Decrypted By Us is a learning community by and for people from groups underrepresented in Computer Science. We make applied technical education accessible and relatable by producing videos specifically for underrepresented CS learners and providing a distribution platform for underrepresented content creators.
Tell us more about your venture.
Decrypted By Us is a marketplace that connects underrepresented CS learners to technical content that is made by content creators who look like them. Because computer science is a rapidly evolving field, CS students and professionals rely on online resources to continuously learn new skills. However, most of these online learning resources are created by and represent dominant groups in CS, reflecting the stereotype of the white male coder. Decrypted corrects this bias by providing a platform for underrepresented CS learners to find the technical content they need to learn new skills, made by creators that they connect and relate to.
Decrypted lifts up and promotes existing content creators with underrepresented identities whose content is often buried beneath the countless videos made by the stereotypical tech creator. Decrypted also makes the barrier to entry easier for new creators who want to start producing their own content. We offer video editing and distribution services to make it easier for them to produce and publish content.
What inspired you to start Decrypted By Us?
As two women studying computer science, my co-founder, Ambika, and I both experienced first hand how uncomfortable and unmotivating it is to be learning in an online environment that has so little representation of people that look like us.
I’ve always been a strong believer in the idea that representation matters. For me, I grew up in a family that encouraged my interest in STEM, but I never even considered going into CS until my high school math teacher took me to a women in STEM event and I finally found a woman in tech that I related to. Before that, I thought I had to fit the stereotype of a “geeky coder” to even consider going into tech.
Last year, Ambika told me about how frustrating it was for her to use online resources to learn to build her own website and not be able to find any creators she resonated with. Together we realized the negative impact this lack of representation in the online community makes and that more can be done to improve the diversity of content creators that people are learning from everyday.
Why is this problem important?
The tech sector has been struggling to diversify, and culture and representation are big factors. Almost every underrepresented CS student I’ve talked to describes how they’ve struggled with imposter syndrome since day one. For these students, even seeing one person that looks like them in tech can open their eyes to the fact that there is space in the field for them and encourage them to continue learning CS.
There has been a push to improve diversity in universities and in industry, but these aren’t the only spaces CS students learn in. Almost all CS curriculums focus on teaching theory and concepts, but leave students to learn practical skills on their own, which they need to succeed in industry. Most students tell me that the majority of skills they use in internships and post-grad jobs are learned through YouTube and finding the answers to their problems through Google.
However, if you go to YouTube right now, and search a technical topic (try something like “Intro to Python”), you’ll see the majority of creators are cisgender, white, and male. This lack of representation makes the online technical content space an intimidating and discouraging place for minority students. Not seeing themselves represented feeds into the cycle of imposter syndrome and feelings of not belonging in tech. Despite these negative impacts, most learners have no choice but to continue turning to these resources to learn the practical skills they need to succeed.
Who is your target market?
The target market for our content is underrepresented CS learners, which includes students studying computer science in college and high school, as well as people who are learning CS on their own or through programs like bootcamps. We are currently focused on supporting students studying CS in college, but our content is open and accessible to all these different audiences.
We also see underrepresented technical content creators as another market we serve. We provide them with video editing services and help them distribute their content more widely. To serve this side of our market we are also exploring partnerships with organizations, such as tech companies and diversity focused non-profits, to give them access to our diverse audience and video production services.
How is B-Lab helping your venture develop?
As two software engineers, Ambika and I jumped right into building when we first conceptualized Decrypted. This process helped us test a number of our ideas, but B-Lab has helped us take a step back and taught us how to gather data that backs up and challenges the assumptions our venture is built on. B-Lab has given us the crash course on entrepreneurship and the roadmap to building a successful early-stage venture that we were in need of. The mentorship we have received through B-Lab has also been invaluable. From meeting with our in-house Nelson Center mentor every week to being connected with Brown alumni who are experts in the online technical content community, we have received a great deal of guidance every step of the way.
What is something surprising that has happened thus far?
The biggest surprise for us has been a recent pivot in our business model. Coming into B-Lab we were open to making changes to our business model, but we were pretty certain our main focus would be to build on top of our existing structures and team. However, through B-Lab bootcamp we realized the value of research processes like customer interviews and talking to experts in the field. In taking a step back from continually building and taking the time to gather more data, we learned that a different business model would probably be stronger in the long-term and decided to make a pivot to providing services to content creators rather than hiring them as part of our team. In some ways, this has brought us a few steps back, as this has added many untested assumptions that we need to validate. However, we feel we are moving in a better direction now and this model will help us to grow and scale more effectively.
What is your hope for the field of CS, in terms of diversity and inclusion, in the next five years?
In the next five years, I’d hope to see real improvement in the number of women and POC that have technical and leadership roles at tech companies. From personal experience and in talking to students from schools across the country, I know that universities have been making progress in improving the diversity of students studying CS. Many are even at gender parity and have clubs supporting students with underrepresented identities. However, many students I talked with described how shocked they were when they got their first internships and realized their university community was a bubble that did not reflect the outside industry. Many students also talked about how they go into industry expecting to not see anyone like them and have been desensitized to this experience. We need to push to improve the number of women and POC in industry, so everyone can feel they belong in tech.
Anything else you’d like to share? (Any videos you would recommend on the Decrypted By Us youtube channel or social media accounts?)
Check out our YouTube channel for technical and practical tutorials on topics, like “How to Write a Technical Resume,” “How to Host a Website for Free,” and to learn more about the experiences of underrepresented students in CS.
Luna Ito-Fisher is a recent graduate of Brown University with a concentration in Computer Science who is starting work as a Software Engineer at Oscar Health this fall. During her time at Brown she worked closely with a number of non-profits at the intersection of technology and social good and wants to continue working on improving diversity in tech.