Heather Payne believes she’s always been a “community person.” The founder of HackerYou was in Girl Guides as a child, a sorority at Western University, and, after graduating, founded coding workshop Ladies Learning Code, which now has chapters in 22 cities across Canada.
She stepped down from LLC to found her latest venture, HackerYou, which still bears the community-minded focus that has been key to the success of many of her past projects. With Payne projecting an enrollment of 650 by next year, Payne has accommodated her burgeoning community of students and recent grads by opening a second space in the adjoining building in September 2015.
Before opening the space, Payne said part-time students and bootcamp students would end up getting crowded in one area, while HackerYou grads would avoid the space, fearing that they were in the way of the other classes. Payne realized that she needed to make the alumni community part of her business initiative. The new space includes more classrooms and an alumni lounge.
“With HackerYou, this wasn’t intentional — I didn’t start HackerYou and say we were going to have an amazing community and everyone’s going to like each other,” Payne said. “I realized people came for the bootcamp and they would keep hanging out, and they would ask us to keep creating new workshops for people to keep learning, or they wanted to help mentor the next group coming in.”
Payne has also taken her Ladies Learning Code legacy of inclusiveness with her, as 70 percent of HackerYou students are women. “Our teaching staff has also always been diverse, and if you look at our alumni page, you see all these female faces. You just know from looking at that that this is a place where you’re gonna belong, so now it’s become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Payne. “I think it’s the biggest contribution we can make to the Toronto dev community. We’ll create 500 female developers in the next five years, and most of them will stay in Toronto.”
Jordan Deutsch, a graduate of the HackerYou bootcamp who started her own agency with another HackerYou graduate, and is also now a Ladies Learning Code mentor, agreed that the community-driven space was part of what made HackerYou a positive experience for her. “The atmosphere is deliberate. The team is actively creating a space you want to return to and an environment where you feel safe to learn and explore,” said Deutsch. “Crafting alternative environments for people to start out in tech has a direct impact on seeing different people in tech.”
As coding schools become a more popular alternative for people looking to switch careers or gain new skills—and the schools become more crowded—Payne said that, for her, being the biggest still isn’t priority. “I don’t think I would be very interested in running HackerYou if it didn’t have this really cool important social enterprise kind of angle,” said Payne, who still interviews every single HackerYou applicant personally. “It’s not about being the biggest bootcamp. We’re interested in being the one that people tell their friends about.”
Photos courtesy Pam Lau.