(HTML500) Digital Literacy from lighthouselabs on Vimeo.

The HTML500 is a non-tech solution to this tech problem

The HTML500 is a non-tech solution to this tech problem: How do you inspire a mass group of people to learn to code? Well, to start, we should realize that there are two words that don’t jump out to beginners when contemplating code. Fun and Social. That could be a starting point. Then we might want to show off that coding is about creating as opposed to trying to problem solve a language that you don’t yet understand. Almost as if it’s a code. Okay, maybe we need to change the name, but that’s for another day. How about demonstrating to Mikey Marketing or Brittany Business the incredible ways code can change their life and their careers. This isn’t about becoming a professional developer (though it’s a great career, and we know a place you can train for that), this is about being empowered to use code the way you want to.

Here we are, at the end of 2014, and the majority of Canadians are still untrained in the art of code. This, despite free online resources, a demand for programmers that is going completely unfilled and a population that have all adjusted to using the internet so widely that online dating is more real than real dating. Are you still asking why we created The HTML500?

At Lighthouse Labs we train motivated people of any coding level to become professional developers in a short amount of time and get them jobs immediately upon graduation. While we have been very successful in our mission, we only take 20 people a cohort, charge a decent sum of money and are really only helping those who already have a strong desire to learn.

How do we inspire the masses? From my countless days waving my arms wildly at having conversations with people at university career fairs about Lighthouse Labs, it’s obvious that most people have the wrong ideas about coding. They are intimidated by the level of intelligence they think it takes and how hard it would be to teach a muggle like themselves. They don’t get that coding is about creating, not typing. They don’t understand how technology and code would affect their careers and industry. “I’m a (insert degree here) student, I don’t need to know how to code.” Yes you do. The end.

The case for digital literacy

Here is some serious stuff: In 2001, when the UN actually made solving the digital divide one of its goals, the focus was on internet access and making sure to close the gap between rich and poor countries. We now have the same problem on a national level - but it’s not internet access. Technology is everywhere and is becoming crucial for all industries. You can’t afford to not grasp its basic tenets.

On a micro level, for you to move forward not knowing how to code is to create an increasing separation between yourself and all those who know how. Pay attention to the people who don’t know math, or how to read and how much that sets them back. There are people with business ideas, and then people who can code with business ideas. My first boss once told me that I had the gift of the gab, but that someone else would have that same gift AND be well organized. My job was to talk (actually it wasn’t at all, but I thought it was…) not to be organized, but armed with that skill I only further enhanced my ability to succeed. Why would you not arm yourself with a skill that’s going to differentiate you amongst your peers?

On a larger level, think about Canada as a whole. National education stats are regularly compared to other countries. We lament at North America’s faltering statistics when it comes to literacy or overall education. Yet, here we are without mandatory coding in our curriculums when countries all over the world have already implemented it. Where will that leave Canada as a country when it has a population that is considerably behind its international colleagues in digital literacy?

So let’s revisit this: How do we inspire a mass group of people to learn to code?

Inspiring creators

We start by showing that it’s easy to learn to code, and show people that they can learn enough in one day to create something cool.

We make sure it’s hand on, and that people are actually proud of what they create, showing the true power of code and the person behind it.

We bring in 50 tech-affected companies and 100 developers to help teach. This allows for the people behind these success stories to show off what they do, talk about all the opportunities there are and share stories about their own reasons for having learnt to code. People meeting people. It’s beautiful.

Here is a big one. We offer it for free! That couldn’t happen without the aforementioned community support. This isn’t just companies throwing money at something to advertise, it’s companies showing up and giving their time to support free learning so that nobody is deterred from trying. The tech industry and coders solve problems in the same way. When something is broken, you fix it yourself. Waiting for coding to become a mandatory part of curriculums is a non starter and even if/when it does, how about all those professionals that didn’t get that chance because we dragged our feet? The tech industry is known for disrupting the norm, and this event is a prime example.

One more step: we teach 500 people at the same time, in person. We do that because it makes each person comfortable that they are in a room with 499 other people who don’t know how to code. We do it because every person there has friends that will end up saying “I never thought of you as someone who would code” or “if you can do it, I can do it”. We do it because it brings enough attention to the cause that it shows everyone in Canada that learning to code is easy and amazingly useful. We do it because it’s fun and social.

That’s why we created The HTML500. It’s a non-technical solution to a tech problem and it will be a day where you show up to learn and you leave with the power to create and having inspired the people around you.

Also you get a free lunch.

This post originally appeared in The HTML500's blog. To read more about Canada's largest learn-to-code event, click here!