Calling all would be code warriors

To the uninitiated eye, the code behind a website looks complex, ugly and boring, made up of line after line of random words, numbers, colons, brackets and symbols.

To the uninitiated eye, the code behind a website looks complex, ugly and boring, made up of line after line of random words, numbers, colons, brackets and symbols.

But knowing how to code, from the decades-old HTML language used for websites, to Apple’s Swift, which is used to create apps, is becoming a standard skill.

If you’ve always wanted to learn code but couldn’t muster the courage, this weekend might be the occasion.

Code:mobile, a pilot project from the organization Ladies Learning Code, is holding two workshops in Whitehorse Friday and Saturday, and on Aug. 10 and 11 in Dawson City.

The workshops aim to teach some basic understanding of how websites are designed. There will also be a game design workshop for children.

Besides the obvious savings from being able to design your own website, it’s also about knowing the vocabulary, organizer Tess Kuramoto said.

Not everybody needs to become a programmer making websites all day long, she said.

But it can be helpful when working with programmers — knowing what can be done and what can be changed, something Kuramoto experienced being one of the only code-literate people at a former workplace.

It’s also an increasingly common subject in classrooms because programming requires good problem-solving skills, which applies to all realms of life.

Last year, Nova Scotia became the first province to introduce basic coding classes for children as young as Grade 1 to Grade 3.

Oftentimes it’s about breaking a big problem into smaller ones, Kuramoto said.

She had to learn programming at university.

At first she was trying to find every possible way to avoid it.

But when she got around to taking the class, she loved it.

“Once you get a little bit of the syntax, then it gets a lot easier,” she said.

As new coding languages are developed, they’re becoming easier and more intuitive to use, she explained, because their syntax is getting closer to that of the English language.

For the game design workshop, the team relies on Scratch, an interactive app that uses visual games to teach programming.

Ladies Learning Code started in 2011 when one of the group’s co-founders asked on social media where she could learn about JavaScript.

With others she set up a workshop, which sold out in minutes.

“There is a huge need for introductory, friendly, open-to-anyone workshops in the tech field,” Kuramoto said.

To bridge the gender gap and bring in more diversity, the group realized it had to start teaching at a young age. The co-founders created Girls Learning Code and Kids Learning Code.

While workshops aren’t exclusively for women, they’re geared so women feel like they belong there.

“This is a very safe space, you can come, explore and see if you like this field,” Kuramoto said.

A look at what has been happening in the IT field for the past several years explains why safe spaces are needed in the first place.

The tech industry has been struggling with endemic misogyny and sexism.

In 2014 the New York Times reported on a Harvard Business School study showing 56 per cent of women left the industry by mid-career.

The same year the Guardian polled 600 people in the industry. Three-quarters of women who responded felt the industry was sexist, “with many more reporting they had been denied promotions and equal pay.”

In April, Vice’s channel Broadly reported on another study that found a majority of women were not interested in working for tech start-ups. Besides the lack of work flexibility, sexism was once again cited as a factor.

“It’s still stigmatized as a male-dominated field,” Kuramoto said.

The code:mobile initiative is one way to bring in more diversity and change perceptions.

The goal is to teach 10,000 children the basics of coding by the time the tour ends. So far the team has held about 40 to 50 workshops.

Feedback has been positive so far, she said.

In some cases, coding allowed children to express what they felt passionate about.

“(We saw) how much passion these young women and girls have towards what they’re doing,” said Kuramoto.

It was a rewarding experience for the organizers, with children making something out of the workshop.

“They’re very strong writers, and (now) they have a platform to put their work out there.

“It’s been really powerful.”

There is no real age limit for teaching code: for children who can’t read, there are tablet apps that use drawing and drag-and-drop games to teach some basic problem-solving skills.

“It’s amazing to see how curious the kids are and how quickly they pick it up,” Kuramoto said.

The Whitehorse workshops will take place at YuKonstruct.

While the Friday one has already sold out, the Saturday “Kids Learning Code” and the HTML/CSS website design ones still have seats available.

Visit yukonstruct.com/event to get a free ticket, and ladieslearningcode.com to learn more about Ladies Learning Code.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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