The Next Generation of "Coder Kidz"
Alex Jacobs (second from right, above) is a senior software engineer and co-founder of a volunteer-led "kids technology club" called Coder Kidz. It teaches kids coding as well as 3D modeling & printing, robotics, electronics, and game development. After working as mentors in various coding camps, Alex and his partner created Coder Kidz with a startup mentality and, after less than two years, Coder Kidz is the #1 not-for-profit tech camp in Australia.
I spoke to Alex about the story behind Coder Kidz and his vision for the future of coding.
Q&A with Alex Jacobs
Tell me the story of Coder Kidz? What inspired you to create it?
In September 2016, my partner, William Douglas (third from right, above), and I began with a simple mission: to provide students with high-quality, hands-on technology education in a curriculum based workshop setting.
Since our inception, we’ve held our youth programs to the highest standard to emphasize the importance of higher education and to increase each student’s likelihood of attending these pathways at college in the near future.
What makes Coder Kidz unique?
Offering tech education for kids and teens since 2016, we are the #1 not-for-profit tech camp in Australia, based on the variety of pathways in technology and student age range we offer.
But here’s what really matters: we engage hundreds kids and teens in STEM each year, and help them discover and pursue their passions.
William and I bootstrapped the company as a not-for-profit to make sure education of kids and teens always remains the first priority. Answering phone calls at 3am? Yes. Emailing marketing brochures from school to school? Yes. Developing course materials? Yes. Doing whatever it takes—that’s internal Drive. We know what it is like to run a startup, risk everything, finance expenses on credit cards, and put our students, parents, and employees first. Our vision is to provide the best individualized, high-energy, hands-on technology education that any coding club could offer. Something unique — unlike anything else. It’s still our mission today.
What is your background? How did you gain the knowledge to blend teaching and technology?
I worked as a software engineer for 14 years, giving me the passion to share my knowledge with the next generation of coders.
I was the lead mentor at CoderDojo Brisbane, where I mentored kids 7-17 and taught them various coding skills from Scratch to Web Development. Some of the ninjas I taught are now youth mentors at coder Dojo.
My partner, William, is the National Business Process Trainer for a sales organisation and has a fair amount of experience in developing and delivering training to a wide variety of people. He has also been a mentor, lead mentor and organiser in other code based mentoring programs for a number of years prior to starting Coder Kidz.
Although he doesn’t currently work in an IT or software related field, he has been coding on and off since he was about 10, and is constantly finding cool ways that understanding code can help him solve problems and improve on his work.
What are some things that have surprised you about Coder Kidz? I.e., What are some things you didn't expect when it first started?
How much kids know about technology is not comparable even to 10 years ago. Free platforms like Scratch help any young student who can read to start writing basic programs and games and build animations. Most of the kids and teens attending our workshops are expecting advanced workshops. I think we will see the last generation of university students without much coding experience in the next 3-5 years.
What do you think the future of coding is? What will work look like for the students you are teaching now when they join the workforce?
My opinion is that everyone needs to learn basic coding because in the future everything around us will have an API for consumers and basic coding knowledge will be something common, like how people learned to use Microsoft office.
I have students who are now creating websites and building mobile apps for their school store.
What motivates kids to learn coding? Why do they sign up for your programs and what do they like most about them?
Kids love building games and controlling robots and knowing how things work. We used this concept in all our workshops, We bring our custom designed 3D printed robots to all our workshops to show kids what they can build with a bit of imagination. They may not be interested in coding but love to design, the key is showing them all the opportunities and letting them decide which pathway they are interested in.
Why and how do you use Balsamiq Mockups?
We use it for creating wireframes before starting development. This helps us have a better understanding of challenges in front of us and make sure we are on right track with our project requirements.
What do you love about what you do?
Being able to build a platform or software from scratch. Working on different projects and learning new technologies.
What has been the key to your success?
Never stop learning, technology constantly evolves and you need to be ready for it.
Thank you, Alex! Keep up the good work!
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