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Code Read

Free Code Camp in Halifax convenes next generation of computer programmers

by Chris Muise

Keith Adams became one of the first members of the Halifax chapter of Free Code Camp, an online peer community for computer programmers, to learn how to build a website to sell his music online. Now he hosts the group's local meetups, in order to help empower others to learn vital programming skills. photo: Chris Muise
Keith Adams became one of the first members of the Halifax chapter of Free Code Camp, an online peer community for computer programmers, to learn how to build a website to sell his music online. Now he hosts the group's local meetups, in order to help empower others to learn vital programming skills. photo: Chris Muise

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax)—“Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for life” is an old familiar adage A new Halifax community has sprung up around updating that mantra for the 21st century—not to teach people how to fish, but to code.

Computer programming is going to become a part of daily life for all of us, and will become as vital to success in the workplace as basic Internet literacy is today. Already, kids are exposed to programming languages like HTML early in life, and as part of their education.

“We teach coding to our students,” says Hannah Horne-Robinson, a teacher with Sylvan Learning on Quinpool Road. Sylvan Learning offers coding classes for its students aged from eight to 13, in order to give them a head start learning the computing skills that will likely become more and more pivotal to their generation's job market.

It’s basic stuff at first, but Horne-Robinson knew that some kids were going to want to delve further into coding, and she wanted to be ready to help them expand on what they’d been learning in class.

“I also wanted to be prepared for when the students finished the class, and go, ‘Well, now what?’” says Horne-Robinson. “I didn’t want to send them off into the great wide world without a next resource.”

She came across the free online coding community website Free Code Camp, which offers programming curriculum in HTML, CSS, javascript, and more to anyone who wants to pick up a new programming language.

The site also provides a forum for coders around the world to troubleshoot issues and collaborate with others, and encourages people to start local meet-up chapters in their community. They even match members with non-profit organizations needing help on an online project, as a sort of programming internship project.

Horne-Robinson joined to bone up on her skills in order to teach her students. She also saw an opportunity to give her students a next stage in their coding education, and a chance for adults learn the skills as well, so she started a Halifax chapter.

“There are a lot of adults that want to learn. But you have a nine-to-five job, you have kids at home, you’re very busy,” says Horne-Robinson, who recalls a father joining one of her students in Sylvan’s coding course. “A lot of people see it as something that only math geniuses can do…that it’s so inaccessible to the average person.”

The average person, though, is going to need these skills to be competitive in the job market, or to eke out a self-sufficient place for themselves in the global marketplace.

“It’s just something that is now starting to integrate itself into every job,” says Horne-Robinson. “A lot of our jobs are about handling data, and creating a new website, and creating content. Those are those things that you need those skills for.”

One of Free Code Camp Halifax's 35 members, Keith Adams, has worked in the film industry for years, and is also a songwriter. He got involved with Free Code Camp because he wanted more autonomy to market his music online.

“I’ve been incredibly frustrated at the lack of ability to monetize my product. I get not much help because I’m at the low end of the independent end of things,” says Adams, who is “too small potatoes” to get valuable sales data on his own project from services like iTunes and Spotify.

Getting involved with Free Code Camp, however, has given him the tools he needs to set up his own website, and track his own products’ consumption.

“There’s no reason why people shouldn’t be able to sell their own digital content from their own website,” says Adams. “It gives you the power to understand your own systems, and empowers yourself to go out and make the best of the career that you’ve got.”

Adams has volunteered to organize and lead local meet-ups for the Halifax Chapter of Free Code Camp, currently set to meet weekly at The Good Food Emporium on Windsor Street. Adams hopes that, by getting coders and people interested in learning coding together, it will dispel the myth that coding is a solitary activity for computer whizzes, and become something that anyone can get involved in for their own benefit.

“I just want to basically put out there that, here is something that can get you to a position of, number one, helping the community, and number two, helping yourself to get into a burgeoning trade. Everybody wins, in that regard,” says Adams. “We’re trying to get it out into the community, that this is something that is a community, and it’s growing.”

“We’d love to see more people at the Free Code Camp meet-up—I need to get there, myself,” adds Horne-Robinson. “Even just to have people aware that there are people doing this can make them feel a little bit more accepted and welcomed into what might be a very new world for them.

If you’re interested in checking out one of these meet-ups and giving coding a try, keep up to date with the group.

Chris Muise is a Halifax-based freelance reporter, with several years experience covering HRM's community and local interest stories.


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