It started with a tweet.

In June of 2011, Heather Payne asked who was interested in learning about coding. From that simple 140-character question—I want to learn to code (a bit) and I want other ladies in #Toronto to join me. Anyone at #swtoronto know any women who might be interested?—an empire was born.

As it turns out, a lot of women were interested. Instead of the expected “dozen people meeting in a coffee shop once a month to work through tutorials together,” the first workshop sold out in a day. Subsequent workshops would prove to be just as successful and would lead Heather to turn the idea into a business.

Now an official non-profit organization, Ladies Learning Code offers “one-day workshops to women (and men) who want to learn beginner-friendly computer programming and other technical skills in a social and collaborative way.”

About a year after Ladies Learning Code was created, the organization expanded, adding HackerYou. Still following the original design of hands-on learning with a solid amount of instructor/student interaction, HackerYou was created to offer a more extensive education than the one-day LLC workshops while still allowing its students to maintain full-time jobs.

HackerYou is “focused on created the best part-time programs for people who want to learn to code,” Heather explains. Rather than offer another version of education that already exists—online tutorials, college or university courses attended by numerous frazzled students—Hacker You offers “hands-on, project-based learning from industry-leading professionals, small classes with a 10:1 ratio of students to instructors, and a beginner-friendly, social and collaborative learning environment.”

The business continues to expand, now offering classes in other Canadian cities. Heather is also reaching out to a younger generation—and, by doing so, potentially changing the future dynamics of a male-dominated industry—by offering Girls Learning Code. Running primarily on school breaks, these courses are designed to get young girls more interested in code. And it’s working.

“We hear from parents how much of an impact Girls Learning Code is having on their daughters, and I am confident that in 10 years, there will be an awesome group of women joining the tech industry, who can look back and point to Girls Learning Code as the place where they got their start.”

Considering her ever-growing empire, it is interesting to note that this was not Heather’s original plan.

“It’s surprising to me now, but back when I was in university, entrepreneurship wasn’t part of my plan. I didn’t even really know what it was. My plan back then was to graduate, get a job at a Fortune 500 company, and work my way up.”

Luckily for her, and her numerous satisfied students, that plan never came to fruition. Instead of taking the typical road, Heather is carving out her own path—and having a great deal of fun doing it.

“I’m sure my career will unfold in ways I can’t currently imagine over the coming years, but for now, I’m really enjoying waking up each day and feeling incredibly empowered and engaged.”


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