Heather Payne, HBA ’09, and Melissa Sariffodeen, HBA ’10, are working to bridge the technology gender gap.
It was a simple idea, but one whose time had come.
In May 2011 Heather Payne casually tweeted that Toronto needed coding workshops for women. She had been trying to teach herself to code for two years and had read about a similar program in Los Angeles. Although she didn’t have a lot of followers, word spread quickly and the response was enthusiastic. “It just took off,” says Payne. “There was a frenzy of excitement around the idea.”
By August, Payne, fellow Ivey alumna Melissa Sariffodeen and two other co founders had launched Ladies Learning Code with a single workshop in Toronto. Today the not-for-profit organization offers one-day beginner workshops designed for women and several programs for children in 22 cities across Canada. Already more than 20,000 people have been introduced to coding through the organization, and participation is doubling every year. On September 26, the organization will host National Learn to Code Day, with more than 1,000 women participating in workshops across Canada.
Sariffodeen, who is Co-Executive Director, says the organization is about more than responding to a need in the marketplace: it’s also about promoting digital literacy and closing the gender gap in technology. “Whatever your age or level you should have some exposure to the technology we use every day,” she says. “Just as we need a bit of English and a bit of math, we need a bit of technology.” Ladies Learning Code focuses on meeting the learning needs of women because they are more likely to be intimidated by technology. “We are working to empower women and girls to be builders of technology, not just consumers.”
Thanks to the success of Ladies Learning Code, women soon began to ask for a longer course that would build marketable skills. HackerYou was born, with Payne as CEO. HackerYou offers part-time programs, with two threehours classes per week for six weeks, and a full-time nine-week program. The for-profit school is housed in an “Apple Store-style” facility at Queen and Spadina in Toronto.
Sariffodeen says her Ivey experience helped prepare her and Payne for their entrepreneurial ventures. “We have always focused on how to be more lean and efficient, and how to have more impact with the resources we have,” she says. “Those are skills we developed at Ivey and they have helped us scale up effectively and be successful.” Payne agrees, adding, “At Ivey in every case you do, you’re the CEO dealing with high-level problems and finding solutions. I think that role-playing has made this leadership role quite comfortable for me.”
All Photos: Pam Lau