This week’s highlight is on Christina Seargeant. see more
Haro Ventures Mini Series: An Interview with Christina Seargeant
For the month of December, Haro Ventures is launching a mini series highlighting and celebrating awesome female leaders / movers and shakers in our tech community. We will be publishing one interview weekly to share insights into the roles, goals, and vision of these individuals in order to help us all grow a better understanding of who's shaping our community.
Between working as HR business partner with Workday and volunteering with Ladies Learning Code, VIATEC, and networking community PeopleOps, Christina is a quintessential (and busy!) member of our tech community. We were thrilled to sit down with Christina to learn about what she does with Workday, her childhood role models, what keeps her inspired, what mistake she’s most learned from, and her vision of diversity in our community.
- What is your role at Workday and how did you come into that position? / Your involvement with Ladies Learning Code?
I’m an HR business partner at Workday, supporting everyone from the frontline employees to the VPs of Workday Canada. We have an offices and teams that comprise 150 employees all over Canada in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. I’m meant to be the first point of contact for all things HR related and position myself as a champion for Canadian benefits and the different programs we offer in Canada.
I came into the role because Workday offered me the position during its acquisition of MediaCore in August 2015. I was the director of people operations at MediaCore, which meant I oversaw anything to do with people and general business operations including facilities, legal and some finance.
I got involved with Ladies Learning Code (LLC) just before the chapter launched in Victoria. I met Erin Athene at Discover Tectoria where she told me about the organization being based in Toronto with chapters popping up all across the country. I was instantly intrigued and wanted to help out. She needed to raise $1000 to get things started and kick off the first workshop. MediaCore wasn’t in a financial position to offer the funds but we wanted to help in other ways. When Erin started a Tilt campaign to rally the funds through the community, within just a few hours Dan Gunn of VIATeC said he would match any fundraised money up to $5000 dollars. I instantly called Erin and suggested we needed to change our goal from $1000 to $10,000 knowing how these funds would help us do great things for our chapter. In the end, we raised $11,000 and became the poster child chapter for LLC when it comes to harnessing community support. The companies we spoke with along the way were so interested in supporting us and loved what we were doing.
After that I took on the role of chapter lead with Erin. She manages our sponsorship, fundraising and community partners while I lead the workshops and logistics and make sure we have a programming pipeline for the year. We work with a number of other amazing ladies that have helped us make our Victoria chapter what it is today.
- What’s the most satisfying part of your role there?
The most satisfying part of working with LLC is definitely being able to support people who are otherwise unfamiliar with technology or don’t feel confident they could do well in that field. To see their confidence increase from the moment they walk through the door in the morning to when they leave the workshops at the end of the day is really empowering. We help people realize their goals, whether they’re looking for a new role in their current workspace or re-entering the workforce.
I’m personally passionate about helping people pursue their careers in technology, which is largely why my role at Workday is so satisfying to me as well. I love helping people take on challenges when it comes to career or the workplace, and I work with a number of managers that are really supportive and want to see good things for their employees. I especially enjoy recruitment because I get to be a part of helping to build a strong team, and the team we’ve created so far is so great.
- What did you want to be when you were a kid? Who were your childhood role models?
When I was a teenager I wanted to be a photographer. I actually pursued this dream and started a freelance photography business when I was 16 and which I still own and operate to this day. The reason why I don’t do photography full time, however, is because I don’t want my passion and hobby to turn into the source of pressure it might be if I relied on it to make a living. For me, it’s important to keep photography as a hobby business that’s there for me when I feel the need for a creative outlet. Im passionate about what I do as a career as well, but in a very different way.
As an only child, I played a lot of video games as a kid and would relish in that escapism it provided. As I look back now I think a lot of those characters I played as then could be considered my role models. They commanded their presence, their powers, chased demons, and created magic. They definitely had an ensemble of traits I aspire towards.
- What or who inspires you the most?
I think what I draw most of my inspiration from is our tech community. I think we have a number of really fantastic people here who are really passionate about making our industry as vibrant as it can be and I’m personally really interested in helping this community grow and flourish as much as I can.
In 2013, I founded a networking group in Victoria called PeopleOps. It stemmed from my interest in finding other people who are in HR roles in startups to learn from and grow with. I didn’t have a full grasp on what our community really entailed back then, so the amount of interest I received was really overwhelming. Lots of people responded saying “I’m figuring this out for the first time too”. We’re now at 65 members and run a vibrant and active Slack channel where we discuss the professional and developmental events we run on a monthly basis. We see people in HR grow and push themselves professionally while helping their respective teams grow and be successful. They want to be better to help their companies. Their passion is very inspiring and it inspires me to give back.
