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Preparing for a Digitized Future with Kyla Bolden of Wiz Kid Coding

“How can we make our apps more ethically friendly and sustainable? And I think that actually comes into place when more people of different backgrounds create these apps and create these technologies and actually have a seat at the table.”

Kyla Bolden, Founder + CEO of Wiz Kid Coding

In this episode

Join Kyla Bolden, CEO + Founder of SheEO Venture Wiz Kid Coding, and Hannah Cree, SheEO Venture in Residence, as they discuss Kyla’s Venture. Through Wiz Kid Coding’s proprietary “Learn through Play” methodology, their programs are designed to help children become more creative and critical thinkers by developing their digital literacy, coding, problem solving and logical thinking skills.

They also discuss:

  • Kyla’s story and motivations behind starting Wiz Kid Coding
  • The learn-through-play philosophy to prepare kids with digital skills
  • Wiz Kid Coding’s evolution from schools to online learning, and how COVID accelerated this pivot
  • Re-creating a classroom atmosphere with live online classes
  • Expanding to over 20 countries with the online model
  • Adapting curriculum and courses to the fast-paced, changing world of tech
  • The importance of having people from all backgrounds working in tech towards a more equitable future
  • And what’s next for WizKid Coding

We invite you to join us as an Activator at SheEO.World.

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Podcast Transcript:

The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings).

Kyla Bolden 0:00
How can we make our apps more ethically, you know, friendly and sustainable, all of those things. And I think that actually comes into place when more people of different backgrounds, create these apps and create these technologies and actually have a seat at the table.

Hannah Cree 0:19
Welcome to the SheEO.World podcast where you will meet women who are transforming the world to be more equitable and sustainable. Your host for today’s podcast is Hannah, SheEO Venture-in-Residence. Welcome to SheEO.World.

Welcome Kyla of Wiz Kid Coding, brand new Canadian Venture. Tell me, how did you start your Venture?

Kyla Bolden 0:45
Thank you so much for having me. Well, I started my venture about five years ago, or maybe 2016. Yeah, so about five years ago. And it really started out of my desire to really prepare kids for the future. And especially every single industry that we’re in, really revolves around technology depends on technology, yet, so many children did not know how to code. So when starting my own business, Wiz Kid Coding, and we teach kids how to code and other digital STEM skills, it really just seemed fitting to start teaching kids to code at a young age. And as I did more research into it, I realized that, you know, coding is just like a language. And yet, so many kids from a young age or even in the older age in their teens are not learning or having the opportunity to learn this skill. And if we all depend on technology, this whole entire world, I never go a day without using technology, but only a small sector of people are the ones creating it. I didn’t just think I was fair. So we started in 2016. And we did a small camp, and it was teaching kids the basics of JavaScript and a little bit of app development. And then it’s grown so much since then, and it has really evolved, evolved into something that doesn’t just teach kids how to code but really prepares them for a digitized future.

Hannah Cree 2:16
Okay, you touched on something so important that there’s very few people that are actually building the technology and at that, they’re not that diverse either.

Kyla Bolden 2:24
Yeah, exactly.

Hannah Cree 2:25
But is that the driver for you? Like, it’s five years ago that it started? How did you just go? Okay, I’m going to figure out how to teach people how to code.

Kyla Bolden 2:34
Yeah. Well, to go back into a little bit more how it started is that I had always wanted to start my own business. And I, the summer before my senior year of university, I had a consulting job. And two weeks before I was supposed to start, they told me, they’re not hiring interns anymore, so I had to find something to do. And I learned how to code at a young age, mostly because I want my Tumblr to look cool. You guys might remember what Tumblr is?

Hannah Cree 3:05
Tumblr? Yes!

Kyla Bolden 3:07
Yeah. So I wanted my Tumblr to look cool. And so I started to learn how to code from then. And then with that summer, thinking about something to do, because I spent, you know, so much time, money, like everything sacrificed on my education. But if I didn’t have a job, like the summer before my senior year of university, it would have been nearly impossible to get a job after university. So being somebody who always wanted to start their own business, I started thinking about the things I was like that I valued. And I had started the organization, well co-founded the organization in university, a club that helped get women and minorities jobs after university. Most of them were consulting jobs. But we noticed, that there was a massive demand for coding and like, jobs in the STEM sector, but there weren’t many women and people of color, who had those skills just because a lot of people weren’t going into that. So that was already all in my mind that summer. And then when it came to start my own business, I was like, well, this is a problem. This is an underserved portion of the market. Let’s just go do it. And I wish that would it was a little bit, you know, not that a better story. But like, there was so much more planning and all that type of stuff headed up for it. But it wasn’t, it was just, I decided to do it. And, you know, I had a great family as a support system and to help me around it. And we went into my first camp at my family’s church at the church that we go to, and we designed the curriculum, we use STEM toys and a whole bunch of other things. And so not surprisingly, but the kids loved it. And then from there, we just kept on going. So yeah.

