Black professionals in any industry have faced their challenges trying to fit into spaces that weren’t designed for us. So, it’s always great to see young, successful Black entrepreneurs paying it forward by creating opportunities for people who look like them – starting with the youth.
For Black college students interested in getting involved in the tech industry, YCombinator funded startup company Edlyft is here to help equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to succeed: “Edlyft is creating 1 million new computer science college graduates over the next decade. We help college students pass their most challenging computer science classes by offering group tutoring, connecting them to study groups, and passing down guidance from peers who’ve done it before.”
I spoke with Erika Hairston and Arnelle Ansong, co-founders of the newly funded startup, to hear their story behind building this company that’s catering to Black college students interested in joining tech.
Hairston and Ansong’s journeys in tech began as college students themselves at Yale and Stanford University, respectively, where they would declare themselves computer science majors.
“Erika and I stumbled into tech. For me, it wasn’t on my mind at all until I got to Stanford and saw it firsthand my freshman year what tech was,” Ansong said. “It was really coming out [here] and seeing tech and seeing people like me doing it that really inspired me to commit to computer science.”
After landing jobs at their respective big tech companies LinkedIn and Bain & Company, it became apparent that the industry wasn’t diverse.
“Within the tech culture of things, I remember always feeling very frustrated that I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me in these tech companies or on engineering teams, or many women who were engineers. So every day going into work I thought ‘what more can I do to change this space?'” Hairston said.
Creating New Lanes
The two businesswomen had plans to take the tech industry by storm, but not without bringing in more people of color to join them in the rooms they felt isolated in. They came up with a concept to encourage more Black people to join tech, which eventually became Edlyft.
“It became clear that there’s a huge cultural lie that to be in tech, people need to look a certain way, and if you don’t look a certain way, then it’s not right for you — and that is a lie that we’re both trying hard to dismantle,” Ansong said.
Their passion for this issue fueled the fire to continue developing their startup. A lot of their research consisted of talking with students to get to the root of the problem.
“It’s sad that there are a lot of Black people that think computer science is really hard. Often times they have a lot working against them, being in computer science classes that are big and people in the class have been coding longer than you have. So it gets even harder when you have trouble relating to your peers because none of them look like you.” Ansong said. “That strong peer support is what helped us get through the major and a lot of other computer science people like us complete the major — without that [computer science] can feel almost impossible.”
Knowing what they experienced in college and what they wished they had access to, Hairston and Ansong created a company that’s dedicated to helping Black people secure better jobs and learn new skills. The confidence they gained in themselves throughout this development process has helped them be of assistance to other Black students who are in the same position they were in.
Investing in the Future of Black Tech
Edlyft had its fair share of challenges as well, the company originally started out as an app, but if Hairston and Ansong wanted to make the biggest impact, they had to meet their target audience where they were — in schools. A large part of being co-founders of a startup company is wearing all the hats and taking on a heavy workload. This is why a lot of the work for Hairston and Ansong looks like going to schools, talking to students, and identifying the resources they need to feel secure and succeed in their coursework. They most recently visited UCLA, one of the participating schools for Edlyft, to speak with students about how they can help them achieve their goals.
“Our number one priority is ensuring value for our students,” Hairston said.
Edyft offers computer science tutoring sessions per semester with the help of computer science alum who have endured the same coursework and assignments. The focus for Edlyft was finding the best way to show how they want to change the world for students by getting them into tech.
Hairston and Ansong are doing everything in their power to be mentors in the tech space, especially for Black women who are unsure about a future in tech.
“I wanted to see more people I could relate to and in roles, I wanted to be in,” Hairston said.
Edlyft’s Five Year Plan
Edlyft is still in its early stages, but the company is expected to see major expansion over the next five years.
“I see Edlyft being the place where every college student who wants to study computer science can be a part of our community and feel supported,” Hairston said. “Computer science is only going to continue growing and we are going to be the best place for students to feel confident that they’re going to succeed.”
With the way that Edlyft supplies knowledge and tools to college students, we’ll be able to see these skills applied to other STEM fields in the future.
Hairston and Ansong are paving the way and making the future bright for computer science students. The co-founders are on a mission to be a resource to young Black college students and expand their reach to implement their program into more schools where their services are needed.
For students interested in having Edlyft visit their college campus, go to https://edlyft.com/join.
Editorial Note: This piece has been updated since it was initially published.