2 min

Swish List

Let’s help queer folks join the coding revolution

Providing programming training to LGBT communities could help combat unemployment numbers. Credit: ThinkStock

Every election, we try to grill candidates
 on whether they support queer issues that are already top of mind. But this year, in
 an effort to lead the conversation, Xtra is tossing out new ideas to make our city better and our community stronger. We’re calling it the Swish List, and between now and the election, we’ll be publishing new ideas from our writers and members of the community.

The summer between grades nine and 10, I took a computer programming class. I wanted to make videogames, and you had to start somewhere. In my case it was in a computer lab, writing short, simple programs in the programming language C. My crowning moment was code that played “O Canada” on command but with an additional jazzy bridge that I composed myself. I thought it sounded spontaneous and whimsical. My teacher disagreed, asking to stop listening after the first few original notes.

Early exposure to coding made me much more comfortable around it, even though I never pursued it as a career. But many people are intimidated by programming: it feels like something only an elite set can do. This is untrue. Languages become more accessible, and there’s been a push to guide a diverse range of people (that is, anyone outside middle-class straight white men) through the process. Websites like Codecademy already offer tutorials free or at a minimal cost.

The tech industry may not seem an obvious fit for the queer community, yet major voices in it recognize the need for diversity. Companies like Google and Apple have openly championed marriage equality in the United States, for instance, while many other industries remained silent. Networking groups like Blue Q at IBM make life at work better. Organizations like StartOut and Out in Tech build relationships and help catalyze mentorship.

In the queer community, too, many people are underemployed or unemployed. Learning to code can help correct this with stable, high-paying jobs in a growing industry. Unlike many fields, partial or no formal education is not a barrier to a job in programming, nor is ageism as pernicious a threat. There is more meritocracy than in other fields: well-written code is well-written code.

The city should create infrastructure to help bolster those wanting to learn to code. Investment in fluency in programming would provide many returns, including a stronger, more competitive workforce and a better match between job-seekers and the type of jobs available in 2014.

There will naturally be some hesitation. An awareness campaign across the Village should encourage an interest in coding and demystify the process. The campaign must emphasize the democratic potential of programming and highlight potential mentors from the community.

Then, drop-in programs should be established in spaces that don’t feel like school. The city can piggyback on existing online pedagogical tools, such as Codecademy, allowing newcomers to programming to continue their education at home should they choose. Not everyone will enjoy programming, but some may discover an affinity, perhaps even a passion, for coding. These people become the foundation for reaching the next wave of coding neophytes.

When I took that programming class two decades ago, knowing how to code was a novelty, the hobby of nerds and outcasts. With the advent of smartphones and tablets, however, that has all changed. It is fast becoming as necessary a language to know as English — or, eventually, Mandarin. Let’s equip our community with the skills of the future.