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16-year-old Amanda Southworth is the founder of Astra Labs, a company that "changes the world one app at a time". She is an amazing mental health/human rights advocate who has been featured on CNN, Mashable, TED and MTV just to name a few. We had the chance to talk to her about mental health, self care and following your dreams.
If you would like to learn more about Amanda check out the following links:
Twitter- @amndasuthwrth | Instagram- @am.nda | Astra Labs- https://withastra.com
Describe yourself in three words.
Caffeinated and coding.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
If I wasn’t working n tech, I would be a musician or a makeup artist. I love to create, so it would be something that would be a vessel for a creation and expression. Music has been my first love (even more so than programming), and has contributed so much to my life, as well. I can’t imagine life without either. Also, my biggest dream is to own a Corgi and a black British Shorthair cat.
Who or what inspires you?
Things greater than ourselves. I love space, which is probably the epitome of that. The most influential book I’ve read in my life is called “Bringing Columbia Home”; it detailed the recovery mission from the Columbia disaster, and the heart warming search and rescue efforts to one of the worst accidents in NASA history. I remember reading the book in a public park and crying, because I was so inspired by the collective efforts of the volunteers and staff to honor the mission and to prevent something like it from happening again. Everyone, no matter their background, works together to advance us in the cosmos for the good of humanity. My life goal is to work somehow in flight systems engineering for a spacecraft, just because I strongly believe that expanding the human knowledge of the universe is one of the best things that we could do for humanity.
What do you enjoy the most about making apps?
The process of watching something you love grow into a full, blossoming product that helps other people. Just the stunning process of watching your work evolve over time is a treat like no other. This is probably a strong hyperbole, but it’s one that a lot of people in the tech industry echo; It feels like your child. You’re there every step of the way. I know my code inside out. Every aspect was designed by me. The UI, UX, descriptions, marketing materials, names, branding, content of the apps, code, is all created by me. I watched it grow from a simple notebook sketch to this huge influence in my life. I’ve watched it grow, and I’ve had the privilege of growing, too.
What is the biggest misconception about mental health/illness?
In my opinion, there’s so many harmful things surrounding it that are detrimental to those who have it, but by far, I think the fact that others see it as a choice or anything other than an illness. Because it’s not effects aren’t always visible, it’s not seen as something that is as real as a physical disease. And even then, general stigma that people with mental illness have a choice in the matter, or the fact that they’re ungrateful, or that it’s a symptom of the circumstances that someone is in harms people. The stigma doesn’t just harm; it kills. Someone close to Kate Spade reported that she didn’t wish to get therapy or any outside help because it would harm her brand. Even to this day, as a mental health advocate, I still feel awful asking for things to be changed due to my own mental state. Out of all of the general misconceptions, the shame surrounding mental health undoubtedly causes the most damage.
Being a mental health advocate can be rewarding but it can also be draining. How do you take care of yourself and avoid burnout?
definitely have things that I need to work on, and that’s one of them. There’s a balance between wanting to help others, and needing to help yourself, and it’s something that comes with the job. I definitely look for warning signs when I get tired. Usually, my depressive tendencies come back, I lose my appetite, and I become easily irritated. That’s when I either scale back the work I’m doing, or find ways or take care of myself in between it. Self care, medication, therapy, exercise, and everything in between is essential to making sure that I’m healthy enough to continue doing what I need to do.
What would you say to someone who is interested in coding, app development, etc. but hasn’t done anything like that before?
Google “how to code”. Get started. Thank me in 4 years. But on a more serious note, just try it out. There’s innumerous free resources out there to help you. Everyone in the community is on your side. Worst case scenario is it just doesn’t click. Best case scenario is that you find a new passion. It doesn’t require a lot of dedication, and it can change your life. Get started as soon as you can.
You also run your own business. Can you give any advice to aspiring young entrepreneurs?
Do what you’re passionate about. Business is hard; especially in tech. If you’re not passionate about the problem you’re solving, you’re wasting your time. You have time on this earth to make an impact. Make sure it’s the impact you want to make.
What’s next for you?
To be frank, I have no idea. I just dropped out of high school to work full time on Astra Labs. I applied for the Thiel Fellowship to hopefully help me move out and support myself. And I’m also applying for everything that I get the chance to. I made a deal with my parents that if Astra wasn’t a viable job for me by the start of summer next year, that I would go to college. So that’s what I’m doing right now. Being Executive Director of my childhood dream is pretty much my dream job, and so I’m enjoying the job as long as I can.
What was the inspiration behind Astra Labs?
As I mentioned above, I’m pretty infatuated by space. I always knew that I wanted to create a company to overhead my apps and all of that jazz. I just was never certain it was the right thing to do. Another thing I mentioned earlier was that I loved music. I found this album entitled ‘Atlas: Space’ back in January when another startup I was apart of was dissolving. The impending end of that startup really tore me apart, and I was falling into a pattern of depression. I remember listening to that album, which details love, mental health, and recovery and just crying because while I listened to it, I came up with the idea for a non-profit that would later become Astra Labs. It was like a very cheesy indie music video of me seeing my future flash before my life to this beautiful soundtrack. Astra was completely new to me. It was the first time I was building an actual company, (which I was the only employee of at the time) and I wanted it to be mine as much as anything. I named it Astra (the stars in latin) because I wanted it to represent the unity and peace inspired by humanity to look to the sky at night. I created the branding off of colors I loved, and I built my dream company. I dropped out, and I haven’t looked back since.
What’s the best drink at Starbucks?
Any and every holiday drink ever served there.
Where do you want to be in 6 years?
I want to be in Seattle. I grew up in the San Bernardino mountains in California, and it seems like the perfect collision of everything that I want to be and everything that has already happened. I want to go to the Astra offices and see my best friend and co-founder, Coleman Oates, and work on a project that will save lives. And I want to go home to my British Shorthair cat and my Corgi. And I want to wake up and do it all again the next day.