Paying it Forward: Two Alums Launch a Start-up to Help Black College Students Entering the Tech Industry

Erika Hairston '14 and Arnelle Ansong '14

Techies Erika Hairston '14 and Arnelle Ansong '14 met at Hotchkiss, although computer science wasn't on their radar back then.

When they entered college, Hairston at Yale and Ansong at Stanford, they each decided to try a computer science class, even though neither one knew how to code. To get a leg up, they built a support system of peers, tutors, and industry-facing organizations that they could turn to as they tackled tough computer science classes. The extra help made all the difference between just dabbling in computer science and pursuing careers as engineers.

After college, the two reunited in the Bay Area. Hairston was leading the LinkedIn Learning (Lynda) Social Learning Team as a product manager, and Ansong was a consultant at Bain & Company. Hairston launched Zimela, an app that encourages underrepresented groups to enter tech by connecting women—particularly Black women—with mentors, career placement opportunities, and internships. Last spring, the two women joined forces and started Edlyft, a paid support program that helps college students with STEM classes by providing mentorship, group tutoring, and personalized tools—like Zimela.

Early on in their careers, they realized there were not a lot of people of color in tech, especially Black women. “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 in an online article published earlier this year on AfroTech.

“It’s sad that there are a lot of Black people that think computer science is really hard. Often, 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,” said Ansong.

Edylft helps college students pass their most challenging computer science classes by offering group tutoring, connecting them to study groups, and passing down guidance from peers through a subscription-based platform tailored to each student’s individual classes.

“You never know whose life you could change by sharing an opportunity,” said Hairston.“Every day I try to create an opportunity for someone to reach their goals."

Read article in AfroTech.

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