Business

Women in Charge: Heather Payne, HackerYou Founder, is Disrupting Education

Written by Alison Joutsi 

Heather Payne is revolutionizing the education industry in Toronto with her coding academy HackerYou, the only co-ed coding school in North America run by a woman. 

Women represented only 25% of those in the technology and computer science industries in 2016. The coding school offers classes to equip individuals with the skills to make a career transition into web development or computer programming.

HackerYou is Payne’s second venture after Ladies Learning Code, a not-for-profit organization now known as Canada Learning Code, which teaches individuals to become digital creators. She’s an angel investor, a mother, and in 2013, she was named one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network. How’s that for a CV?

Here, Payne talks about diversity in the tech world and why Canada’s education system needs a dose of innovation.

On the importance of diversity:

At HackerYou we don’t have a typical studentwe welcome diversity and 70 percent of our students are female. Since 2011, there has been a lot of awareness on the topic of diversity in teams in the tech and software industries. Since technology is becoming such a large part of our lives, we need it to be created by a diverse group of people, to serve a diverse group. This is an important trend for businesses to consider. Do not assume that your user fits a certain stereotype; assume that your user is everyone on the globe.

At HackerYou, we do not make assumptions about who our default student is. We try to make this a place where everyone feels welcome. I know every student by name. I personally mentor each student after they complete their vocational program to help them find work. You don’t get that in a regular academic environment.

On coding as the new normal:

I think there is a level of digital literacy that is important for everyone to have no matter what. I don’t believe that everyone needs to write code full-time. But I think everyone should have a base-level understanding since almost every industry is experiencing disruption.  Our students come from a wide variety of backgrounds. A large number of journalists attend our school, and go back to their workplaces as developers. Their industry, as so many others, are changing, since fewer people read newspapers.

On the future of “traditional” education:

I’m often asked if I’ll expand my schooleducation does not scale very well. When you try to deliver a high-quality program to many people, you lose the magic. Instead of scaling, I focus on delivering the high-quality education. I don’t mind being a small player in the coding education scene.

When you look at education more broadly, HackerYou wouldn’t exist if the colleges and universities were doing an exceptional job. There are a large number of individuals struggling to find work when they graduate, and it’s a clear sign that there is a problem with our education system. Universities are failing to arm students with practical skills that are in demand.

I don’t believe that you need four years to complete university. I’ve learned that you can teach students a lot in nine weeks. When you set higher expectations, you see how much more people are capable of.