The Entrepreneur Tackling Tech's Gender Problem One Class at a Time

How Heather Payne of Ladies Learning Code and HackerYou is helping correct her industry's imbalance

Written by As told to Deborah Aarts

In 2011, Heather Payne started Ladies Learning Code, a not-for-profit organization that now operates coding workshops for women and girls in 24 cities across Canada. In 2012, she branched out to start HackerYou, a Toronto-based business that operates co-ed programming courses. Here, she explains how both operations came about.

Heather_Payne-Ladies_Learning_Code_HackerYou-P_Erik_Putz-Change_Agent_April_2016-300x450Ladies Learning Code founder and HackerYou CEO Heather Payne. Photo: Erk Putz

Ladies Learning Code was designed to create a really special and fun learning experience.

Everything in the day-long workshops is hands-on and project-based; by the time you leave, you have a website you can show someone. That helps people feel accomplished, like they are capable of doing something with their coding skills. We keep a low ratio of instructors to participants—four to one—which limits the intimidation factor.

From the start, there was so much energy and buzz in the room that I knew we were really onto something, and after three or four workshops, I quit my job to get Ladies Learning Code off the ground. Not long after, participants started asking for more—they loved the style of learning and wanted to dive into coding. I had seen programming boot camps starting to pop up in the U.S. and, given what we’d learned about teaching people, it made obvious sense we should bring that model to Canada.

So we created HackerYou as a business. HackerYou is co-ed, but our founding team is all women, and our enrolment is about 70% female. It has become a significant creator of female developers without being an explicitly “female” solution to the women-in-tech problem.

This article is from the April 2016 issue of Canadian Business. Subscribe now!


What skills would you like to send your employees to learn? Would all young people benefit from attending a coding boot camps? Let us know by commenting below.

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