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Small-business profile: Canada Learning Code

@jaclyn-law
Insights - Mar. 7, 2018

Small-business profile: Canada Learning Code

How Melissa Sariffodeen and colleagues are boosting digital literacy across Canada

Like many great ideas, Canada Learning Code (CLC) was born out of frustration. In June 2011, co-founder Heather Payne tweeted that she wanted to learn to code, and invited other Toronto women to join her. With that, she planted the seeds of a movement – one that’s empowering women, girls and others to improve their digital literacy.

There were few places for beginners to learn, says co-founder Melissa Sariffodeen. Courses were geared to techies, and meet-ups were for tech workers. “Nothing really appealed to us as women, so we wanted to create opportunities,” she says. “We didn’t yet realize that there is a broader women-in-tech problem and how globally pervasive it is.”

“We didn’t yet realize that there is a broader women-in-tech problem and how globally pervasive it is”

The Learning Code launches

Payne, Sariffodeen and other like-minded women launched beginner-friendly workshops under the name “Ladies Learning Code.” They borrowed a computer lab and delved into JavaScript, HTML/CSS and Ruby – subjects still in demand today – along with Python, WordPress, AI and more. The team soon realized that “ladies” weren’t the only ones hungry for coding knowledge. They started additional programs for girls, kids, teens and teachers, and in 2017 their non-profit organization rebranded as Canada Learning Code. Sariffodeen has been CEO since late 2013. (Payne departed that year to focus on HackerYou, a private digital-skills college).

Boosting awareness

CLC offers education and meetups nationwide through 35 chapters, supported by thousands of tech-savvy volunteers. “We’ve been really fortunate to attract a community across the country that’s innovative, resourceful and passionate about the work we do,” says Sariffodeen.

“We’ve been really fortunate to attract a community across the country that’s innovative, resourceful and passionate about the work we do”

Sariffodeen and CLC are vocal advocates for coding education. To raise awareness, the organization launched Girls Learning Code Day (May 12 this year), National Learn to Code Day (September 22) and Canada Learning Code Week (first week of December). CLC has held nearly 3,000 educational events with 85,000 learners, and its goal is to teach 10 million people by 2027. The organization also works with corporate sponsors and government funders to provide scholarships, further reducing barriers to participation.

A visit from Trudeau

In December 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dropped by CLC’s Toronto office to launch Computer Science Education Week and the Hour of Code campaign, which aims to introduce coding to students worldwide. In March 2017, when the government announced CanCode – a $50-million program for digital skills development in grades K–12 – Finance Minister Bill Morneau called Ladies Learning Code an “impressive institution” in his budget speech to Parliament. CLC is one of 15 organizations selected for funding.

The team’s tech

Sariffodeen and CLC use many of the very same technologies they teach (CLC’s website is built in WordPress) and often tries new apps and tools. Team members rely on messaging apps and project-management software to stay connected and collaborate. They also use Google Drive and other portals to store and access information. “These tools are ingrained in my workflow,” says Sariffodeen.

In the works

CLC has several projects in the works, including several “Code Mobile” travelling computer labs and free online lessons educators can use in their classrooms. Sariffodeen is thrilled that Canadians increasingly see the importance of digital literacy.

“We believe learning to code is absolutely foundational, like learning English or math,” she says. “We’re excited that with the support of CanCode and our corporate partners, we have the opportunity to provide youth and educators, in every province and territory, with the chance to learn these critical problem-solving skills and creativity skills.”


About the Author

Freelance writer Jaclyn Law's clients include businesses, non-profit organizations, websites and media. She frequently writes about entrepreneurship, and her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, CPA Magazine and Rogers Connected for Business.