HTML500 in Vancouver: the future of digital literacy

In promoting digital literacy, HTML500 is betting on Vancouver's economic future.

Photos by Jordan Yerman.

On a rainy morning, hundreds of people converged in East Vancouver to take part in the largest learn-to-code event in North America. 

The WiFi network groaned beneath the weight of a thousand laptops and phones as the crowd of would-be coders settled in, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder around dozens of tables in the Rocky Mountaineer terminal.

Over 2,500 people registered for the HTML500 in Vancouver, according to event co-creator Jeremy Shaki, “Chief Talking Officer" for Lighthouse Labs

“We’re almost as popular as Miley Cyrus’ Instagram, guys!” he said.

A digitally literate and competent population, he told the crowd, is going to be a "game-changer for Canada.”

Jeremy Shaki at HTML500

HTML500 was created by Lighthouse Labs as a free coding boot camp to promote digital literacy in Canada. Vancouver’s is the first HTML500 of the year, with events to follow in Calgary, London and Toronto. Over the course of a morning and afternoon, each participant will have gone from zero knowledge of coded to launching his or her own web page.

The many faces of code

The Apple Store didn't have as many Macbook Pros as this place. Over a hundred professional developers volunteered as mentors, helping the participants take their first steps into the world of <, /, and >. When not teaching the nuts and bolts of code, Derek Li works as a web developer for Farm at Hand, a local startup that emerged from the GrowLab incubator program. HTML500, said Li, was a way to pay it forward in terms of fostering a healthy tech environment.

Anastasia Hambali and Derek Li from Farm at Hand.

The participants ranged from tweens to grandparents. That diversity extended to ethnicity and gender as well: last year's HTML500 was 60 per cent female, and this year's seemed to follow that trend.

It’s not just about being young, Shaki said: it’s about taking a fresh approach. That said, there were quite a few young people in attendance. Ella, age 11, came to HTML500 to beef up her skill set, having previously attended Mobify's Ladies Learning Code bootcamp. “I’m still kinda deciding what I want to do,” said Ella. “I’m interested in so many different things.”

Ella only played Minecraft until the event began.

Ella’s mother Tomi said, “We’re glad we have a female mentor. That’s what I wanted Ella to see: women in tech.”

Write your own future

Kai was the youngest mentor, at 13. Having learned to code at 10, he trained with Lighthouse Labs and now works as a freelance app developer.

Kai also does a bit of web development, "mostly Python and Ruby."

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