A few years ago, Jill Ferron was living in Paris and found herself in a career she didn't love. So she decided to learn coding through an online course on the side.
Now, she's based in Regina, has her own website development and design company, and is working to get more women into the tech industry in Saskatchewan.
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Ferron is the chapter lead for Ladies Learning Code in Regina. The not-for profit organization operates across Canada, with a focus on teaching women and youth digital skills.
"There are very few professions these days where having those digital skills is not a huge advantage," said Ferron.
Closing technology's gender gap
The Regina chapter originally opened a few years ago but classes weren't consistent. Now, it has reopened and Ferron said the group is making an effort to develop a community.
She said there is a persistent gender gap in the technology sector, something she wants to see balanced out.
"When there is such a gap in an industry, what that means is that products that are being built might not necessarily represent you as a user, and that's valid for women and also for minorities," she said.
"We really want to encourage women to step up and take that place in the industry to create products that they want to see."
The first Ladies Learning Code course of the year in Regina was held on Saturday at the University of Regina. While Ferron said it won't make you a professional coder in one day, it can spark a lifelong interest in the field.
Marketer Marci Elliott said she wanted to be more knowledgeable on the media tactics her company uses regularly.
"It seemed very approachable and I thought that I've got nothing to lose. If I make a fool of myself, I can't be the only fool in the room," she said. "I'm older so I'm less confident in my skills, but I'm trucking along here."
She said she thinks the industry is an area of tremendous growth and opportunity, and one that more women need to get into.
"I think it's really important that young girls, young women embrace science and technology because those are where, I think, the super careers of the future are," she said.
Saskatchewan's future in tech
After freelance coding for a while, Ferron developed her own company called FERNxDesign while she lived in Paris. She moved to Regina a year ago when her partner got a job working on the city bypass project.
She said she believes the province of Saskatchewan has a bright future in the tech industry.
"People are realizing that they could actually develop something in Regina instead of having to move somewhere else in order to pursue a career."
Volunteers from Western Canada's tech industry were at the U of R on Saturday to help the workshop run smoothly. Ferron said they operate with a ratio of four students to every one teacher so no one falls behind. The goal of the course was to create a one-page website in one day.
All the learning materials for the workshops are provided by the Ladies Learning Code headquarters.
Amandeep Sandhu came from Saskatoon for the course. She got her master's in computer science in India seven years ago and said about 80 per cent of her colleagues in the tech industry were men. Wanting to get back into IT after a short hiatus, it was suggested she take a refresher course.
She heard from an industry professional that Ladies Learning Code might be coming to the Saskatoon, but didn't want to miss an opportunity.
"When I got the email that they were relaunching their program in Regina, I signed up right away. I couldn't wait."
Ladies Learning Code will be holding workshops every month. All the courses are $55 for the whole day and include lunch for participants. For those who can't afford the courses, scholarships are available.
The organization will also be hosting coding workshops for kids, which are donation-based.
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