The red-hot startup market has inspired masses of aspiring entrepreneurs, and a general increase in Internet and social media fluency have made founding a startup easier than ever. However, women still lead only 8% of venture-backed tech startups in the US. Not surprising, considering the low numbers of female computer science grads. But if female entrepreneurs want to gain an edge in the male-dominated tech startup world, they should consider learning code. It can only help them.
Even if non-technical female entrepreneurs don’t end up writing any of the code, having a working knowledge of programming helps make sure they’re on the same page as and can properly commu
nicate with their tech team. It’s also a huge asset when trying to raise funding: most VCs are interested in both the management and technical aspects of the company, and having the fluency to discuss the technical side with them is crucial.
“It’s important for all entrepreneurs to know code, but it’s especially important for women since they are so much less represented in technology and in startups,” Heather Payne, the founder of a Toronto-based not-for-profit called Ladies Learning Code, told me. I sat down with her to discuss why it’s essential for ladies who run startups to learn code.
Ladies Learning Code is one of a handful of code workshops around North America intended for women. These workshops aim to create a nurturing, comfortable environment where women (and men) can learn beginner-level technical skills without fear of judgment.
Heather launched Ladies Learning Code with a tweet: although she comes from a non-technical, business background, she didn’t realize she was interested in technology until after college. She attended a Python workshop aimed at women while on business in Los Angeles and had a fantastic time. She wondered if she would have enjoyed her computer science classes in school more if the environment had been as nurturing and fun as the workshop. When Heather returned to Toronto, she had a newfound eagerness to continue learning, and she loved the idea of doing so with women. She sent out a tweet asking if anyone was interested in joining her—and received 85 responses.
From there, Ladies Learning Code has grown into a twice-monthly workshop with hundreds of attendees, mostly female but there are always a handful of men. The goal is to create a non-intimidating environment for beginners to learn basic technical skills in a collaborative, social way.
“Calling it Ladies Learning Code makes it clear that it’s a place where women are invited and belong,” Heather said. She believes that for women entrepreneurs, having technical skills will help increase their representation in startups. “It’s easier for women to start a company if they’re the technical cofounder, since they’re often the ones searching for a technically skilled cofounder,” she explained. “And it’s easier to attract a really skilled developer if you have that technical knowledge.”
Having technical literacy also makes it much easier to communicate with the development team and create a better product more efficiently. “Having a basic background in programming has been critical to me in building our product,” says Katherine Hague, the founder of ShopLocket. “It has allowed me to make high-level technology decisions, better communicate with my team, and make better hiring decisions. Talented developers are more willing to work with someone that understands their craft, they will have a greater respect for your opinion.”
Alyssa Richard, the founder of Toronto-based RateHub, has attended several Ladies Learning Code workshops. She learned how to code out of necessity: the pipeline of requests for her already scarce development resources was so backed up it was taking weeks to get new tools developed. When she realized how long it was taking to get a new mortgage calculator tool developed, she took matters into her own hands.
And it’s not just entrepreneurs who can benefit from knowing code: digital literacy is a practical skill that’s a huge asset to anyone in today’s increasingly technical world. “Tech is becoming a bigger part of your life no matter where you work,” Heather added. “Putting up a website is a basic skill today.”
Ladies Learning Code is now focusing on the next generation of women with camps and workshops for girls aged 9-14.
“The girls-only environment makes a huge difference at our camps,” Heather told me. “They feel comfortable and they don’t need to hide their interest in tech. And starting younger is a great way to get more girls into tech.”
Some great resources to begin learning to code either with women or with anyone include:
Photo: Jon Lim