When Justin Leonard and Adam Bowker teach their coding classes to kids, there is one hook above all others to get the youngsters interested.
“They love their Minecraft,” says Leonard. “They basically lose their minds whenever we start talking about it.”
In the video game, players use 3D blocks in a virtual world to construct anything from a replica of their own home to a roller coaster to a secret underwater city. By using a drag-and-drop coding language called Blockly, Leonard and Bowker teach the kids to do some of that building automatically as a way to get them engaged in computer languages.
While the duo might be young—Bowker is 20 with three semesters to go at NC State, while the 24-year-old Leonard is a 2017 grad of UNC—they’re unusually well-qualified to teach the Minecraft classes. Not only are they fluent in multiple computer languages, but they’ve been doing some bang-up building of their own by launching the new coding school Imagicode.
After becoming friendly as instructors at CAML Academy, a coding school based in Morrisville, the duo launched Imagicode in January. During the school year, the Co-Founders led after-school coding classes at three Triangle schools—Thales Academy and St. Mary Magdalene School in Apex, and Raleigh’s The Trilogy School. The classes met once a week for an hour and 15 minutes for 5-8 weeks at a cost of $115-$130.
Imagicode will take a big step forward this summer, hosting a series of week-long coding camps that cost $350 each at a 2,200-square-foot location they’ll be leasing at Cary Towne Center, which until quite recently was a largely empty mall that’s refashioning itself as a workspace. They’ve used the profits from the after-school camps, in which they had very low overhead because they taught at the schools and used the schools’ computer facilities, to fund this next step.
“We’re breaking even with the signups we have to date for the summer,” says Bowker. “As we get more, we will be profitable, and we’ll put it back into the business. We’re only paying ourselves a little and have no debt. We were very fortunate to have paying customers from the get-go.”
This Saturday, Bowker and Leonard will be teaching a free Day of Code event from 9-1 at the The Nest Raleigh. GrepBeat readers can also use the coupon code GREPBEAT50 for $50 off any summer camp.
While Imagicode has been bootstrapped to date, that wasn’t the original plan. The pair was hoping to raise funds, in part to lock down a relatively pricey teaching space at The Dillon in Raleigh. Their concept and passion intrigued Mike Hobgood, the Co-Founder of The Nest, but instead of an investment he gave them advice—to not take cash unless they absolutely needed it and thus retain all the equity in Imagicode. He also pointed them toward the bargain space at Cary Towne Center.
Currently they’re only leasing the Cary location through Aug. 15, but depending on how the summer goes they may decide to keep the space, enabling them to continue teaching there during the schools year—such as daytime “trackout camps” for kids in year-round schools—in addition to traveling around to Triangle schools for the after-school classes.
Right now it’s just the two of them, though they’ll be bringing on two counselors to help with the summer camps, in part so the kids won’t be staring at screens all day. Longer-term, they hope to bring on more instructors and expand to other areas in the Triangle, then to cities across the state (especially Charlotte) and, potentially, the region.
It’s a business, yes, but it’s also a passion for them to bring coding skills to kids, especially those who don’t have great access to such programs currently. Bowker, for instance, grew up in rural Clinton, N.C., and didn’t have much opportunity to act on his affinity for computers until he attended Durham’s North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.
“Both of us have an interest in opening up the world of computer science to more people,” says Leonard. “It’s a field that can be elitist, especially if you’re younger, and from a region or socioeconomic group that doesn’t have as much access.”