The IT industry is attracting more people through free learn-to-code events

Serene Yew sips tea in a cafe in northwest Calgary while typing line after line of computer code. Her company, Pixel Tree, creates web applications for small businesses.

The technology sector continues to be dominated by men, making Yew a minority. According to a recent Angus Reid poll, across Canadian universities, only 27 per cent of math, computer science and information science grads are women.

Yew, 35, said that plenty of women are interested in computer science, but the field has been rife with gender issues.

Yew found the barriers were particularly challenging when entering the workforce 10 years ago.

“A lot of the guys didn’t feel that girls could code as well as they could, so they’d give me the difficult work or the boring tasks,” said Yew.The HTML500 boasted an even representation of males and females.

Photo by Paul Brooks

Yew says over time, things seem to be changing.

“Technology isn’t everything we do now. It’s not just for the underground coders anymore. Everyone needs a website, everyone needs an app, so everyone’s getting into it now.”

Yew recently shared her knowledge and experience at Canada’s largest learn-to-code event, called HTML500.

Professional developers, from scrappy startups to big businesses, donated their time to mentor attendees and showcase Canada’s tech community.

The February event drew about 500 Calgarians to the Red & White Club to learn the basics of computer coding, free of charge.

Organizer Jeremy Shaki said he was pleased by the equal turnout of men and women, but acknowledged stereotypes associated with computer coding persist.

“A lot of the guys didn’t feel that girls could code as well as they could, so they’d give me the difficult work or the boring tasks.”

-Serene Yew, computer programmer“There’s a stigma that’s attached to it,” said Shaki. “People think it takes a lot of intelligence to code, and really it’s a skill like any other and it takes you hours.”

Shaki works for Vancouver-based technology firm, Lighthouse Labs, which is the driving force behind the free coding events, which this year included stops in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and London.

Produced by: Paul Brooks

The tour promoted the fun and social side of computer programming, with participants chowing down on pizza and pop and dancing to Top 40 music, while they learned about coding.

“Coding is social,” said Shaki. “It’s not just sitting on your computer for 12 hours a day with your headphones on. It’s really about talking with people, problem solving, figuring out ideas and solutions and you can do it from the comforts of your own home, a classroom or a cafe.”

Serene Yew feels the tech industry is becoming more inclusive after participating in the Calgary edition of the HTML500.

Photo by Paul BrooksYew was impressed with the event’s turnout. She said that most of the participants she mentored were women and she knows the benefits of being mentored first-hand.

“When I was a junior programmer, I had excellent mentors and I know that if other people don’t have that opportunity, they aren’t given a fair shot at succeeding in programming.”

pbrooks@cjournal.ca