By Alex Carbajal

CodaKid, a Kids Computer Programming and Game Design studio, launched in Old Town Scottsdale in winter of 2014. In this blog post, we sit down with founder David Dodge to discuss computer programming, game design, and what’s been happening at CodaKid.

What prompted you to start CodaKid?

David: I wanted to develop a kids academic enrichment program that would bring high-end coding classes to the Valley. I realized that there is no better way to teach computer programming than to engage kids through game design, Minecraft Modding, 3D modeling, and other forms of digital creativity. I also noticed that there were little to no high-quality offerings in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. We’ve had a lot of fun putting it together and have been able to connect with a lot of phenomenal people here in the Valley.

What is your background in coding and game design?

David: Well, I’ll date myself here, but I started out life after college in the early 1990s as a video game tester at Sega of America in Redwood City, California. All the kids I meet at CodaKid think I must’ve had the best job in the world – getting paid to play games. I always explain that testing is much different than playing, and it often involves unbelievably boring tasks like colliding your character into every wall on every level for 10 hours straight and listening to same soundtrack for months on end. I started on the Sega night shift and worked my way up to become a day shift lead tester on games for the Sega Genesis, Sega 32X, and Sega Saturn. On certain games like Sega NHL, I was responsible for teams of up to 100 testers on 24 hour shifts. I learned how to manage manage and projects with stressed out designers, programmers, producers and quality assurance staff, burned chip sets, and helped ship a ton of best-selling games. After a couple of years of working in QA, a friend from Sega helped me land a job as a Level Layout Designer with Cyclone Studios, a startup video game company a few miles down the road. At Cyclone and later at 3DO, I got to create my first levels in games using C++ based scripting languages that allowed us to dictate gameplay, iterate enemy attacks, and create scenes that were challenging, fun, and diverse. After that, I was promoted to Game Designer for a Sony Playstation version of the game called Uprising X, I learned how to produce design docs and lead teams of designers. After this, I began teaching myself other programming languages and continue to work on my skills even today. All told, I have worked on over 30 video game titles on 6 video game platforms. I also own another company called Tutorware, which is a business management software created for the tutoring, test prep, and educational services organizations. Building Tutorware from scratch has taught me a ton about Lean Startup methodology, database programming, and LAMP stack development. In short, my life revolves around learning and technology, and CodaKid gives me an outlet to bring these skills to kids in a really fun environment. Sorry, that took awhile – are you going to write all of that?

What are your plans for CodaKid?

David: Right now We are planning a number of after-school and weekend classes both here at our design studio and at school sites. We are offering Modding for Minecraft – a course that teaches kids JAVA in a really fun and engaging way. We are also excited to unveil Intro to 3D Modeling in March. My wife and co-founder Lauren Nguyen is also interested in launching a Girls Coding class that will be taught by one of our top female instructors. Getting girls engaged in technology early helps them build confidence and will hopefully help bridge the gender gap at tech in the future.

Who teaches at CodaKid?

David: We are very selective about who we hire. Right now, we are hiring only around 1 out of every 20 coding instructors that interview with us. We have experienced programmers and designers with exceptional people skills and a passion for connecting with kids and getting them excited about technology. We teach only to very small groups (averaging around 5 students per teacher) so our students get a ton of individualized attention. We’re going to do some blog exposes on our staff next spring, so I don’t want to steal any thunder.

Next year we plan on offering after school programs in several schools in the Valley, and we are also working with Arizona State University on a self-paced online course that we are really excited about.

What are your Minecraft Friday Code-a-thons?

David: Our Minecraft Friday Code-a-thons are regular Friday workshops in which kids get to learn Java while creating exciting Minecraft mods. Our Code-a-thons take place every Friday from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at our Old Town Scottsdale studio. Our instructors prepare a fun coding challenge for students who work for 2 hours to create something special. Meanwhile parents can enjoy nearby shops, restaurants, movie theaters and more. We bill it as a “Coding Jam for Kids – Fun Night Out for Parents” in the heart of the coolest part of the Valley. Our design studio is awesome – we bought a pretty run down old building and completely modernized it. It has a fun vibe.

What kind of experience can customers can expect?

David: Our customers can expect that their kids will spend time in a fun, safe, educationally enriching environment with caring people who are passionate about technology and love what they do. Our students learn elements of computer programming and game design in a fun, supportive environment. Students work with veteran game designers and coders to learn how to plan their work, learn important coding concepts, and create cool projects that they take home to show to family & friends. Above all, I can promise that the kids will learn a ton and have a lot of fun while doing it.

A lot of parents are trying to get their kids away from computers and television. What message do you have for those that are skeptical about computer classes for kids?

David: Coding is a new and important literacy, and learning the fundamentals can be very rewarding no matter what industry or profession your child gets involved in. The work that we do here involves problem solving, planning, design, and the application of real world math equations.

We find that one reason that many kids don’t develop an interest in math and science is that they don’t see the connection between the work that they are doing in school and real life. One of the most exciting things that we find in our coding academies is that kids will suddenly realize that math concepts that they learned in school have immediate application in computer coding, and the classes heighten their interest and also build their confidence in the subject.

Lastly, many parents soon realize that their child is actively creating using technology in our small group classes, rather than sitting in front of the computer as a passive participant.

I won’t even mention the study that by 2020 that indicated that there will be over 1.4 million tech jobs in the US and only an estimated 400,000 engineers to fill them. An unbelievable stat isn’t it?

Do you like turtles?

David: Yes, I like turtles. Wait. What?

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David Dodge, MBA Thunderbird, has founded three companies – CodaKid, SurePrep Learning, and Tutorware. He lives and works in Old Town Scottsdale with his wife, baby daughter, and labrador retriever puppy Lucy. When not working, David enjoys playing guitar, golf, hiking, and traveling. You can follow him on Twitter @davidddodge

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