Tyler Menezes is a Canadian-American computer programmer and businessperson. He co-founded several startups and is currently the Executive Director of the non-profit organization srnd.org. Coding is a powerful avenue for students and budding software developers to create groundbreaking solutions that have the potential to change the world. Which is why SRND inspires hesitant students to take the first step to begin their coding journey.
In this interview, Tyler speaks to us about how SRND is igniting the passion for coding among students and how its teaching techniques differ from other coding schools.
What inspired you to start StudentRND?
We started with an intention to give student programmers the resources to build cool things. Then we realized that most students didn’t want those resources. In fact, most students think coding literally means typing 0s and 1s!
We turned to behavioral science to find ways of getting more students interested. After several years of refinement, we’re now the most effective nonprofit organization that is reaching students who are apprehensive about coding and inspiring them to change their mind.
Tell us about some of your student stories. (Any unique, exceptional stories that come to mind)
When we first tried CodeDay back in 2011, we ran a Facebook ad with smart pictures and a question: “Want to make a video game? (No experience needed.)” It was way more successful than we thought, and we attracted a bunch of students who drove for an hour to get the chance.
They thought “it looked too good to be true” but wanted to try anyway. In 24 hours, they made something amazing. And now, six years later, many are working in the tech industry. One of them, a high school dropout, is now running a division at a 400-person company!
Can people from non-tech background also sign up for SRND? How does that work?
You don’t need to be a coding genius to make something brilliant at CodeDay; in fact, three-quarters of our attendees have little-to-no experience in coding! It’s more about using your creativity to make something fun; we’ll help with the coding part.
What makes SRND’s teaching techniques different from other coding schools?
Most other programs write workshops and classes, and try to teach coding like a traditional school, but few students are enrolling, especially low-income ones. The unfortunate reality is that most students don’t want to learn to code! They think it’s boring and uncreative, so they don’t enroll in the classes.
We take a different approach. Rather than teach people how to code, our creative and fun programs attract these students and convince them to give it a try. To do this, we engage with their existing interests and help them make something they want to. Once they’re interested, plenty of other groups can teach them how to code.
What can employers and big brands do to increase diversity in computer science enrollment?
Change comes from the top; the leaders of companies need to recognize that building a diverse workforce is a competitive advantage. Tech companies largely focus on products for upper-middle-class folks; building a diverse workforce will help them see products and use-cases everyone else misses. Once the organization’s leaders are on-board, they simply need to start engaging with students in the communities where they work with – both financially, and through employee volunteerism.
What are your future plans for SRND?
As technology becomes more important in our lives, just having a diverse group of computer scientists is not going to be enough, it’s about having a say in the future of technology. We’re increasing the investments in the cities we already cater to and are hoping to increase the number of students who attend our events reach every year from 10,000 to 40,000.