Young, groundbreaking, queer tech wizard Michael Sayman’s memoir “App Kid: How a Child of Immigrants Grabbed a Piece of the American Dream” (Knopf, 2021) is the kind of book that has something for almost everyone.

As it says in the title, Sayman, and his sister, are the children of immigrants — his mother is from Peru and his father is from Bolivia — who settled in Miami. The “American dream” Sayman “grabbed” is a healthy slice of the internet, first as an independent app developer and later in the employ of Facebook and Google. Additionally, “App Kid” is a coming out story that provides a fresh perspective on the experience. Michael was generous enough to make time for an interview in advance of the publication of his memoir.

Gregg Shapiro: Michael, why was now the right time to write your memoir “App Kid”?

Michael Sayman: Honestly, I never timed this intentionally so much as I feel [like] I ended up kind of realizing the timeliness of a book like this as the launch date was approaching. I know it sounds a little crazy, but to me it was something where … I'll give you an example of this: my book and my experiences as a child working on these apps was very isolating at times. I spent a lot of time as a kid on my computer at home, kind of interacting with the world through the Internet, which was something I chose to do at the time. But as we started seeing with the pandemic, which none of us could have really predicted, we now see so many other kids out there being forced into an environment that is very similar to the one that I grew up in.  

GS: A forced isolation.

MS: Yes. It’s much more in mind now. It was not in mind when this [writing of the book] process was coming together. It's been about two and a half to three years since I started on the book.  

GS: Even though you couldn’t have foreseen the pandemic, did you have a target audience in mind while you were writing the book?

MS: Yes, definitely. There's a bunch of different aspects to this book that I think relate to different people and different audiences. For example, I think a lot of parents with children spending all their time on these iPads and their iPhones and not really knowing how you handle a kid who spends their whole life on that. I think a lot of parents will read this and think, “There is potential in the Internet, but there's also challenges that I'm sure other parents can relate to in terms of how to deal with children who are in that space.” The other is obviously the kid who is coding and who's trying to make a name for himself on the Internet. We've seen over the past few years that the number one job that kids want to be now is no longer astronaut or doctor. They want to become Internet famous. Influencers, YouTubers, developers. It's an entirely new landscape and I think there's a lot of kids out there who grow up seeped in this entire Internet culture. Some of them feel like they're alone out there. They feel similar in that regard where they just get on their computer and don't really know where to go and how to be guided. Especially in a world where technology is advancing so fast that our own parents did not grow up with 90% of the tools at our disposal. It's really hard to find examples of other people in the world who have gone through what the kids are going through today because of how quickly things are moving.  

GS: It’s interesting that you mentioned that readership demographic because the tone of the book, including the use of what I would describe as clean language, made me wonder if you had a younger readership in mind as you were writing it?

MS: No. It's funny, the way that I talk tends to be a little bit cleaner, sometimes. What's funny is that when I was growing up, and I’ve realized this more recently, I was almost like the kid who would punish himself when I did something wrong. Or try to control the way that I did things.  

GS: That definitely comes through in the book.

MS: Yes. I'll give you an example. When I was a kid, instead of trying to sneak away and drink alcohol without my parents knowing, I was the one telling my parents, “Hey, don't drink!” or silly things like that. I would tell my friends, “Oh no, we shouldn’t be drinking yet. It’s going to affect our brain development [laughs].” Most kids aren’t going to react that way [laughs].  

GS: Because of the considerable role your family plays in “App Kid,” do you know if they’ve read the book and, if so, what do they think of it 

MS: They’ve definitely read the book. They've been along the entire process. They've been in the loop on you how I've been writing it. My thoughts, as well, as I was writing the book have obviously evolved over time, too. It's one of those things that have been really challenging for us as a family. The family dynamic that we had is not normal, and I guess that's partly why there's a book about this. But in terms of the way that we've approached it together, and the way that we’ve thought about this is that there's a lot to the dynamic that took place in that time and there's a lot to the perspective that I had as a kid in terms of the relationship with the parents and how whatever they or my family was doing, how I would interpret it. Being able to share the truth of that perspective from where I was as a kid. Not only doing it for the sake of trying to be accurate with that, but also for the sake of other kids out there who might be able to relate to those types of pains, frustrations, and challenges. The idea being that, and I think as a family we think about this, how do we make sure that if there's anyone else who comes across a situation like this, that they can all learn a little bit from this, and maybe have a better dynamic and situation come out of it. For all of us, we've learned a lot through the entire process of this career, how it ended up happening. But at the same time, it's been a challenge, I'm not going to lie. It hasn't been easy.  

GS: “App Kid” also reads like a kind of instruction manual for people of all ages who may have an interest in doing the kind of work that you do. Do you also see it that way and was that intentional on your part? 

MS: Yes. I think there are parts of it where it certainly felt that way. I do think that was also the case. I think a lot of it tends to be my personality just coming out. A lot of times, when I talk about anything regarding app development or the tech industry as a whole, I will kind of turn into this mini professor [laughs]. Start dictating how I feel things can go. I also kind of felt like there was some intentionality behind when I talked to the readers about certain steps. Being very clear about these are the set of things that I've learned over the years have worked and these are the set of things that haven't. Here's how you can go about doing that. Being intentional about that for sure. It’s a combination of these things in the book. You have the story, which is exciting and crazy and weird. But you also have a lot to take in from an experienced app developer. It's one of those weird things where you can combine both and it somehow works well [laughs].

GS: It does! Your coming out process is also a significant part of the book. From arriving at “the conclusion that my interest in guys wasn’t just a passing thing” to your mother’s moment of acceptance in which she demonstrated how far she’d come following her insensitivity in an earlier chapter. What was it like to put your coming out into your own words?

