Avery Swartz is the founder and CEO of Camp Tech, a company that organizes tech classes for non-techies in Canada. With "as little technical mumbo-jumbo" as possible, her group aims to empower students to learn web and digital skills through half- and full-day in-person workshops.
In addition to Camp Tech, Avery is also an award-winning web designer, teacher and digital advisor. Learn more about Avery and her company after the jump.
Question: Did you always know you wanted to be in the tech field? What was your journey to tech like?
Answer: I've always been interested in technology, and loved math and computers when I was a kid. I swung really far in the other direction during my teens and 20s though — I was really into theater and performing arts. I studied theater in college, and worked for theater companies for 10 years before going back to school and learning graphic design.
I was a graphic designer for a couple years, and then I transitioned to web design. I still run a web design studio in addition to running Camp Tech. I think I have a dual brain for art and science — I equally enjoy tech, math, code, art and design. There's a bit of a myth out there that you can't be creative or artistic and also nerdy. That's so untrue.
A: Camp Tech was born directly out of my web design studio. I work with small businesses, arts organizations, and charities. I would help my clients with their website, but they needed further tech education in topics like SEO, SEM, email marketing, WordPress, Photoshop, InDesign and social media, etc.
I live and work in Toronto, and other than semester-long programs at Universities and Colleges, there was nowhere to learn these skills in person, in a succinct, practical and fun way. I saw a need and a hole in the marketplace, and I started Camp Tech in mid-2012 to address this need.
Q: Who does Camp Tech serve?
A: Camp Tech is all about practical tech education for non-technical people. We are not training attendees to be professional developers or digital marketing specialists. Most of our workshops are only three hours — it's very much a "get in, get what you need, get out" sort of place.
Q: Who is a "typical" student?
A: We strive to make our workshops as beginner-friendly and accessible as possible, so we see people of all ages, genders and stages of career development at Camp Tech. It's really cool to walk in to a Camp Tech workshop and see a 50-something marketing executive sitting next to a 20-something hobby blogger.
Anyone who is curious to learn more about technology in a fun and friendly way is welcome!
Q: What would you tell someone who wanted to begin a new career in the tech field?
A: Just get started. Build something. It doesn't matter what it is, or who it's for; it only matters that you're building.
Learn something, then apply that knowledge to a project. Tech can be a "use it or lose it" subject. Keep working away and you'll get better. Never stop challenging yourself, never stop learning, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable (that feeling when you don't have all the answers but you suspect you can probably figure it out is very common and doesn't really go away).
Q: Have you faced discrimination in the tech field? If so, how can women overcome this and how does the industry as a whole need to change?
A: Yes, I have faced discrimination in both the tech industry as a female web designer and also in the business industry a female CEO. I could go on for days about how the tech industry needs to change. We have a LOT of work to do.
I'm encouraged by some of the conversations I've seen lately in conferences, on Twitter, and in industry publications and blogs. Talking about the problem and identifying that this IS a problem is good. Awareness is an important first step.
I'm proud that I've been able to carve my own path and create companies with inclusive and supportive cultures so everyone feels comfortable, instead of working for someone else and inheriting a toxic culture. I might not be able to change the entire tech industry, but I can affect change over my tiny corner of it.
Announcement: Camp Tech is launching Camp Tech Vancouver in the fall! They are already in three cities in Ontario (Toronto, Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo), and this will be the first cross-Canada location.