Change Agent

How Heather Payne is helping get more women into high tech

The founder of training program Ladies Learning Code and programming bootcamp HackerYou is helping restore gender balance to tech

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adies Learning Code & HackerYou founder Heather Payne

Ladies Learning Code & HackerYou founder Heather Payne. (Portrait by Erik Putz)

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. She explains how it came about:

“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.”