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Breaking code

Ottawa launch of tech workshops for women

From left, founders Laura Plant, Breanna Hughes, Melissa Crnic and Heather Payne.
A Toronto-based series of tech workshops created and managed by women is coming to Ottawa.
 
Ladies Learning Code aims to be social, collaborative and non-intimidating, says founder Heather Payne.
 
“It creates a feeling in people when they stumble upon our workshops and see that four women are running it. [If you are a woman] it might seem designed for you,” she says. “That can be what you really need to sign up for a programming workshop.”
 
Payne, who is self-taught, has been coding for two years. She started by making a professional portfolio website after graduating from university. “I used Google and online tutorials. Some months I would learn a lot and others I would hit a wall.”
 
But then she attended a May 2011 workshop hosted by the PyLadies, an international mentorship group helping women learn the computer programming language Python, in Los Angeles.
The collaborative, non-intimidating environment was much better than learning on her own, she says. “I tweeted it would be awesome if we could have something like this in Toronto.” Eighty-five people returned her enthusiasm.
 
Ladies Learning Code was born in August 2011 and now has 20 full-day workshops. Unlike PyLadies, Ladies Learning Code isn’t closed to men – they are welcome as students and instructors.
 
The workshops function best with a low student-teacher ratio, Payne says. “We would not be able to achieve the 4:1 ratio of students to instructors without men,” she says. However, she adds, students are usually almost all women.
 
After getting many questions about expanding to other cities, Ladies Learning Code decided in August 2012 to support volunteers who want to run workshops outside Toronto.
 
The first Ottawa workshop will be an introduction to HTML and CSS, the basic skills for managing the content and appearance of a website, says Nicole Belanger, the Ottawa chapter lead.
 
“The thought was ‘Let’s get everyone’s seat wet with a really basic course.’ You just have to know how to use the internet to come,” she says.
 
Technical skills are no longer optional in the workplace, Belanger says.
 
A lot of students and small-business owners who want to save money by managing their own websites have already signed up for the inaugural Ottawa workshop, she says.