– Why don't you take your hands off the keyboard for a while!
Suvi Syrjäläinen and Jaana Palonen make an effort in vain to coax the participants of the Kokeillaan koodausta (Try your hand at coding) to stop. The children are engrossed in making their own games in the Kodu Game Lab programming environment, and they would like nothing more than to keep going just a little bit longer. Ultimately, they will need to make way for the next group. The most eager ones of the new batch arrive well before the class is set to begin.
– You can download Kodu onto your own computer, so you can continue at home, Syrjäläinen says to remind the course participants reluctantly peeling away from their laptops.
The company established by Syrjäläinen and Palonen Koodikaverit Oy, Kodarit between friends, has been organising a variety of coding courses since November 2015. This time last year, both had a day job at Microsoft, where Syrjäläinen worked as a software engineer and Palonen as a quality and development manager.
Both worked with Nokia for well over a decade. The spark to start a company came from the employer/employee negotiations of last summer, and the project progressed through the TamperePolku programme established by Microsoft to support employment. Syrjäläinen was already working on a software product related to garden design, when she met with Palonen whose proposal shifted the direction towards service provision.
– The idea for a coding school came from simple day-to-day life since the coding club at my child's school was full immediately and there seemed to be a great deal of demand for education in coding, Palonen explains.
Kodarit moved from ideas to actions within a short span of time: they began holding children's coding courses that teach programming and the logical thinking required in a fun and visual way.
– The first courses were organised in loaned classrooms, but come summer, we will get to hold coding camps on our own premises in Puutarhakatu, Palonen says.
– In addition to coding exercises, the camps also include outdoor excursions and simply hanging out with like-minded people. After all, programming is much more than just sitting at your computer by yourself. You need to be able to solve problems together, Syrjänen continues.
The courses also educate the organisers, since experience increases professional competence and practical use leads to many new discoveries in the learning environments used for the courses. A learning environment is a program that can be used to learn and try out coding.
– The majority of the environments can also be used at home, but it is definitely conducive to learning to have someone help you get started and tackle problems, Syrjäläinen says.
In addition to the education Kodarit arranges for children and young people, the company anticipates plenty of work next autumn when programming education will begin in schools, where it will be taught by regular teachers at all grade levels. As an example, Kodarit offers workshops for teachers, where they can find out about what teaching coding in lower comprehensive school could mean in practice.
In the autumn, Kodarit will continue work on the company's own premises, expand the curriculum and further develop the education. There are plans for the company to employ others who are interested in teaching coding as part-time teachers and expand operations to other municipalities. Still, Tampere is a great place to get started.
– This is a technology-oriented city where parents know the significance of coding and are eager to get their children involved in this kind of hobby, Syrjäläinen describes.
– In addition to this, Tampere has every opportunity to grow into a city where coding becomes a widespread hobby from an early age. This will of course require more investments in recreational opportunities, coding clubs and so forth, Palonen adds.
Microsoft's TamperePolku support programme has been in many ways pivotal at the early stages of Kodarit as a company – starting from the fact that Syrjäläinen and Palonen met on TamperePolku premises and began planning a joint company. The severance packages ensure financial leeway for getting a business idea off the ground, and Microsoft grants provide start-up funds intended for establishing new businesses.
– What's more, a comprehensive account on the business idea is required for the grant application. That forced us to think about the idea and its ultimate implementation as a whole, which was very useful, Syrjäläinen and Palonen say.