Expressing Creativity Through Code: Howard Student Kymberlee Hill Uses Computer Science to Pursue her Passions
Like father, like daughter, Los Angeles native Kymberlee Hill fell in love with music watching her dad work as a music producer. When the industry shifted to incorporate more technology, her dad shifted right along with it, creating websites and graphics for artists in addition to his producing. Fascinated by her father’s work, Kym started teaching herself how to use digital design tools like Photoshop and InDesign.
“Music, creativity, and entrepreneurship were taught to me at a very young age,” Kym said. “My dad and I had our own radio show and car wash.”
Kym decided to pursue a major in Computer Science. “I recognized that technology was a tool and a way I could better express my creativity. I like being outside of the box and code is a way to do that,” said Kym.
After attending a predominantly white high school, Kym traveled to the East Coast to attend Howard University, a Historically Black College/University (HBCU) in Washington, D.C. Affectionately called the “The Mecca”, Howard attracts students from different backgrounds who mainly share the common experience of being Black.
“Google taught some of my classes freshman year, which is part of the reason why I went to Howard,” Kym said, referring to the Googler-in-Residence Program where Google engineers teach as faculty at HBCUs.
“That was the first time I saw a black woman teaching CS.”
For many Black women, their hair is a source of inspiration, admiration, and frustration. As a naturalista, Kym knows this all too well. Around campus, she would hear women say, “I would’ve never gone natural had I not come to Howard,” which became a topic of much discussion amongst her and her friends who often spent a lot of money buying hair products.
Born out of a conversation in 2016, Kym and her friend turned their conversation from a problem to a solution. They thought “What if you could just take a picture of your hair and know what products would work well?”
Kym brought this question to her CS advisor and research professor, who encouraged her to learn more about what that type of technology would look like. Kym wrote a grant proposal to research how to analyze a photo to determine hair pattern and matching products. She used this idea for her senior project, incorporating design thinking into the process.
Kym’s hypothesis was that if women knew their hair type, they would have an easier time finding products. She conducted interviews, captured and analyzed pictures of women with natural hair, and created an algorithm and prototype. “Initially, I did not think of the app as a business, I just wanted to do the research,” she said.
After a mentor told her about a startup accelerator, she decided to apply and was accepted. With the help of three friends, Kym programmed and incorporated Curl IQ, “an image analysis app that generates personalized hair care solutions for women with textured hair.” The app uses big data and computer vision technology to identify the hair type and offer product recommendations and will launch at the end of 2018.
“This is for the culture,” said Kym. “Some people won’t understand, but I know Black women will understand.”
Working as a software engineer at companies like Twitter, Intel and Spotify prepared Kym to finish her last semester at Howard and continue to run Curl IQ. At these companies, she gained experience in front-end, back-end, and full-stack development working on internal tools and platform features. One fun fact she shared is that because she worked at Twitter, she cannot be verified with a check. (CEO Jack Dorsey is the only verified Twitter employee.)
While Kym has faced challenges with bringing her dream of Curl IQ to reality, she says she has leaned in on her faith to keep her grounded.
“It’s about confidence, knowing and believing that you are capable,” she said. “My biggest challenge is making sure I am not blocking my blessings.”
As an entrepreneur in tech, she knows there will be long days and moments where she may feel discouraged, but she is determined not to give up. Kym’s advice for women and other budding entrepreneurs: “Believe in yourself. Believe in the work. Build a strong foundation.”