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Work Life: Kathryn Parsons, Co-Founder Of Decoded


Kathryn Parsons, 30, is co-founder of Decoded, a school which teaches computer programming. She lives in Highgate, north London.

Running a start-up business is hectic so I operate on very little sleep, relying on my alarm clock to jolt me awake at 7am. Most of my wardrobe is black, so I’ll team a simple silk dress with statement jewellery and bright lipstick – I love Mac’s fuchsia shade Isabella Blow. I get my hair blow-dried once a week, otherwise I wear it in a bun as I like to vary my style. I catch the tube to our offices in Old Street for 9am, picking up a muffin and coffee from Shoreditch Grind on the way.

It’s a really exciting area of London to work in – there’s lots of tech start-ups so it’s been dubbed Silicon Roundabout, Britain’s answer to Silicon Valley. Our office is a huge open-plan space designed by Italian designer Antonio Citterio of B&B Italia.

At Decoded we teach computer programming – people learn how to code in a day. They come in having never coded anything and by the end of the day they’ve built their own app using HTML, CSS and Javascript programming languages. We started the business in January 2011 and launched the workshops in August. It was self-funded by me and my three co-founders and the biggest challenge was having the confidence to spend our time and money on a business that was untested. The risk paid off as it has exceeded all our expectations.

Since setting up the company I’ve learned how to code but we have a team of digital experts who teach on the day courses. It’s my role to drive business; improving the workshops through client feedback, developing new products and meeting potential customers. Our clients tend to be really successful people from companies such as Ogilvy Group, Facebook and the BBC.

People come in having never coded anything and by the end of the day they’ve built an app

Our in-house chef cooks healthy food for our clients, such as quinoa and goat’s cheese salad, but I often meet investors for lunch at Ceviche or Soho House, checking Twitter and responding to emails on my way.

I do conference calls in the afternoon with brands and agencies in Singapore, New York and LA, as we’re planning to expand globally by the end of the year.

Decoded is my second business; after studying Classics at Cambridge University I started an innovation consultancy but that’s now on hold as Decoded takes up 100% of my energy. I’m a bit of a language geek – I speak Japanese, Mandarin, French and Italian to varying degrees – to me, coding is just another language. Coding conjures up images of boys in dark basements eating pizza and drinking beer but that’s a dangerous caricature. The number of women in technology is worryingly low, however in my experience the appetite among professional women to become digitally literate is reassuringly high. We’ve had hundreds of women at Decoded. I also think it’s important to attend industry events, such as the recent Girls in Tech talk at the Google Campus in east London. They not only debunk myths and stereotypes, but give women the visibility they deserve and the industry desperately needs.

The workshops finish at around 5.30pm – we crack open the wine and beers and there’s always lots of applause and high-fives when people realise what they’ve achieved in a day. Our clients usually leave by 8pm so a couple of nights a week I’ll go home to continue working. I love living in Highgate – it’s close to central London but is really quiet and feels like a different world.

In the evenings I concentrate on the creative side of the business, coming up with ideas for new events for our alumni or initiatives such as working with the NextGen Skills campaign to teach children how to code, which I was recently invited to 10 Downing St to discuss.

A couple of nights a week I go out with colleagues or catch up with friends somewhere near work, such as The Albion or Rivington Grill. If I have a session the next day I make sure that I’m in bed by midnight but on Fridays we often stay out until the early hours; we work hard, but we play hard too.”




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