Parents frustrated with their children playing Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite, take heart: They may be laying the groundwork for a career in coding.
So says Anu Kothandaraman, a one-time senior program manager at General Electric, who opened a Code Ninja franchise in Trumbull about a year ago, and a second in Fairfield on June 25, with plans for two more in the coming years.
As its name suggests, Code Ninjas teaches children computer coding, with the ultimate goal of building their own video games and apps. As they advance from white to black belt, the students gain skills in coding, robotics and problem solving.
“I have two daughters, 14 and 11,” Kothandaraman said at the 665 Commerce Drive location in Fairfield. “My 11-year-old was very interested in learning about computer programming, and with my being in programming and IT for a long time, I thought I could just teach her.”
Work and school schedules interfered with that plan.
“There was frustration on both ends,” Kothandaraman laughed. “So I began looking for an option for kids, as coding is going to be a much-needed skill for future generations, but couldn’t find anything in Connecticut.”
The Trumbull resident’s research led her to Code Ninjas, the Pearland, Texas, company founded in 2016 by programmer and entrepreneur (and “sensei,” in keeping with the parlance) David Graham, who began franchising the concept in 2017.
“With the way their program and curriculum is laid out, half of my work is already done,” Kothandaraman said.
With the 2,400-square-foot operation a success, Kothandaraman set about looking for another suitable location, which she found in the new building in Fairfield. It is roughly the same size as the Trumbull facility.
“We can seat about 36 kids at the same time,” she said, “and we have plenty of space for offices as well as a party room.”
The suggested age range for Code Ninjas is 7 to 14, with most students taking one-hour classes twice a week. Kothandaraman said pricing ranges from $40 to $270 a year, depending on the child’s age and commitment.
It can take about three months to receive a white belt and about four years to reach black-belt status, she said. “We encourage students to go at their own pace,” she noted. “They’re given a series of projects and tasks to complete, and parents receive a progress card at the end of each day.”
The card is also coded so that at check-in a computer can call up where the student left off last time.
She has hired Trumbull High School students to work there on a part-time/summer basis and expects to do the same in Fairfield.
While Code Ninjas is open to all children, Kothandaraman said that she’s especially pleased to greet young girls. “I’m proof of how being the only female in an IT department can be lonely,” she said, noting that she still consults on a part-time basis with a number of companies in the state, including Bridgewater Associates, United Technologies Corp. and Alexion Pharmaceuticals. “There’s a mind-set out there that this is a boys’ thing. I’m trying to change that.”
Her interest was heightened in part by her father working as an engineer in her native India. “He was always taking things apart and putting them back together to see how they worked,” she said. “By the time I got to high school and started to learn about computers, I found that I was fascinated by the whole area.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s in computer science from the University of Madras, she relocated to the U.S. in 1999 to take a job with AT&T.
“Practically any job in the future will require some kind of coding, whether it’s teaching, firefighting, sports or whatever. If you don’t learn coding, preferably at a young age, you’ll be left out of the job market.”
Kothandaraman said she expects to open her third Code Ninjas in the Norwalk area, and another in Milford, over the next few years.
On June 10, Shweta Relan and Manju Khatri opened another franchise at 111 High Ridge Road in Stamford. “Our kids are excited to be some of the first ninjas at the new center,” Relan said. “My 15-year-old daughter will also be working as a sensei!”
Kothandaraman said she welcomed the franchise’s expansion in the area. “Given how important coding is, and is going to become, it’s nice to see these stores opening,” she said.