My almost-85-year-old Gramma sends me iMessages (normally about her cat or my kitties).

She plays Candy Crush and reads e-books on her iPad. She connects her iPod to her Bose speakers using Bluetooth.

She turned to me the other month, over a glass of wine, and said, “It’s too bad my friends aren’t on this tech. It’s hard for all of us to hear over the phone now, but none of them will email or FaceTime me. They don’t know how.”

While it may not be able to help my Gramma’s friends, Communitech has recognized that tech literacy and accessibility are issues that reach across economic, age and gender brackets in our community.

That’s why we were excited to join and support the Year of Code Waterloo Region (YoCWR) as its first sponsor last fall.

Now, with its launch coming on Saturday, July 4, we wanted to share some information about the YoCWR and its founder, Stephanie Rozek.

Rozek came to Waterloo Region in 1995 as a University of Waterloo electrical engineering student. After graduation, she left the area to seek a career out west. She came back in 2004 following the dot-com bust. Her brother and sister had moved to the region, and she decided it was a good area to be in, too.

Rozek worked in tech marketing and training. Then, over wine with some friends in 2012, Rozek dreamed up Hackademy, an organization to help teach face-to-face coding and tech literacy in Waterloo Region.

“We wanted to be open to everyone, regardless of background,” she said.

After some set-backs and stalled plans, Rozek launched Hackademy in 2013.

Her team, now mainly run by Joanna Woo, has taught both adults and children coding basics ranging from intro to JavaScript to intro to WordPress.

These days however, YoCWR has consumed Rozek’s life, which doesn’t surprise her: she planted those seeds in her brain a few years ago..

The Communitech Hub triggered the jump from idea to reality. It came about by a chance meeting with Iain Klugman, Communitech’s CEO.

“He’s got a lot of the same [goals] I’ve been talking about for years,” Rozek said. “Access to tech for everyone, and getting more women into tech; and particularly the kid stuff he was very supportive of, because you do need to get technology to kids early if you want to make a difference in the society and those kids lives.”

Rozek suggested working together on some workshops.

“He said, ‘No, if we’re going to do something [together], we do something really big’,” she said. “I said: ‘Ok, I have this mission statement. I’ve had it for two years and I’ve been trying to do things’.”

Rozek went away from the meeting buzzing with ideas. She returned to Communitech two and a half weeks later with a 22-page report that was the founding document for YoCWR.

Seven busy months later, Rozek and her team of 50 volunteers and full-time and part-time employees are ready to inspire the region through a year-long campaign.

The goal is simple: reach 250,000 men, women and children across a range of ages and backgrounds, and provide learning opportunities, public events and online toolkits to give people an opportunity to connect with — and demystify — tech.

Rozek is excited to teach seniors how to Skype so they can talk with grandchildren living across the country, for example.

Programs are targeted to age categories — kids, teens and adults. The programs will cover a variety of courses, from downloading apps onto a smartphone, to social-media safety. Monthly online toolkits will let individuals work through courses at their own pace at home.

Rozek and her team will set up today, July 1, at the University of Waterloo Canada Day Celebration at the Columbia Lake Fields, in Waterloo. From 4-8 p.m., they’ll be at the Activity World area teaching Scratch, a programming language, to kids.

The official YoCWR launch happens Saturday, July 4, in the Rotunda at Kitchener City Hall, 200 King St. W. The free event runs 1-4 p.m. and features tech demos, a family hack jam and a wall of Lego, among many activities and workshops.

Rozek is thrilled at the support she has received from the tech community so far. She’s still looking for more volunteers — and don’t worry if you don’t know how to code. There are other roles to fill, and plenty of teachers around if you want to learn.

“Code is the buzzword of the day,” Rozek said. “[YoCWR] is really about demystifying tech and having people engaged and learning about it.”


Happy Canada Day! I hope you are celebrating our nation’s 148th birthday at the University of Waterloo or in downtown Kitchener. UW’s free event begins at 4 p.m. and includes family activities, live music, a food fair and beer garden. The evening ends with fireworks over Columbia Lake. Kitchener’s free event runs 4–11 p.m. and includes great live music, a beer garden, food trucks and fireworks from the City Hall rooftop. Once the fireworks fade, there is still a lot going on around here this weekend. I see and hear . . . Thursday, July 2, is the second Product Hunt KW meetup. Product Hunt is an online community that brings to the surface the best products and encourages product discussions. Join the KW group to discover and demo the amazing products being developed right here. The meetup happens 7:30–10 p.m. at Vidyard, 119 King St. W., Suite 400, Kitchener. Registration is required for the free event that includes talks, demos and drinks . . . Head to Communitech on Tuesday, July 7, to learn more about The Future of FinTech. Registration is required for the free event that brings together startups, financial institutions, and a panel on current trends and future needs for the financial sector. The event is at the Tannery Event Centre, 151 Charles St. W., Kitchener.