Much in the same way, LLC is a vibrant community of women who want to grow and learn and be a part of the community as both learners and mentors.
The passion both these groups show is very inspiring and reminds me to give it back.
- With F@#% Up Nights becoming a popular community event, we’re witnessing a positive trend of being open about your failures and mistakes. What mistake have you made that you wouldn’t go back in time to change if you had the chance? What did you learn from it/them?
What comes to mind for me isn’t a mistake, but something pivotal I experienced that yielded several learning opportunities: the work surrounding MediaCore’s acquisition. While overall I consider the acquisition a success, it wasn’t easy and there were many bumps along the way.
It was the case of a startup company being purchased by a public company in San Francisco that has many accolades and strong revenue and is a solid contender in the market place. As far as acquiring companies are concerned, it probably couldn’t have got much better. The whole process of being acquired and of exiting, however, proved to be quite difficult and taught me a lot.
It taught me about communication, how people deal with change, about self-balance, about advocating for employees, advocating for the company being sold and the company doing the buying. I learned that the due diligence process is extremely important, and about many intricacies that come with selling a company.
While I wouldn’t go back in time to change anything, I’ll definitely use the knowledge I gained to benefit me and the company I’m with the next time I’m involved in a similar process.
I look forward to the day when we do it all again.
- Do you see a positive trend of expanding the diversity in tech in Victoria?
I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us to create a more diverse tech community in Victoria. Things can always be better, and we could always be trending up. It can tend to be a matter of whether or not a community has the champions that are willing to put in the effort to make that happen, and I think that we do here in Victoria. More than ever, people are willing to have the conversation about what their companies need in order to attract diverse talent and engage them in a meaningful way. Change like that isn’t derived from one meeting to decide on strategy, but has to be a continuous conversation and continuous community goal.
Ladies Learning Code provides workshops that cover everything from basic HTML to other programming.. see more
#BCTECH Strategy: 11 Questions with Ladies Learning Code
Have you ever wanted to learn how to build a website or understand computer coding, but weren’t sure where to begin? Ladies Learning Code provides workshops that cover everything from basic HTML to other programming languages such as Python or Scratch. Leading up to National Girls Learning Code Day 2016, we asked Christina Jones, the Victoria youth chapter lead, to share a bit more about Ladies Learning Code.
Q: Who or what is Ladies Learning Code?
A: Ladies Learning Code is a Canada-wide not-for-profit organization that runs workshops for women and youth who want to learn beginner-friendly computer programming and other technical skills in a social and collaborative way.
Q: Why is it important for women and girls to learn to code?
A: Ladies Learning Code was created to address the skills shortage in Canada and the gender divide in the tech industry, especially as coding becomes even more relevant in the future. We want to help women, and especially girls, understand they have the power to create technology, not just consume it.
Q: Do I need to be an expert to attend a Ladies Learning Code event?
A: Not at all. Tech is one of those things some people think is unattainable by telling themselves they could never code or build a website, but we make it so almost anyone can learn how.
Q: Why should someone consider attending?
A: They’re super fun! Our workshops give you an opportunity to try to learn a skill in a very safe and non-threatening environment where the focus is on enjoying yourself without any pressure.
Q: What can women learn from Ladies Learning Code?
Q: What can kids learn from Kids Learning Code?
A: We teach the basics of coding for kids and have led more advanced workshops in the past as well. For our younger learners who don’t yet have typing skills, we like to use Scratch – a coding language developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology specifically for kids. It’s more visual, letting you build code by dragging and dropping different elements. We’re also planning to teach image editing in the future.
Q: What’s the best part of helping girls learn to code?
A: Seeing the ‘aha’ moment on girls’ faces when they realize they have the power to animate something is priceless. Their creativity is very inspiring and they come up with some amazing things!
For National Girls Learning Code Day in 2015, each girl in attendance made her own website and showed everyone at the end. The diversity of what girls can create and the imagination demonstrated in their websites is unbelievable.
Q: How did Ladies Learning Code get started in Victoria?
A: In 2014, Erin Athene, the Victoria chapter lead, wanted to learn coding but couldn’t find anywhere local to learn how. She came across Ladies Learning Code in Toronto and asked them why there wasn’t a chapter in Victoria. Ladies Learning Code responded that no one from the area had reached out yet, so that’s how the Victoria Chapter began.
Q: How many chapters are there in B.C.?
A: Ladies Learning Code has three chapters in B.C. (Vancouver, Victoria and central Vancouver Island) plus a thriving girls program called Girls Learning Code and a co-ed kids program called Kids Learning Code.
