Coding Canadian Innovation
On June 14th, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains and Science Minister, Kirsty Duncan announced a $50M, two-year government commitment to teach young people to code alongside other digital skills. This initiative is delivering on the 2017 budget announcement in March, where the federal government explained its intentions to make Canada a world-leading centre for innovation, to help create more good, well-paying jobs and help strengthen and grow the middle class in the country.
Coding is indeed an important skill for young (and any age, really) people to hone. In a constantly and quickly digitizing world, having coding skills could provide personal and professional opportunities. Companies across practically every industry are relying on technology to power their business operations. And, there isn’t just the immediate payoff with coding skills—having coding skills allows you to accelerate your personal marketability. When you’re marketable, you have leverage. You’re freer to take risks and more able to rebound when things go wrong.
Enter Canada Learning Code (CLC)—an initiative created by Ladies Learning Code (LLC). Launching in 2011, it turned a bright idea into workshops for women who are eager to learn how to code. The program has now expanded to include all Canadians – not just women – with a healthy goal of teaching 10 million Canadians to code by 2027. The idea to expand Ladies Learning Code into a national, inclusive initiative, came from its board of directors, says Melissa Sariffodeen, CEO, Ladies Learning Code.
“Justin (Lafayette – Managing Partner, Georgian Partners) who is on our board, Tobi (Lütke – CEO, Shopify) and Boris (Wertz – Founding Partner, Version One Ventures), all came to us and were really keen on pushing us to think bigger. This was a really cool part of the story of their role on the board and as a part of our organization. These people are big, visionary thinkers,” says Sariffodeen, who explains that these conversations are what prompted the board to start discussing expanding the Ladies Learning Code program and transforming Canada altogether in terms of skills education and digital literacy. “That was really the impetus for Canada Learning Code,” she says.
Georgian Partners, a Toronto growth equity firm investing in SaaS-based software companies, supports CLC in more ways that simply sitting on the board. In fact, most of Georgian’s team contributes in various ways. Emily Walsh, Senior Associate, Georgian Partners, says being involved with CLC is the perfect fit for Georgian.
“In 2014, Georgian was looking for a way to give back to the technology community and to really encourage diversity and we learned about ladies learning code through Heather (Payne – Co-founder, Ladies Learning Code) and it was really the perfect thing,” explains Walsh. “It was exactly what we wanted our community involvement to represent. It was, and continues to be, the one non-profit endeavor that we support in the community.”
Support for the program, like the support that Georgian is providing to CLC, is important as CLC scales, explains Sariffodeen.
“Justin is always pushing us to think big. He encourages us to always look at the landscape and the work we are doing and to not undervalue the work that we’ve done. Justin has been really instrumental in showing us we’ve got this great thing—helping us determine how to do more and then helping us to fund that work,” Sariffodeen says.
“He was the first and Georgian Partners was the first to step up to commit really substantially. Georgian committed a million dollars over the next ten years towards this goal. That has helped us to secure more support and gives us a runway to do the work that we are doing.”
Walsh points out the contrast of having a program like this available today compared to the advantages that were available when she was young.
“These girls, who are eight, nine, ten years old were developing their own business concepts and they were learning how to use Canva and some other tools to visualize what their business would look like,” Walsh says, referring to volunteering at a business and entrepreneurship program for girls in 2016. “That to me – if I think back on my eight, nine, ten-year-old life experience – was the kind of opportunity that was nowhere to be seen. It’s vastly different in terms of the creative potential that you have when you have access to tools like that.”
The program is growing exponentially in terms of students served and is almost doubling the amount of people learning code every single year. In order to reach the goal of teaching 10 million Canadians to code over 10 years, helping scale is critical, and various sponsorship methods are welcomed.
“If there are financial contributions to hire more people to be able to deliver more programs that would be really valuable. But, things like hosting space and volunteers are other in-kind contributions that are probably a lot easier or a quick entry point for people across the country,” Sariffodeen explains.
“We don’t have any physical space aside from an office in Toronto; we lean on other companies. So, they’ll open up their doors on an evening or weekend to host us. That’s really important—and with that, so is having a lot of volunteers. A lot of our partners will be similar to Georgian Partners, which is a financial contribution but then also some kind of human resource or space contribution as well.”
Those involved in CLC are excited by the growth of the organization and what that means for Canada moving forward.
“Seeing what Canada Learning Code has accomplished by doubling every year and thinking about that at the end point—that’s x many more people who are going to go into ICT fields; that’s x many more products and services that are going to be created that benefit our community,” says Walsh. “If you take that forward, and ask, ‘what’s the impact for Canada’s economy, what’s the impact for the products that we ship into the U.S., or that we ship out to Europe?’ I think that the program is opening a lot of doors for all Canadians and that’s super inspiring.”
If you’re interested in getting involved with Canada Learning Code, you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to submit an idea for content, contribute to an article, or are interested in submitting an op-ed, contact CVCA’s editorial department here.