MS: People sometimes question whether or not we should be identifying or putting too much of an emphasis on our sexual orientations as part of who we are. For me, I almost grew up with this idea that if I am actually gay, it should not be who I am. It should not be anything related to who I am. It shouldn’t shape me in any way. But as I started to understand it more, as I started to understand myself more, and my sexual orientation and how it made me think about the world and what else tended to come along with that, I realized that it was not just about sexual orientation. Not only was it not just that; it was impacting every other decision that I made in my life. How I behave around other people. How I would become very observant. How I was so shy in school. How those types of actions ended up affecting how I even developed certain skills led me to realize that this is not just about sexual orientation, this is about the entire trajectory of my life, personal and career-wise. I realized that it shaped my brain, it shaped how I think about the world, for better or worse. As I started to realize that, I thought that it's important in this book to talk about that. It's important to talk about how that affected me. I think you can get hints in the beginning of the book, as well, from when I'm in school and I don't really talk to the other kids. Then I convinced myself that the only reason I am not going out with girls is because I felt overweight. I felt like if I just went to the gym I would be able to go out with girls. All of these feelings that you have growing up, that you then realize part of why I even became successful in app development is due to so many of these effects that this part of me had. My upbringing and my environment. No matter the challenges. I see it that way. For me, it was very important to be able to talk about that. Especially because I think it was one of the most impactful aspects of me that really defined the rest of my life. It's one of those things that, in the beginning [laughs], I was like, “Oh, no, no, no. This can't be. This is just going to be a little tiny aspect of me. I'm never going to talk about it [laughs].” But it’s silly now that I think about it. As I've gotten older, I’ve come to understand it a lot more. Especially through the perspective of those who came in generations before me, who came out and the troubles they went through, not only the troubles but also how much it really does shape your life. How it’s not just about you know your sexual orientation in one moment or another.  

GS: It's also nice to hear someone from your generation having respect and appreciation for those that came before. You wrote about going to Disney World with your family and your ex-boyfriend William, and it made me wonder if you’d ever been to the park for Gay Days?  

MS: I have never been. I realized a year after starting to date my ex that they had those. I was like, “OK, we’ve got to figure out a time to go.” I didn't know that they had them and I've yet to actually go, so hopefully I'll be able to do that. After the pandemic hit, it got a lot harder to figure out when to go. But I’m definitely adding that to my list. I will say part of the reason why I ended up going to Disney World so much later on, too, was because during my childhood, as I was struggling with the payments and the house and the whole recession that had hit our family, the one nice thing that I had from the before times was going as a family to Disney World. That stayed with me as this happy place of mine into my adulthood.

GS: You currently divide your time between Miami and the San Francisco area. How do you think the LGBT communities in these regions compare?  

MS: That's a really interesting question. First of all, they're completely different. I would say San Francisco, in many ways, is extremely open and accepting to the point where if you tell somebody that you're gay they're like, “Oh, OK, I guess. Why are you telling me? Who cares?” [Laughs] That’s kind of the attitude over there. If anything, I think you’ve got to come out as straight in some parts of San Francisco [laughs]. It’s an interesting situation in San Francisco. I felt really privileged to be able to live in that part of the country during those years where I started discovering myself. In terms of Miami, I feel like Miami is rapidly changing in this [regard]. It wasn't always like this. I know when I was growing up in Miami, in high school, especially in 2012, 2013, it was very much not accepted especially in the community that I was around, the Hispanic community. It's something that we're slowly kind of growing and learning and changing up over time. The stereotypes are very much there. I remember I came from California once to Miami and I had my hair bleached, yeah because everyone's got to try that at one point [laughs], and everyone in Miami thought it was a gay thing. You didn't have that in San Francisco. If a guy wore an earring, that was a gay thing. Now times are changing. Now it’s completely different. Now it's really cool for guys to wear earrings, and everyone does it. They bleach their hair and they do all this stuff. That's happening in Miami, too, but I think the Hispanic culture of Miami has made it very different from San Francisco when it comes to LGBT acceptance and just the ability for people to feel comfortable being who they are.  

GS: If there was a movie version made of “App Kid,” who would you like to see portraying you?  

MS: [Laughs] That's a good question! I don't know. I have been thinking about that a bit as there have been some discussions around a movie for the book. I'm not entirely sure who, but there's a number of people. In my mind, I think it's hard to cast because it takes place when I was a kid. I’ve got to think, “Is there any [laughs] slightly nerdy, dorky Latino kid out there who [laughs] kind of looks like me, has this uncomfortable look on their face all the time and is constantly shifting their eyes all around as they're thinking. I don't know of any actors like that. But if they do find someone like that and they do that, I would expect it to be some type of a tragic-comedy movie. Larry David as my dad and Sofia Vergara as my mom [laughs].

GS: You recently celebrated your 25th birthday — belated happy birthday! With that in mind, do you foresee writing another memoir in the future to bring readers up to date on what happened in your life in the years following the publication of “App Kid?”

MS: I think it really depends on what happens next, to be honest. If there is something interesting out there and people want to know what comes next, I am certainly open to the idea of picking up another version of this and doing the “what happens next” version of the book. But until then, I don't know. I think a lot of things are to come and I'm excited to see what comes next. I'm still just as weird as I've always been, so I'm pretty sure I'll get myself into all kinds of terrible situations, but as long as that stuff keeps happening and people are interested, I’m certainly not opposed to doing it.

Gregg Shapiro is the author of seven books including the expanded edition of his short story collection How to Whistle (Rattling Good Yarns Press, 2021). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.