January 24, 2015 7:02 pm
Updated: January 25, 2015 2:32 pm

HTML500 teaches basics of coding, opens doors to B.C.’s tech sector

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WATCH: The HTML500 takes place this weekend. The event teaches kids of all ages the basics of coding and introduces them to B.C.’s growing tech sector. Jennifer Palma reports.

The HTML500, an event dedicated to teaching kids of all ages how to code, is taking place in Vancouver this weekend.

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“We’re going to teach 500 people in the span of seven hours how to code to the point where they create their own awesome landing pages and can share it with all their friends and impress them on how easy it is to learn to code,” says Jeremy Shaki of Lighthouse Labs, which is hosting the event.

READ MORE: Is Vancouver becoming Silicon Valley North?

The free event is meant to open doors for those who may be considering a tech job.

“I run a developer boot camp,” says Shaki. “We train people to become professional developers. It would probably hurt my business a little bit, but I’d rather it hurt my business and see everybody learning to code, at least at a basic level. I think it would be extremely valuable and allow Canada to  have a much better competitive advantage in the global marketplace.”

Engaging First Nations

The event aimed to appeal a broad cross-section of the community, including First Nations.

The targeted inclusion of First Nations was intended to increase employability in aboriginal communities, and take advantage of a fast-growing young population to help fill jobs in the technology sector.

The acting director of the First Nations Technology Council, Denise Williams, said coding knowledge is anticipated to be a boon for remote and rural native communities.

“It’s more accessible than a lot of institutional type careers or mainstream careers. It’s creative and it’s fun,” Williams said. “It really speaks to who we are as First Nations people in terms of creating and developing things that can support and really inspire what the future is going to look like.”

Bringing First Nations online is just one among countless ways Canada’s economy can be revolutionized, says Shaki.

“Sure, Silicon Valley is amazing and Tel Aviv is amazing, but there is no country with an entire population that knows how to code,” he says.

“We actually think that Canada has a super strong opportunity to do that. We have a very well-educated population and kids clambering to learn to code.”

Promoting digital literacy across Canada

A micro and macro vision exist for the project, he said, which will also travel to Calgary, London and Toronto over the coming weeks.

On the individual level, organizers want to reduce intimidation associated with coding, empowering everyday citizens to create and put their ideas into the world over the Internet. On the grander scale, they’re striving to make a spectacle — Guinness World Records has already been contacted — in a bid for education reform.

Inserting coding into Canada’s mainstream school curriculum is also a goal that’s been circulating among Vancouver tech entrepreneurs who aspire to use their expertise for positive social change.

READ MORE: App teaches kindergartners basic computer coding

“Unfortunately, there’s not enough going on in Canada to really promote digital literacy,” Shaki said. “We’re hoping this event opens the minds of people who care enough to get coding into curriculum, and really gives them a platform to stand on and continue that momentum.”

Elective information-technology courses are available to B.C. students, while a policy guide provides a framework for integrating digital literacy but isn’t mandatory, according to the Education Ministry.

More than 2,500 people registered for the fraction of spaces available at The HTML500, which indicates to Vancouver Economic Commission CEO Ian McKay that there’s a giant appetite for programming skills.

“We’ve all heard that notion about jobs without people and people without jobs,” he said. “The ability to have, in your own hands, the basic building blocks … to create a website through HTML coding skills is going to be helpful no matter what your business.”

The 2014 B.C. Technology Report Card tallied some 84,000 technology jobs two years earlier, bringing in revenue of more than $23 billion. Tech is the province’s second fastest growing sector, employing more people than mining, forestry and oil and gas combined.

Also championing the coding cause is high-profile startup Hootsuite and an associated charity that together hosted a separate camp Saturday for youths who live in Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside. The company opened its doors to 60 students from Grades 4 to 12 to awaken disadvantaged kids to a future in technology.

-with files from Jennifer Palma and Canadian Press

© 2015 Shaw Media

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