A pair of Penn State University grads with a mix of education and tech backgrounds are the owners and operators of Philadelphia’s first Code Ninjas, a STEM-focused bootcamp for kids age 5 to 14.
Another branch of the franchise, which runs an international curriculum that has locations across the US, Canada and the UK, opened last year in Horsham, joining a nearby location in Downingtown. But Philly proper doesn’t have a location — yet. David Ballinger and Jordan Smith open the Code Ninjas Philly location at 777 S. Broad St. on Saturday, April 16.
The pair met as upperclassmen at Penn State a few years ago, and both had a shared goal of pursuing entrepreneurship. Ballinger is trained as a teacher, and after a year in a school in North Philly and serving in the National Guard, he began working with Amazon’s training teams. Smith has more of a technical background, having worked in mechanical engineering and management consulting post-grad. When he saw an ad on Instagram to franchise a Code Ninjas location, he brought the idea to Ballinger and it felt like the right fit.
It sparked the right skill set for their respective backgrounds. A year later, they’re excited to bring a STEM-focused extracurricular option to Philly kids. Smith cited a projected shortage of tech workers in the next 10 years, something they hope to curb by getting kids introduced to the industry early on.
“I feel like that shortage could be addressed best when the kids are young, and giving them the excitement to learn to code at this age could put them ahead of the curve,” he told Technical.ly. “It’s one of the reasons we’re excited to target this age range.” (Check out our case studies on diversifying the tech talent pipeline, starting with K-12.)
Kids love video games and the beautiful thing about Code Ninjas is we take that interest and turn it into something wonderful.
Starting April 18, the South Broad location will begin offering its Code Ninjas JR program for ages 5 to 7, which teaches basic coding and problem-solving skills through hands-on projects and storytelling, as well as Code Ninjas Create for kids 7 to 14, a proprietary game-building program. Kids start at a white-belt level learning Java, Lua, C# and Python. They progress up different levels until they earn a black belt in coding. All of the programming is given a lens of video games, something kids at that age intrinsically click with, the pair said.
Ballinger said the team is fortunate to be in the city near some big-name universities as they look to build their team of about six instructors. They’ve hired three, and have a few more in the pipeline, plus will probably hire a few more in the summer, for their summer camps that run every week from late June through late August.
General capacity for all programs includes a monthly cap of 250 students per month, and the programs can hold about 26 “ninjas,” or participants, at once. The Create program has a monthly fee starting at $200 a month for two hours a week, with a 12-month subscription. The summer camps are $230 a week for half-day camps, and the center will offer full-day options as well.
The pair are hosting an opening event on April 16, when visiting families can try out robotics, circuit building, coding and playing games like Roblox and Minecraft. It’s open to the public, beginning at 12:15 p.m.
“Kids love video games and the beautiful thing about Code Ninjas is we take that interest and turn it into something wonderful,” Ballinger said. “We take that interest and give it a space to grow and create something on their own.”
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