us.
Is there more that you wanted to say about All Star Code or about your experience with the Summer Intensive and your life after?
I’m really appreciative for All Star Code. Especially meeting Christina; right now we’re working on a start-up idea and Christina has been helping me a lot with it, working through the idea stages and connecting me to other people. Right before I went to England she had like an All Star Code meetup, and so I was able to talk with marketing to get some tips and continue working on the start-up idea.
Could you share your idea? If it’s not top-secret, that is.
Yeah. So freshman year a lot of us had a hard time finding a barber in Durham. Often we’d go places just through word of mouth, try it out, and not be happy with the outcome and try somewhere else and like…it wasn’t just me. In the Black community people are constantly asking what barber shops do people go to just because there’s no way to really tell where to go. Yelp reviews are so subjective.
So along my friend who’s also a comp sci major, we decided to work on an app that would help both discover barbers and facilitate the booking process all the way through, sort of like Uber. So when the barber swipes off the job as complete, then you get charged. So that’s what I’ve been working on. We have a prototype of the app but we haven’t released it on the app store yet. It’s functional but it’s not presentable. We’re still working on the design and adding some functionalities like categories, but we should be able to put it out in the store at least February of next year. We’ve started testing it.
And Christina’s been helping me more on the business side of things, helping me think of a business model and how to monetize it and connecting me with people to sort of shift the idea more. For instance, she wanted me to add a feature where barbers come to you, and that’s not something we thought about before but now it’s one of the main features of the app.
That’s really cool. I am incredibly excited to see where it goes.
All Star Code creates economic opportunity by developing a new generation of boys and young men of color with an entrepreneurial mindset who have the tools they need to succeed in a technological world. All Star Code envisions a country where all young men of color have access to the tools of success, where the ability to thrive is available to all who are willing to dare greatly.