Microsoft’s YouthSpark Live comes to Vancouver to draw in tech-minded students

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Technology, says Sage Franch, really comes down to a couple of important building blocks — or are those Lego blocks?

When she was 13 years old, Franch’s parents bought a Lego Mindstorms kit that allowed her to build robots that could be programmed using a computer.

“That was kind of my first experience seeing how technology could make something come to life,” recalled the computer science student at Dalhousie University.

“I like to think of coding as mass of words that actually make magic happen.”

Now interning as a “technical evangelist” at Microsoft Canada, Franch will be in Vancouver March 18 to facilitate a skills development program — YouthSpark Live — aimed at youth at the University of B.C.’s Robson Square campus in downtown.

“Working with students who haven’t had the access to technology yet is just very inspiring,” the 21-year-old said, “because you can see that once they grasp technology and get a feel for how it can impact their lives, they really take it and run with it, and the opportunities for career expansion are just endless.”

The daylong program includes a coding camp, a panel examining careers in technology and entrepreneurship, and the opportunity for participants to build their own apps.

Franch said she’s most excited about facilitating the coding camp for young people who may not have had that much previous exposure to technology.

“It gives students the opportunity to try it for themselves and have that ‘a-ha’ moment, seeing something they created just come to life and actually work,” she said.

Participants include the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, Pathways to Education and Ladies Learning Code.

While the conference’s main goal is to provide young people with the skills needed for jobs in a labour market increasingly dependent on technology, Franch said she also hopes more young women are drawn into the tech sector.

An October report from Catalyst Canada, a non-profit organization focused on expanding opportunities for women in business, found 53% of women who started in the tech sector immediately after earning a master’s degree in business administration were likely to leave and take a job in another industry.

Because there are so few women in the tech sector and many of them eventually leave, the report noted newcomers entering the industry have access to few same-gender mentors.

Franch said despite figures like that, she doesn’t want other young women to be dissuaded from pursuing a career in the tech industry.

“It’s definitely something we can’t ignore,” she said.

“If I had let the gender gap deter me, I wouldn’t have had access to all of these skill-development opportunities.”