Geek Speak: Sandra Wear, organizer of Be Like Ada

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Forget those dreary movie portrayals of programmers. Coding is fun, according to Sandra Wear, a technology entrepreneur who lives in Vancouver.

Together with Jot Kali, Wear founded Be Like Ada. An initiative of her technology consulting company, Tykra, Be Like Ada has a goal of getting at least half of young Canadian women coding.

On July 19, Be Like Ada will hold its first event. The coding boot camp for teenage girls will take place at the Rocky Mountaineer Station (1755 Cottrell Street). Tickets are $45 on Eventbrite, and there’s room for 500 participants.

The Georgia Straight interviewed Wear, who is also the CEO of Canadian Women in Technology, over the phone.

Who is the Ada in Be Like Ada?

Be Like Ada is named after Ada Lovelace, who is a woman who invented programming and she is considered to actually have written the first algorithm.

What is the goal of Be Like Ada?

Our end goal is to achieve double of the number of individuals that can code in Canada—and that number is a 50-50 split, men and women—and we’d like to do that within five years.

Why do you think girls should get into programming?

There’s a number of reasons. First off, coding is a great skill to have. Regardless of whether or not you’re going to code full-time, it makes you a better problem solver. It helps you attack problems in a much more logical, sequential way. That helps in any kind of field. So that’s number one.

Number two is, as technology becomes more and more pervasive, we’re going to need to have those skills in our workforce. In fact, we’re seeing, as the baby boomers retire, we’re going to have a deficit of people with those skills.

Thirdly, just in terms of diversity, we know that in order to have the best companies, the best products, the best research, the best policy, et cetera, et cetera, you need to have a diverse workforce involved in making those solutions, developing the products, and designing research. So diverse in gender is part of that equation. You need to reflect and provide the perspective of the marketplace that you’re actually offering your service to.

Who should come to your first event on July 19?

Any girl who is thinking about, curious about, or actually already programming. The way we’ve approached this is we’re showing that coding is actually really fun. Nobody ever talks about that.

Jot and myself are both tech entrepreneurs. He’s a coder. I’ve always interfaced between coders and customers, so I know some code, but I’m not a coder. But the ability to understand that helps me work with the engineers, helps me speak to the customers.

So what we’re showing is (1) it’s very creative; that (2) you can have a number of different jobs but you provide much more flexibility, or the number of options available to you if you can code are much more great; and lastly it gets you understanding that it’s really fun. Honestly, coding is typically shown as you’re in a dark room on your own, and that’s not what coding is. It’s collaborative. It’s creative. It’s the ability to basically take what you imagine and build it.

So any girl that’s in her teens who’s kind of interested or curious or already does stuff can come, because also she’ll learn about coding and she’ll also meet other girls like her that are interested in doing coding. Lastly, she’ll get to meet role models—so women in the city who have lots of different kinds of jobs. These jobs are pretty cool careers that enable them to do what they want to do. They might be doing a little bit of code or a lot of code or just know some code, and that has provided them with that opportunity.

What exactly will the girls at the boot camp learn?

We’re going to be going through the fundamentals of programming, and the fundamentals of programming are true for any programming language. What’s true also about programming or computer languages is they evolve over time. But the fundamentals are true across languages.

So if you want to do something in iOS or Android or PHP or online, being able to have this knowledge will enable you to program in any of those languages and also as languages evolve. We see with Apple’s new programming language how it’s also changed. So these are like the building blocks that are going to be true for any programming language, whether they want to be a gamer or they want to create fashion that can monitor whether they’re feeling cold or warm.

What’s next for your initiative?

We’re going to incorporate a mobile and/or web component. We have a community where the girls can connect with other girls that are interested in this—in coding—and they’ll be able to continue to learn. And then we’re going to have more events. We have yet to decide how these are going to roll out, but we’ve gotten interest across Canada and also from different age groups. So we have to tackle one problem at a time, and the first problem is getting girls interested in coding and getting them to take it up as a career.

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