Kathryn Parsons, Co-Founder, Decoded: Tech Skills Are Not Just for Men. Opt In!

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Kathryn Parsons, our Featured Female Hero for this month's theme, founded Decoded in 2011 to help people become digitally literate and learn how to code in just one day.

With offices in London, New York and Singapore, Decoded's offerings have expanded to include Data Visualisation In a Day, Social Data in a Day, Digital Production in a Day and Mobile in a Day, in additon to Code in a Day.

It’s been a great month for Kathryn, who has just been awarded the Veuve Clicquot New Generation award, which aims to encourage up-and-coming femle entrepreneurial talent, and named in Business Insider’s 30 Most Important Women Under 30 In Tech.

Kathryn was the winner of the UK Start-Up Entrepreneur of the Year & Digital Business of the Year in the 2012 RED Hot Magazine's Women's Awards, has been named by Girls in Tech in the Top 100 Women in Tech in Europe and in TechCityInsider's Tech City 100.She was a finalist in the 2013 FDM everywoman in Technology awards earlier this year.

Prior to launching Decoded, Kathryn co-founded The Scarlett Mark, an agency offering product innovation for brands and media owners. Before becoming an entrepreneur, she spent three years as UK Head of Channel Planning with Ogilvy.

We spoke to Kathryn about how learning to code can help entrepreneurs run their businesses; the future of women in tech; and the exciting startups coming out of London at the moment!

TNW: How did you come up with the idea for Decoded and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into reality?

KP: The realisation that at board level there was a lot of jargon, misunderstanding, fear and inability to lead within digital, combined with the desire at grassroots level to actually understand what was going on behind the screen, to get your hands dirty, equip oneself (myself!) with hands on skills and deep digital literacy. I wanted these skills to help me innovate, manage teams, identify talent, communicate better with developers and so on. I wanted to learn, but didn't have any time to devote to it. I started wondering whether it was possible to teach someone to Code in a Day and, more importantly, emerge "Digital Enlightened".

It was an impossible challenge and thus Decoded was born. It took us 8 months to a year to develop a single day of incredible accelerated learning. 

And since then we have grown 100% through the evangelism and recommendation of our alumni. Do take a peek at the incredible testimonials which give you a glimpse of why 

TNW: Apart from the obvious application, how can learning to code help entrepreneurs run their businesses?

KP: We explain the worlds of the web, data, social....through the lens of code.  Digital is affecting everyone's lives and businesses; if you don't understand it, how can you realise the opportunities or face the challenges in front of you? We've had all levels of the hierarchy (board to new joiner) learn with us, and every sector. But I would say that the individuals tend to be innovators and change agents within their specific sectors or organisations. It is not always about turning people into programmers, but rather about making people a lot better at what they do and unlocking/supercharging their existing talents.  You'll notice the word "empowerment" is used a lot within our testimonials.

Broadly it falls into communication, innovation, talent, data:

  • Talent: Identify the best/latent digital talent within your organisation. Create hybrid skills from within and deep digital literacy at all levels of an organisation.  Break down the divide between the digital "haves" and "have nots".
  • Innovation: How can you prepare your business for an increasingly digital future, without understanding?  How can you realise what is possible?  Let alone promote/sell digital products or services.  How can you adopt the culture and processes of this world to innovate better and faster?
  • Communication: Communicate more confidently, with more empathy and knowledge with developer teams and digital agencies.  The impact of this cannot be underestimated. This simple "divide" is costing companies an incredible amount of time and money, for a multitude of reasons.
  • Data: What data do you/your clients have?  How can you extract valuable insights from this, quickly and beautifully?

TNW: Do you believe technology is key for the future success of women in business? What, if anything, is Decoded doing to specifically assist this?


Decoded has always appealed to women.  I am immensely proud of our 50/50 gender split.  

There IS a desire amongst women to embrace these skills. However, when you broadly look at the statistics around women opting into technology (from school level into STEM subjects to a career level) the numbers are shockingly low. Why? The skills needed to be a coder or deeply digitally literate are not exclusive to men. Yet for some reason women are not being attracted to this field. It is complex.

 Yet I believe there are a few factors contributing:

  • A lack of female mentors/role models (this is changing very quickly).  More visibility for women within this field. This is an area where women enjoy working and can excel, on their own terms. Technology and coding are not just for boys.  
  • It troubles me that there is somehow a belief that this is a skill set more suited to male minds or at least a "certain type" of mind.  To the first point, can you imagine us accepting this point of view about ANY other skillset (maths, english ... the ability to vote)?!  To the second, there are so many misconceptions about what kind of skills are needed to be a good coder/technologist.
  • Personally I believe it particularly chimes with people who are good logical thinkers, problem solvers, creatives,communicators who have good collaboration skills ... in what way are these male skills? In a nutshell, debunk the myths and the cliches. I hope I/Decoded are strongly involved in changing the above issues. 

And our amazing female alumni are a real testimony to that.  Some incredible trailblazers within the professional women at all levels.

TNW: We have heard that you are now present in Shanghai and New York. Tell us more.  What is next for Decoded?

 KP: Expanding to new markets is no mean feat as a self-funded business. But we have to do it; the demand for what we do is global .. .and as such we are also popping up in various other locations around the world in the coming months. 

Also, we have launched Data Visualisation in a Day, Social Data in a Day and several other products (all of which have also taken up to a year to develop; it's not easy to take people from zero skills and knowledge to understanding these worlds using code in a single day!). Plus lots of other exciting things up our sleeves ;-)

TNW: What lessons did you learn from your first venture, The Scarlett Mark and apply to co-founding and running Decoded?

KP: So many!  In terms of business I would say to be curious, respectful,do what you love, feed your imagination, trust your gut instincts and work with great people that you love being around and share your values.

TNW: Have you come across any exciting, upcoming London tech Startups recently?

KP: So many again!  What a brilliant and exciting place to be at the moment.  You can really feel the energy (especially in East London) at the moment.  I can't wait to judge the apps at the Stylist Network on the 19th June and meet all the Wayra start ups too for this year.  I love these female led initiatives...

  • audience.io: bridging the gap between London and NY for the start-up scene founded by Courtney Boyd Meyers
  • House of Genius: being brought to London by Decoded's very own Anaika Saigal after her trip to SXSW 

I love that these two start-ups came out of a 3 day conference in Wales called Do Lectures too
(and I just tweeted for suggestions of female founded tech start-ups in London and already received the following @tanktoptv @dattchdating @BuddyBounceHQ @taskhubHQ @MakelightLive @InsaneLogicUK @Qudini @RemovalStars @songdropapp @makielab)

TNW: What kind of technology are you most enthusiastic about and why?

KP: 3D/Google Glass (hope to get my hands on a Warby Parker pair) & Future Platforms/Data Visualisation (the list goes on).

Because the future is happening now, and it is endlessly fascinating and there is so much potential. 

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you and you would like to share with our community?

KP: I have really noticed how women are an incredible force for change and innovation throughout my career.  I am passionate that more female founders and leadership will not only be essential for businesses to excel, but will be essential in order to create a culture of business which seriously addresses many of the issues women currently face in terms of the earnings gap, childcare, promotion and beyond. 

And technology skills should not be the preserve of men. Opt-in!

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