Vancouver’s HTML500 coding camp aims to set Guinness World Record

When Lighthouse Labs organized a free daylong coding camp last January, more than 1,300 people registered for 500 seats. 

Lighthouse Labs co-founder Jeremy Shaki

When Lighthouse Labs organized a free daylong coding camp last January, more than 1,300 people registered for 500 seats.

“I don’t know if it was incredibly surprising to us. It was very surprising to a lot of the people we spoke to about this idea in the lead-up,” recalled Jeremy Shaki, co-founder of the HTML500 event.

And with a week to go before another 500 would-be coders file into the Rocky Mountaineer Station (1755 Cottrell St., Vancouver) on January 24, more 1,900 people have already registered to join.

“We’re actually going to break the Guinness book of World Records,” Shaki said.

He’s not joking — HTLM500 really is aiming to break the Guinness World Record for the largest single-day computer programming class.

The team has expanded last year’s event in Vancouver to cities such as Calgary, Toronto and London, Ont., where coding novices will learn HTML and CSS throughout an intense daylong bootcamp.

Shaki said most attendees aren’t directly involved in Vancouver’s tech community. Rather, they use technology on a day-to-day basis, such as certain jobs involved in accounting, law or digital marketing.

A free introductory coding camp, he said, removes many barriers they might have before wishing to dive deeper into programming to further their careers.

Last year’s first HTML500 event drew children as young as 13 and retirees in their 70s.

This year, organizers are adjusting the curriculum slightly and adding a career fair, where tech companies looking to hire people for non-tech positions will be answering questions and taking applications.

Meanwhile, about 100 developers are volunteering to sit side-by-side with participants to provide practical training instead of making everyone listen to lectures for hours on end.

“The goal of HTML500…is not to turn into a developer in one day, but rather to just learn to code and have that comfort level,” co-founder Khurram Virani said.

“So there’s actually zero prep required coming in to HTML500.”

By the end of the day, everyone should have learned enough code to develop their own landing page for a website that they can publish and showcase to employers.

Shaki said organizers debated for quite a while about finding a fair way to distribute the free tickets — even with more than 1,900 registered so far, the not-for-profit event isn’t changing its name to HTML2000.

Eventually, they decided they would hand out 350 tickets on a first-come, first-serve basis. The remaining 150 tickets would be given away through a lottery system or through charities, allowing tables dedicated specifically to aboriginal groups and underprivileged youth looking to learn code.

“This event is built as a conversation starter. Much in the same way we’re introducing people to HTML and CSS for the first time, we’re bringing our community for the first time this idea that it’s easy and simple to learn to code,” he said.

“Whether people are in or not in the HTML500, this is meant to inspire them to go, ‘You know what? I can learn this pretty easily.’”