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Ladies Learning Code: Empowering Women (and Everyone Else)

What makes Ladies Learning Code a little extra special is its aim to provide learners of all ages to be given the opportunity to learn coding.


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It all started with a tweet. Heather Payne, one of the organization’s founders, wanted to learn how to code on her own. As soon as she asked her friends who felt the same way like she did, she organized a workshop for an Introduction to JavaScript five years ago. The tickets to the said workshop was sold out and fast track to 2016, the organization that came to be, Ladies Learning Code, is on its way to becoming the “leading resource for women and youth to become passionate builders” in their community.

What makes Ladies Learning Code, Toronto-based, a little extra special is its aim to provide learners of all ages to be given the opportunity to learn coding and “feel the joy and satisfaction of making something from scratch.”

Get the chance to know more about Ladies Learning Code in this exclusive interview with Melissa Sariffodeen and Laura Plant, co-executive directors of the company.

Source: Ladies Learning Code

THE PEOPLE

GN: Introduce yourself.

Melissa Sariffodeen and Laura Plant – we’re the Co-Executive Directors of Ladies Learning Code based in Toronto, Canada. We both started out as non-technical with backgrounds in business and HR but it was through our desire to learn critical technical skills that we started the organization.

GN: How many years have you been working in your industry? 

We’ve been running Ladies Learning Code for 5 years this July!

Source: Ladies Learning Code

Source: Ladies Learning Code

THE PROJECT 

GN: Who/What is Ladies Learning Code? What does it do? 

Ladies Learning Code is a not-for-profit organization with the mission to be the leading resource for women and youth to become passionate builders – not just consumers – of technology by learning technical skills in a hands-on, social, and collaborative way. From workshops to courses to camps, we offer our communities fun, accessible ways to learn about coding and other digital skills!

GN: How did the concept started? Describe the “Aha!” experience

Ladies Learning Code started with a tweet. One of our four founders, Heather Payne, knew there had to be a better way to learn to code than struggling on her own. She wasn’t the only one. So she took to Twitter and issued a call out to her community to see who else would be interested in coding workshops for women. The response was immediate and enthusiastic. The founding team – Heather Payne, Laura Plant, Melissa Sariffodeen and Breanna Hughes launched our first workshop, an Introduction to JavaScript, on August 6th, 2011 and tickets sold out in a day. So they planned another workshop. And another.

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Shortly after starting Ladies Learning Code, we realized that it wasn’t going to be enough. If we really wanted to have an impact on the number of women in tech, we would need to start younger. So, in early 2012, we launched Girls Learning Code, which offers workshops, camps and other events for 8- to 13-year-old girls. Hundreds of girls in Toronto have already participated in Girls Learning Code programs, and we’re now expanding the program to new cities.

A year later, due to overwhelming demand from parents, we launched Kids Learning Code – co-ed workshops, camps and events for 8- to 13-year-old boys and girls.

Most recently, we launched the code:mobile – Canada’s first coding truck that will drive across the country in the Summer of 2016 teaching kids to code.

GN: Why do women need coding?

Digital skills, which include coding, are powerful tools for building a thriving career that is both intellectually and financially rewarding. Even if you don’t use coding every day in your job, being able to speak that digital language and interact with others who do use technology in their every day roles will set you apart and help you progress in your career. Plus, as we said, it really is just another language! And the great thing about learning another language is that it helps expand your perspective and encourages you to think in new ways about the world.

GN: How big is the social impact? Can you provide a brief qualitative and quantitative data of your social impact? 

Now, four years after being founded, Ladies Learning Code operates in 22+ cities across the country and has had over 25,000 learners attend one of our workshops. We have reached the point in our life as an organization where participants who started as learners coming to our programs — both adults and youth — have now become volunteer mentors and instructors. It’s really inspiring to see the community grow and mature in this way.

Source: Jawb.io

THE COMPANY

GN: Are you an educational institution, social enterprise, non-profit or private company? Describe your company.

We are a not-for-profit organization with a small core team of five people and we are supported by a volunteer board that includes leaders in the Canadian tech industry. Outside of our core team, we have a network of 50+ Chapter Leads who run workshops in their communities, as well as a large network of volunteers (including our amazing mentors and instructors!).

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GN: Describe your mission, vision and values.

Our mission is to become the leading resource for women and youth seeking to learn the skills that will enable them to become passionate creators — not just consumers — of technology. We believe in imparting those skills in an environment that is is social and collaborative and that encourages hands-on learning. A big part of creating this environment is our 4:1 ratio of learners to volunteer mentors at every workshop. While the volunteer instructor leads the course, mentors work one-on-one with learners to help them when they get stuck and provide encouragement and feedback as they move through the workshop. We want our learners — of all ages! — to feel the joy and satisfaction of making something from scratch.

GN: Where is this company headed? What’s your future expansion plans? 

Inspired by our mission to become the leading resource teaching women and youth to become passionate builders — not just consumers — of the technology, Ladies Learning Code has a bold goal: to reach 200,000 learners by 2020. This includes the learners that we reach every year through our National Learn to Code Day initiative (September 26), where learners from coast to coast take part in simultaneous coding workshops! Additionally, we are currently piloting code:clubs, a coding education resource tool for educators, and we are about to hit the road with our code:mobile which is travelling across Canada over the summer of 2016 teaching thousands of youth how to code!

GN: How many engineers, scientists and mathematicians do you have in your company?

We have STEM professionals from all sorts of industries among our thousands of volunteers across Canada!

Source: Ottawa Citizen

ADVICE TO ALL THE GIRLS OUT THERE 

GN: Any inspiring words that you can share to our young global audience?

Coding is a beautiful tool that can allow you to create anything you dream of and more. It’s not always easy and you’ll fail a lot along the way but building some from scratch and seeing it out in the world impacting the lives of others is really awesome and totally worth it.

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