Ladies Learning to Code is Not About Women

There is this small but fierce not-for-profit called Ladies Learning to Code. It has pretty straightforward but profound ambitions: “designed to help girls see technology in a whole new light – as a medium for self-expression, and as a means for changing the world.” (Girls Learning to Code camp).

I started my first tech company while I was still in grade school. That experience changed the path of my life forever and I was able to do that because when I was in 7th grade I started to learn to program.

My family couldn’t really afford a computer, so I used the ones in the computer lab at school a lot. There was a math teacher, Mr. Murley, who would basically be there to open the lab and help teach programming 24/7. I also had some neighbours who had a computer and I would stay there until midnight many weekend nights.

Learning to code early on taught me a few things I am forever grateful for. I learned that I could create whatever I wanted. At that age and in that time you really did have the sense that you could change the world with a few hundred lines of code. All you had to do was find something that was broken or an idea that had potential and you could just build it. I think you can build even more today and because there are better ways to distribute you can have an amazing impact.

A lot of navel gazing here, I know.

There is no more important challenge for the tech community in the next decade than to find a way to make programming accessible to as many children as possible.

We need to do that for a lot of reasons. We need future employees of course, and we need a more tech-savvy population to market in to, but we also need a broader and more diverse pool of ideas and inspiration.

We need kids to believe that they can change the world so that they can grow in to adults who do change it. There may be no better way to enable them to do that than helping them learn to code.

So, when I saw Ladies Learning to Code for the first time I had no small hope that this wouldn’t be just about teaching women to program. My hope  is that we can take the model that works for Ladies Learning to Code and that we can find ways to apply it to help make programming a less mysterious endeavour for every curious mind out there.

It’s true that not every child will want to program and I am sure only a fraction will pursue it as a career choice. I also know however that no child who learns will be unchanged. They will learn that they can create something from nothing, that there is nothing they can imagine that they cannot build, and that every tool they possibly need is available and free.

My home province recently took the X-ACTO-knife to the public school IT budget. As if growing up in the most rural province in Canada doesn’t make it hard enough for kids to pursue a future in startups, software development or IT, now there is a provincial government which is actively dismantling IT in education. (Note: Premier Ghiz– who the hell thought that was a good idea?)

I have little hope that our governments will figure this out in the next 20 years and so while school budgets are slashed by uncompromising governments, we have a job to do.

Ladies Learning to Code gets us off to a fantastic start, but the work is just beginning.

Toronto Startup Heatmap

Joe Greenwood is directing a new project that pulls together data to track Ontario’s startups. One of the first data sources to be tapped was the StartupNorth Index, which in conjunction with MaRS client data has been crunched into a heatmap of 670 startups across Toronto. Not surprisingly, the ideal office is inexpensive, accessible by transit, and close to good coffee. How can you help fill in this map? Build an amazing startup of course.

If you want to change the ecosystem you need to build an amazing startup

At Founders and Funders this week we took some time to interview Dan Debow. It was a bit of a love-in I admit but that is just because I really love how much passion Dan has for helping those around him. He has made a big difference in a lot of people’s lives. I’ve benefitted from it and so have dozens of others in the Canadian startup community.

One thing that Dan said really struck me. A little context might help though.

A lot of folks have been working hard to build a startup ecosystem in Toronto. For over half a decade guys like Dan have been pouring energy in to helping anyone with an idea and a glimmer in their eye to start a startup. There are of course formal organizations that do this on behalf of the government, but the fact is that making Toronto a viable city for startups has been a mostly clandestine movement. People working on the fringes to do what they believe in.

Sometimes you hear complaints about the ecosystem. Whether it is Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver or Halifax you can find complainers.

How can we fix the local ecosystem?

Dan said it best this week and he was clearly passionate about it: You can’t fix your ecosystem. Just get out there and build something great. More accurately he said:


That’s your job. Your only job. Get out there and build something great.

You can stop being shy, coy and tepid about it. Everyone around you wants you to do something great. They just want you to step up a little and say you are going to do it.

I want you to do something great. I want you to put a ding in the fucking universe.

Take your vision and make it even hairier, bolder and broader. Take your product and get obsessed with it. Change the world for people around you and every single one of us will step in line and push behind you.

Dan did it and this week we got to shine the spotlight on him a bit. There are hundreds of folks out there pushing to do it. Stop worrying about the community. Go big and the community will be right there behind you.

The next time we plan a Founders and Funders I want it to be you that’s up there telling your story.

You can be next. JFDI