Toronto: Mobilizing Ladies Learning to Code Python

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By Heather Payne and Melissa Crni&#263 (Organizers, Toronto Ladies Learning to Code)

Serious question here. Where are all the female programmers? Despite efforts over the past few years to increase the number of women in tech, the percentage of female Computer Science graduates is dropping. Of developers involved in open source projects, only 1.5% are women. The overall percentage of women in IT careers is down. The actions taken to level the playing field clearly aren’t working, unfortunately.

Luckily, we discovered a new strategy for getting women into coding, and success stories are quickly accumulating.

At PyCon 2011, Asheesh Laroia spoke to the amazing results the San Francisco RailsBridge group achieved by organizing programming workshops targeted to women –- The group’s founders Sarah Mei and Sarah Allen increased the percentage of women in the SF Ruby Meetup group from 3% to 18% in just one year.

Asheesh encouraged the Python community to increase diversity in their own groups through similar outreach programs. Asheesh, who helps run the Boston Python Workshop, impacted Audrey Roy in Los Angeles, who gathered a few Python women in her area and started PyLadies.

Python meetups for women certainly have a way of spreading.

Heather Payne attended the first PyLadies workshop (which she happily discovered through the Women 2.0 blog) during a during a business trip to Los Angeles. She had a fantastic time -– so much so that she told a few people that “if that’s what [her] first computer science class had been like, [she] might be in a different career today.”

After returning to Toronto, Heather wrote a blog post about her PyLadies experience and included a call-to-action, requesting that Toronto step up and start a similar group for women who want to learn to code. It didn’t take long before the post was picked up and shared by the Python community, other groups for women in technology, and by women in Toronto who supported the idea of a local group like this. Early cheerleaders included Melissa Crni&#263 and Nicole Rashotte.

Heather received about a dozen emails from women looking to get involved, programmers interested in helping out, and even businesses offering sponsorship or space!

On June 16th, Heather made it official and decided to post an event online for a “Massive Brainstorming Session” and expected just a few women to join her in an attempt to figure out as a team what a group like this should look like in Toronto. In a short period of time, the #ladieslearningcode hashtag on Twitter has generated some serious buzz (over 40,000 impressions and almost 100 unique tweets and re-tweets).

Within 10 days, there were 37 women (and men!) signed up for the first-ever #ladieslearningcode event. The Toronto hacker scene will never be the same.

Ladies Learning Code is tapping into an unmet need in the Toronto community.

The group’s aim is to provide a learning environment and resources for women interested in learning to become hackers and to build a community made up of first-time and beginner programmers –- with a special focus on female ones. At least, that might be the group’s aim…we need your help!

We need to figure out how a Ladies Learning Code-type group in Toronto is going to work. And for that reason, you (and any and all of your friends -– male or female!) are invited to a BRAINSTORMING SESSION on July 6th at the Centre for Social Innovation (720 Bathurst Street, Toronto). (Also, although we’re so grateful to the Python community for helping to get the word out about Toronto’s need for a group like this, we will discuss at the brainstorming session whether it makes sense to focus on Python, or whether we’d like to learn/offer other languages, too.)

For more info and to register, click here.

Ladies Learning Code (Toronto) Brainstorming Session

Who: Anyone who finds this interesting – that’s 37 people so far!
What: Ladies Learning Code (Toronto) Brainstorming Session
When: July 6th, 2011 at 6:30 pm
Where: The Centre for Social Innovation (720 Bathurst Street)
Why: So we can figure out how a #ladieslearningcode group is going to work!

Want to help spread the word? Tweet this post, share it on Facebook or forward it to a friend by email. Especially if you know a woman in Toronto who might be interested in learning to become a hacker.

Photo credit: Angie Chang via Flickr