30 Under 30: The three co-founders of the C.O.D.E. Initiative are building a more inclusive tech industry

Felicia Chan, Bahar Moussavi and Mikhaela Torio are catering to the neurodiverse community.

Credit: Justin Chan

Mikhaela Torio (left), Bahar Moussavi and Felicia Chan

Felicia Chan + Bahar Moussavi + Mikhaela Torio, 23

Co-founders, the C.O.D.E. Initiative

Life Story: Bahar Moussavi was talking with a male cohort after a coding class at UBC when her colleague said that she didn’t look like she’d be in computer science. “It was a really weird thing, because at that time people would tell me that tech isn’t diverse and you have to fight to get your voice heard, and I’d say, No I have female classmates, we’re fine,” Moussavi says. “And then this happened, and it was the first taste of those little micro-aggressions.”

Moussavi, who was classmates with Felicia Chan and Mikhaela Torio at the time, talked to them about other underrepresented populations in tech. One of those was the neurodiverse community–people with autism, attention deficit disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, among other conditions.

The trio started the C.O.D.E. (Create Opportunities and Define Education) Initiative, which holds one-on-one computer programming workshops for neurodiverse youth. Besides help from a few co-op student teachers, the company has mostly relied on the support of volunteers across the country to expand from its Vancouver base to Alberta and Ontario.

Each founder has their own department—Moussavi handles research and development, Chan spearheads marketing, and Torio oversees the grants and sponsorship side of things—while also working full-time. “We’re definitely hopeful that we can reach a point where we can transition to full-time on this,” Torio says.

Bottom Line: The C.O.D.E. Initiative has worked with about 400 neurodiverse students and some 600 students overall, both online and (pre-COVID) in-person. The organization is also partnering with the BC Tech Association on a project that will see it work with 15 of the province’s bigger tech players, including AbCellera Biologics, SAP Canada and Amazon.com.