When Opportunity Comes Knocking: How Lisa Freedman Started Coding at Age 61

When Toronto resident Lisa Freedman found out she had breast cancer, she asked herself a simple question. What’s my passion?

At 58, the legal adjudicator knew the answer. It wasn’t the law; it was technology. Coupled with her diagnosis, that realization was a big wake-up call for Lisa. And it started a journey which led her to the University of Toronto Coding Boot Camp.

Uncovering a New Door—And Opening It

Lisa has always loved technology—but until that moment, she never really thought about how much she really wanted to be creating it.

“I think of myself as a computer game geek,” she said. “Before I had my twins, I once spent 36 straight hours playing Civilization.” She even claims Candy Crush was the one thing that got her through radiation.  

During one particularly difficult treatment, Lisa realized she needed a change—and she had no time to spare.

So she began researching tech education. The University of Toronto program checked all of the right boxes: close to home, part-time, and most importantly, a focus on coding. It felt like fate.

Rising to New Challenges—With Help

Two years later—and cancer free!—Lisa found herself back in a classroom for the first time since law school. Now 61, she’s at least 20 years older than any of her fellow students. But that hasn’t been an impediment.

“Most people would be surprised to find out how old I am. My sense of humor usually distracts them,” she laughed.

For Lisa, the class is much more than that: it’s her go-to community. Together, she and her classmates struggled through the challenging first weeks. By week three, they started to make it through together.

Lisa recently finished her first project, a niche travel site for people who want to find volunteer-driven vacations. Lisa is proud of the result.

“My philosophy was, ‘They may be better coders, but I have 30 more years of experience and nobody will outwork me.”

An Infinite New Horizon

For Lisa, taking this class was always about more than learning: it was about giving back. And she has big plans for when she graduates in September 2018.

For one, she would love to teach. “I want to volunteer with Girls Who Code. I’ve been a mentor my whole life—in my career and in my personal life,” Lisa said. “I’ve always believed learning should be a lifelong thing and I think I could make a difference in giving girls new opportunities.”

She also shares another dream with many coders: to create the next big Candy Crush. But, she emphasized that the game would have to be meaningful. Maybe a politics simulation game or an app to teach seniors about technology.

“I want my legacy to be that I cared in everything I did,” Lisa said. “That’s why I loved our first project so much. It made volunteering and giving back fun.

Her advice to everyone else out there who has a love for technology? Just go for it: “If I can jump off of that cliff at age 61, then anyone can.”

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