Need to Know: Kylie Toh
The Chic Geek founder is shaking up Alberta’s tech scene, one woman at a time
by Elizabeth Hames
Higher ed: B.A. Communications, Mount Royal University
First paid work: “My first job was in a library. I thought it was my dream job.”
Two years ago, Chic Geek founder Kylie Toh decided she wanted to learn how to code. “I love the idea of being able to make and build things from scratch,” she says. But she couldn’t find any entry-level courses in Calgary. There were meetups for coders, sure, but they were too advanced for a beginner like her. And besides, they were all dominated by men, which only reinforced her outsider status. So Toh did what all entrepreneurs do when they identify a void in the market – she filled it.
It turns out Toh wasn’t the only woman looking for beginner coding classes. More than 150 people signed up for Chic Geek’s first workshop in February 2013. That caught the attention of Ladies Learning Code, a non- profit organization based in Toronto that hosts day-long coding and web design workshops for women (and men). Ladies Learning Code was only two years old, and it was expanding quickly into other cities across Canada – but they weren’t in Calgary yet. So, Chic Geek volunteered to head the Calgary chapter.
The partnership saw Chic Geek lead 57 Ladies Learning Code workshops last year. In addition, Chic Geek organizes networking events, socials and mentorship opportunities for women in Calgary’s tech industry. To do this, Toh has built up a network of more than 90 volunteers, including nine core volunteers who look after day-to-day operations. It’s not a hard sell, convincing coders to donate their time, says Toh. “They recognize the importance of having more women in technology,” she says. “Most technology is created predominantly by men. But women are just as much consumers of that, and we bring a lot of different perspectives and experiences and insight to that development process.”
Toh has her sights on the corporate office – not as a high-level CEO, but as an educator. Her goal is to train high-tech companies and startups on how to engage women in the workplace. Her aim is simple: “Build an environment in the workplace that women can really excel in,” she says.