Melissa Sariffodeen

Co-Founder & CEO, Canada Learning Code

Bio

Melissa is a social entrepreneur, leader and big thinker. As Co-Founder and CEO of Ladies Learning Code and Canada Learning Code, Melissa has established a reputation as a fierce advocate for women and youth. She is dedicated to ensuring that they receive the critical skills, confidence, and opportunities that they need to become passionate builders — not just consumers — of technology and to thrive in our increasingly digital world.

 

Since 2011, Ladies Learning Code has championed digital literacy for Canadians, working nation-wide and across all sectors to equip women and youth with technical skills. To date, the organization has taught over 60,000 Canadians code through their programs, which are offered in over 30 cities across the country. The organization runs programming for adult women, a thriving girls’ program called Girls Learning Code, and a co-ed youth program called Kids Learning Code. The organization’s latest initiative is a program for educators: Teachers Learning Code.

 

In 2016, Melissa and her team launched their most ambitious initiative to date: Canada Learning Code – a ground breaking cross-sector coalition to create 10 million technology learning experiences for Canadians over the next ten years.

 

Her efforts to promote digital literacy in Canada have garnered attention from national media outlets like CTV, CBC, and the Globe & Mail — and landed her a spot on Elle Canada’s list of 9 Canadian Women Making a Difference. She’s spoken on the TEDx stage as well as at notable conference such as Canada2020, GoNorth and the Canadian Association for Business Economic Forum. Melissa hosted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to participate in a coding workshop in 2016, and she attended the G7 for Team Canada in 2017.

 

Melissa holds an HBA degree from the Richard Ivey Business School and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Education Policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.  She taught herself how to build websites from scratch using HTML when she was 11 years old and has been coding ever since.

 

In unrelated news, Melissa is a diehard Harry Potter fan- one of the first websites she ever made was a Harry Potter sorting hat game.

TOPICS

Canada Learning Code: The Future of the Workforce

According to current projections, there will be a shortage of more than 200,000 information and communications technology (ICT) workers in Canada by the year 2020. These figures, published in the 2016 ICTC Digital Talent Strategy Report, paint a grim picture of our not-too-distant economic future. Left unaddressed, this looming skills mismatch will have far-reaching consequences for Canada.

 

As a nation, our ability to prosper both socially and economically will undoubtedly be compromised if only a small portion of Canadians are equipped with the skills necessary to participate fully — let alone innovate — in our increasingly digital world. The good news is that Canada is uniquely positioned to rise to the occasion and become a world leader in computer science education. We have the expertise, the infrastructure, the resources, and the political will to develop and execute a comprehensive and cohesive coding education strategy.

 

In this keynote, Melissa speaks to:

  • The changing reality of work in the western world
  • The causes of the impending skills gap
  • Policy and grassroots solutions for developing a Canadian workforce primed and ready to take on the lucrative, rewarding tech-powered careers of the present and future
  • The importance of applying a diversity lens to digital literacy efforts

 

Code as a tool for change: why everyone should learn to code

Because coding is still so new and not yet widely understood by the general population, we tend to mystify it a little bit. But the reality is that it’s really nothing more than a tool for human expression — much like fire or the wheel.

 

And just like fire, a tool on its own isn’t anything terribly special. It’s through human touch and innovation that it becomes an oven or it becomes a coal burning plant. We are the magic that takes it from a tool to a force for change.

 

From an 11 year-old girl in Tennessee who created an algorithm to help doctors predict adverse drug reactions following her aunt’s own illness, to a new graduate who transformed her career and her life by learning to code, Melissa’s stories reveal the ways in which coding can enhance our lives and our potential for impact.

 

In this keynote, Melissa speaks to:

  • Her personal journey as a maker and a builder
  • The practical applications of coding and computation in our daily lives
  • The power of code as a force for social change
  • The many positive “by-products” of learning code (problem-solving skills, creative thinking, resilience, etc.)
  • The case for building out a technical skillset, regardless of who we are, what we do, or what we are passionate about

 

Women in Tech: Encouraging More Women to Pursue Careers in ICT

Stepping away from the traditional “women in tech” talks that speak to either the pipeline problem or the retention problem, Melissa bridges the gap between the two with this keynote.

 

This talk begins with an exploration of the lessons she learned through pioneering Girls Learning Code and Teen Club programs. Melissa will touch on what it takes to not only get girls interested in coding, but to maintain their interest through those crucial high school years.

 

But as we know, getting young women interested in technical careers is only half the battle — retention once they enter the workforce is crucial to making lasting change. Melissa will speak to the latest research on diversity in the workforce and outline concrete steps that employers can take to create welcoming, safe, and supportive workplaces.

 

In this keynote, Melissa speaks to:

  • The root causes of the gender gap in technology education and in the workforce
  • Lessons learned on-the-ground providing digital literacy training to young girls and adult women
  • Current research regarding attrition rates among women in technical careers, and actions that can be taken to remedy this trend

 

Transforming Education

Coding education in schools can no longer be considered a unique competitive advantage — it must be understood as the minimum standard. While some may consider this to be a radical position, it is already a widely-accepted fact in much of the Western world. Countries like Estonia, the UK, and Australia have already made strides to embed computer coding and computational thinking into curriculums from an early age.

 

As adults, it is our responsibility to act now to ensure that every Canadian child has access to the critical 21st century technical skills that will allow them to thrive personally, professionally, and economically as they move through their lives.

 

In this keynote, Melissa speaks to:

  • The creation of Teachers Learning Code — the first program of its kind in Canada — designed to provide traditional and non-traditional educators with the resources they need to feel comfortable and confident teaching coding in their classrooms.
  • Evidence-based best practices for creating learning environments that are conducive to learning technical skills
  • The many positive “by-products” of learning code (problem-solving skills, creative thinking, resilience, etc.)

 

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