This week, Website Planet
had the opportunity to interview James Thornock, Owner of CoderKids. We discussed how the company evolved, what are the offered services, and how he envisions the future of the industry.
Please present Coder Kids to our audience.
Coder Kids is an after-school coding and private tutoring company which focuses on computer science. We teach kids how to code computers. It’s in our name, so that’s what we do, and we’re super passionate about it. The story behind the company is pretty simple. Jeff Ward founded the company in 2016 after teaching for 8 years with Teach For America. He was passionate about teaching and passionate about kids, but a little bit burned out from the public-school teaching and the education system in general. He wanted to make a difference in that space and he also wanted to do something that paid bills at the same time. He thought about a bunch of ideas, but he eventually settled on Coder Kids. It started as a couple of used laptops in a couple of churches and community centers with not enough kids signed up for classes. Sometimes he would pull in kids from church so that it would seem that we have more people in those classes. Then it quickly grew and rapidly expanded to the point where we are today, where we have 48 live in-person classes and almost 500 students whom we are teaching in-person concurrently. We are also doing private tutoring and we’ve been doing that for 6 years. Additionally, we have about 70 instructors on staff currently. It has really taken off and grown very quickly, and we’ve made it through the difficult parts, even during the pandemic, which is something we really feel blessed for.
In June 2022, I purchased the company. I’ve been with the company since 2017 and I’ve been building it and helping Jeff build it ever since then. I’m passionate about it, as well, as I was also a classically trained teacher and taught in public schools myself. I also deeply care about education, but I wanted to make a difference in a way that made more sense and which was also interesting to kids.
What services do you offer?
We teach after-school programs in-person in the Houston area, as well as online, which is something that we’re really proud of. A lot of parents have had negative experiences with online classes and that’s a real issue. A lot of it was due to the teachers not having proper training, but, fortunately, our instructors do have proper training and parents have great experiences with these online classes. They have a 1-to-8 student/teacher ratio, which is very important.
We offer private tutoring, which is very competitive when it comes to pricing, but also to the value that you’re getting. We’re talking about 1-on-1 lessons with an instructor who has deep knowledge of the subject area and is able to customize almost anything that you could want. Whether it’s database management, creating web pages, making video games and animations, or something else, we can accommodate almost any language.
In the summertime, we offer summer camps on the same topics and more. We have around 20 different topics, ranging from coding to YouTube and video editing, or even 3D sculpting so, basically, all things tech.
What is the mission of Coder Kids?
The mission of Coder Kids is pretty simple. It’s to empower students through code. How we do that is by helping them realize that each of them is a hero on their own journey, and that they can encounter problems, but that they can also find solutions. That realization, that epiphany, changes someone’s life even at their age.
As soon as they enter that positive feedback loop of encountering a problem and then figuring out a solution, or even not figuring out a solution, but then being able to ask an instructor and then get some guidance and overcoming the hurdle, that’s such a positive loop that it really transforms a kid’s life and puts them on a good path for the future.
It shows a kid that they are capable of doing more. In short, the Coder Kids’ mission is to help students realize that they are the heroes on their own quests and that they are capable of doing some pretty awesome things.
What separates you from other similar websites/companies?
What separates us from similar companies is that we’re, for starters, the only option in the Houston area, apart from Code Ninjas. However, what separates us in an online environment is that we have actually fostered a Discord community. We have over a thousand members and we have a lot of students that share their projects and get to brag about the cool creations that they made. They can also collaborate or play games together, and we have community events as well.
We are very community-focused. On a lot of other websites, you can just take pre recorded courses. While we also might do that in the future, for us it’s more about the live community and having real human connections because I feel that that’s really important for education.
How do you envision the future of your industry?
That’s kind of cool because I honestly have no idea. I have a lot of cool ideas that might happen, but when it comes down to it, technology is always morphing and changing. However, there are some constants, such as variables, basic coding skills, lists, algorithms, algebra, basic math, creativity, etc.
All of those things are going to be taught in any environment and any language. The languages themselves will change as time goes on, but I think that education is always going to be there.
Additionally, I think that parents know that coding is important and that we are here to help start them on their journey and get them pretty far. We’ve got private tutoring through 12th grade, so our students can get a huge jump on college and, hopefully, a lot of really substantive work before other formalized educational settings even occur for them.
Moreover, school choice has been picking up steam recently in America, and that’s the only political position that Coder Kids has, that we’re pro-school choice. At the end of the day, we want to be able to teach students in a manner as direct as possible. If we have more time with them, we can get better outcomes. It’s simple arithmetic. I know that school choice will pick up in Texas, specifically, but as it picks up in different areas in the future, we’ll be there to meet it and to be the ones who introduced coding to kids, as well as the ones who, hopefully, gave them a solid footing in learning these languages, getting proficient, and being able to complete comprehensive projects that showcase a lot of skill.