By Susan E. Campbell
A new center in Clifton Park is helping young people learn teamwork, math, problem solving and logic while preparing them for careers in STEM.
“Code Ninjas is my pride and passion,” said Neelima Kanakamedala, co-owner of the franchise with Latha Jakkani and Uday Sree Kothamachu. The three celebrated the grand opening of the business on Sept. 7.
The concept of learning coding is game-based and uses the black belt system of Tae Kwon Do to learn the basics, advance to new levels, and be rewarded along the way with a belt ceremony, said Kanakamedala. The classroom is the dojo, the instructor is the sensei, and the 7-to-14 year-old students are the ninjas.
“The genesis of Code Ninjas came from the CEO’s own Tae Kwon Do class and thinking about educational activities for his own children,” she said. “The Tae Kwon Do system is for both brain and body and for the enhancement of life skills.”
Kanakamedala has a masters degree in childhood development. As her own children grew, she found for them an after-school program that introduced them to robotics and informed their future education.
“My son is a senior at RIT and my daughter is a cognitive science major,“ she said. “Their robotics program helped them achieve scholarship and curriculum.”
Kanakamedala did extensive research prior to buying a Code Ninjas franchise. A senior cybersecurity analyst for New York state and a professional risk analyst, she presented her business plan and projections to her mentor, a professor at SUNY Albany.
“She gave me a go,” said Kanakamedala. “The local Small Business Administration helped further evaluate the plan and its risks, and we received our SBA loan from KeyBank without hesitation.”
“The business community will have a need for coding and other technology skills in only a few years,” she said. “By 2020 there will be 3 million unfilled jobs in cybersecurity alone.”
Much-needed work force development can start early with curriculums such that Code Ninjas offers, and the company is preparing a growing number of future software developers and problem solvers for the challenges ahead.
Since 2016 the Texas-based firm has grown to 500 units in the United States, Canada and Europe, and the Clifton Park dojo is one of only two in the entire U.S., according to Kanakamedala.
“The game-based learning model is not just about computer programming but also providing an environment of collaboration and communication of ideas as ninjas build their games,” she said. “These skills will take the students a long way in life.”
“Kids who are not exposed to technology can interact here and not be left behind,“ she said.
Activities are offered year-round, including “day care” over the summer months and school breaks.
“Code Ninjas is a place where parents can feel comfortable sending their kids for a pizza party and fun with friends while working and learning together,” said Kanakamedala.
The center has a manager for day-to-day operations and eight sensei currently, with plans to hire six more. These are high school and college students who will interact with up to six ninjas at any one time.
Kanakamedala said she and her business partners are getting the word out primarily through social media, but they also want to create awareness for Code Ninjas through community events.
“Ninja Care was rolled out to give back to the community,” she said. “Every month there is a different theme.”
“My vision for the business is a holistic approach to brain and body wellness for families and kids,” she said. “Code Ninjas is a unique concept in the ‘prove yourself’ method of learning a task and building upon it progressively.”
“The student proceeds along the curriculum from the basics to more complex learning, design, coding, and building applications for electronic devices,” she said. “It is very self–based.”
Ninjas are awarded ceremonially with the presentation of different color belts along the way, from white to yellow, green, blue, brown, and ultimately black, she said.
“Being in the technology field, I see the need for coding early on,” she said. “By partnering with parents we can provide children with a safe and encouraging environment to gain skills for the technology careers that await them.”
Visit codeninjas.com for more information.
By Susan E. Campbell