Q: Is there anything else you want people to know about Ladies Learning Code?
A: If you live in Vancouver, there are Ladies Learning Code events running almost weekly. You can stay up to date by following us on social media and checking the Ladies Learning Code website for upcoming events. If you’re ever in another chapter city, you can also join the mailing list for those areas. We have also hosted successful summer camps and are planning more for the future.
If you are thinking of starting a chapter in your community, get in touch! Ladies Learning Code is very warm and embracing; they help provide mentors and people to teach or speak at local events.
Q: How can I get in touch?
LLC took off with coding workshops and networking events and is now in 22 cities with more than... see more
Source: Times Colonist
Author: Sarah Petrescu
Photographer: Trevor Ball
Co-ordinating a meeting with three women in different places — a downtown Victoria office, Seattle hotel room and Fairfield living room — is easy when at least two of them are technology buffs. “Let’s meet on Zoom. It’s kind of like Google hangouts, but better,” Erin Athene said of the web-based video conferencing service.
Athene and Christina Seargeant are co-leads of the Victoria chapter of Ladies Learning Code, a national non-profit launched in 2011 by a group of women in Toronto who felt isolated trying to learn computer programming, or coding.
The organization took off with coding workshops and networking events and is now in 22 cities with more than 25,000 participants and a branch for girls.
“I found out about Ladies Learning Code and asked if I could launch it in Victoria. I definitely saw a need,” said Athene, who moved from Seattle in 2013.
She had co-founded the software company Topaz Bridge Corp. and “did everything but the technical stuff,” she said.
“I realized there was a lack of power there and how much more affective I could’ve been with more knowledge on the technical side.”
Athene said being the only woman on an executive team also led her to launch Ladies Learning Code. The chapter got its start at the 2013 VIATEC Discover Tectoria showcase, where Athene set up a booth. More than 50 women signed up.
“It definitely piqued my interest,” said Seargeant from her office in Bastion Square at Workday, a finance and human resources software company.
She said many companies want to support women in feeling comfortable to enter the technology world. “And there’s a war for talent with not a huge pool of people to hire from. So they support building this up on a grassroots level,” Seargeant said.
The two teamed up to plan the group’s first HTML/CSS coding workshop and spread the word about the need for mentorship and skills for local women in the tech world. They needed $1,000 to hold the event and turned to the crowd-sourcing tool Tilt to fundraise.
“We started sharing the link on Facebook and within an hour Dan Gunn [the head of VIATEC] offered to match up to $5,000,” Seargeant said. They raised $11,000 and sold-out the event with more than 100 people attending and 50 more on a wait-list.
The turnout was diverse and included tech newbies, those already working in the tech field wanting to expand their skills, and senior developers wanting to mentor others.
In the three years since, the Victoria chapter of Ladies Learning Code has held more than 20 workshops on everything from building a website to WordPress and gaming. It has 600 members and holds events every month or so. This summer, Girls Learning Code was launched with a camp at St. Margaret’s School, and Athene said the next project will target kids and teachers who want to learn.
“Our goal is not that everyone codes for a living. Our No. 1 priority is to be that first stepping stone. We believe in digital literacy,” said Athene, a managing partner of PurposeSocial, a web development company that commits to having a technical team made up of at least half women and minorities. “I’m a lot more comfortable now in my work, understanding the landscape and what back-end and front-end development do,” she said.
Ryan Stratton has volunteered as a mentor for Ladies Learning Code since the first Victoria event.
“There certainly is a gender gap. When you look at the traditional tech office, it’s about 80 per cent [men] — including ours,” said Stratton, founder of Craftt, a software management company for craft brewers.
“When you build products for men and women you want your team to reflect that,” he said, also noting there are more jobs than technical talent in Victoria.
“For me, [mentoring] is the satisfaction of increasing digital literacy, but also investing in future employees and the community,” Stratton said.
Janni Aragon, a University of Victoria political science professor and the interim technology and society director, said the diversity problem in the tech world is well-recognized and needs to change.
“It’s not just about gender, but racial and ethnic diversity as well,” she said. Aragon has attended most of the Ladies Learning Code events in Victoria.
“At every one, a woman mentor gets up and says, ‘I’m the only woman on my team,’ and that’s why they are there,” she said.
While many computer science programs are still dominated by men, Aragon said she’s seeing an increase in women from other faculties such as fine arts and social sciences pursue technology skills.
“They are good sectors with good pay,” she said, adding students, usually women, in technology and society course say they want to be the change. “They want to be trailblazers and get out into these fields,” she said.