Reddit co-founder talks tech, life lessons with Richmond kids

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Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of social news website Reddit, and the husband of tennis superstar Serena Williams, took a swing by a Richmond after-school program Tuesday afternoon to pay it forward.

In addition to co-founding Reddit, the fourth largest website in the nation, the 35-year-old was also a partner at Y Combinator, the most prestigious start-up accelerator in Silicon Valley. He's also penned a best-selling book and most recently helped launch a successful San Francisco venture capital firm called Initialized Capital. 

On Tuesday, Ohanian and four colleagues visited the After School All Stars program at Richmond College Prep Charter School to pass along the lessons they’ve learned in business and in life to help the next generation become successful leaders.

“We wanted to come here and spend some time with some school kids – some after-school all stars – and give them some perspective on how we made it and how they can too,’’ Ohanian said. 

Ohanian said he became interested in the tech world while playing Classic Nintendo and Super Mario Bros. as a youngster.

“The only reason I got into technology is because I was into video games, and I wanted to know how they were made,'' he said. '"It was when I found out how they were made, through programming, that I got interested in learning how to write code.” 

Ohanian stressed to the group of 20 students that learning to code is the best possible skill they can learn right now. 

“There is this new type of literacy in programming that is going to affect everything,’’ he said. “And if you have any interest in it whatsoever please apply yourself to it, please try it. And we definitely need more women doing it. It’s so, so, so valuable as far as skills go.” 

 Ohanian, however, didn’t go all the talking Tuesday.

Students were given a chance to ask questions about anything they wanted.

“The biggest surprise question I got was my least favorite food, and I didn’t have a good answer for that. But the most common one was how I got started and that was with video games.” 

Students also inquired about his favorite sport (he’s a basketball fan), what hobbies he enjoys, (working out was at the top of the list), what he likes to eat (veggie burgers are a favorite), and if he’s any good at tennis (he plans to take lessons one day). 

The students were engaged, polite, curious and eager to learn more. In fact, Shelton McAdoo, 12, even approached Ohanian after the event to ask for his email address. 

“I will email Alexis and not just for the money,’’ the Richmond boy said. “I’m probably going to email him because I’m probably going to need the help, especially with what I’m trying to do.”

Shelton said he’s wanted to be a video game designer for as long as he can remember. These days, he has his sights set on building “something like YouTube,” where people can create their own video games, he said.

"I’m trying to become a video game designer and it’s going to be pretty hard, so having people like (Alexis) will be very helpful to overcome some obstacles,’’