Hannah Cree 4:50
You just kept on going. So I mean, it is a great story. You essentially built this coming out of university or in while in university and looking at the market and what that looks like. So that was five years ago. Where are you now? How many kids and what markets are you in? What does it look like now?

Kyla Bolden 5:08
Yeah, so the company has definitely evolved and really grown since then. In the beginning, it was really just teaching kids how to text-based code. And then it’s evolved into really teaching kids how to, you know, thrive in an economy in a world that is becoming so dependent on technology, as well teaching them those skills. So our classes ranged from Python coding to text-based coding, to animation to game development. And we really stuck with our learn through play philosophy, we don’t try to replicate the classroom. So we want kids to come into Wiz Kid Coding, learn, have fun, socialize, but also develop key skills that just won’t make them a better coder, but will make them a better student, because everyone doesn’t have to become a programmer. But everyone should understand technology from a basic level, and build those problem solving skills to make them better students. So that’s really where the curriculum has evolved to. And then as far as the business, we started off teaching class classes in schools, and now we predominantly teach online. And it was a trajectory that kind of happened quicker than we thought it was going to. We have always wanted to be online. And we had planned to go online, mostly, but the pandemic definitely sped that up.

Hannah Cree 6:31
So I was gonna ask you, so you went from being so you weren’t doing this? You were teaching this in the classrooms?

Kyla Bolden 6:36
Yes. So we were in many schools and Ontario, and also a few schools overseas. And we would go into the classroom, the instructors, and I often would be there a lot of the times and teach kids in in-school classes, after school classes, camps, etc, etc.

Hannah Cree 6:56
And then COVID hits.

Kyla Bolden 6:57
Yeah.

Hannah Cree 6:59
For some people, it can destroy their business, and others it’s like, how do we pivot this again? And so what have you noticed with that pivot online? What’s been struggles? What have been bigger wins? Would you want to go back to in-class? What does this look like for you?

Kyla Bolden 7:15
Yeah, well, you know, when COVID hit it, really, we just decided that, you know, this is not going to break us or stop us. There’s a reason why, you know, I had never planned to go into the education industry. And that’s the reason why God has put me in this place. So it’s no mistake. And all of this couldn’t happen for waste. So we just really went full steam ahead in our online classes, we adapted our curriculum to online, we, a lot of it, we couldn’t do, you know, online, but we took what we could and focused on developing new curriculums that are, work for our online model. And we really decided, you know, what, we’re not going to do many or any classes at the moment that are self paced, we wanted live online classes, because the one of the greatest things about Wiz Kid Coding is you come into the classroom, it’s this environment, the teachers like play music, as you come in, you get high fives, you are being encouraged to be the best person that you are. And I didn’t want any of that to be taken away just because we had to do virtual classes. So we kept the classes small, we kept them live. And to be honest, our business has grown. And honestly, I think become better since going online. We’ve been able to reach so many more kids, our goal has always been to empower children everywhere, through teaching them how to code and other important STEM skills. And we could truly do that because we now teach kids in over 20 countries, because we have an online model. So we’re really happy with how it went.

Hannah Cree 8:46
Good for you. I had chills through that, especially because you also are holding to your values where you’re like, I still want that high five, I still want that encouragement and, and the piece where you really were like, I don’t want you to just to be a good coder, I want you to be a great learner, a student. And so I would love to actually, this is throwing it a little bit on your head. But I would love to get your thoughts and opinions on an article that I kind of quickly read. It was a few years ago, but a few of the big tech companies, Google, Facebook, and the leaders of them kind of came out and said to the schools, stop teaching your kids how to code. Because what you’re teaching them is too old. It’s too this, it’s too that, and what we need are people that are empathetic, that are great learners that can work together. We’ll teach them the how to code because the—and I’m talking about the traditional school system here—is too far behind. And then you have, and I looked at that was like yes, I know that from my traditional school system. My kids that honestly are walking out barely knowing how to use email, in this school system. And so now we look at a company like yours that in a way is saying yeah, we get it. The schools aren’t teaching that we can do that and actually prep them to also be better humans in this, because we need more than just white men that are designing our technology. Right.

Kyla Bolden 10:09
Exactly, exactly. And what I would say regarding that article saying stop teaching kids how to code the school system is yes, education has always been behind the ball of what the, you know, economy actually is what industry actually needs. And it’s also we’ve spoken to people in government about, you know, because they tried to integrate coding into the school, and it never really works in an effective way. Because you have a teacher who’s teaching 13 other subjects, technology is always evolving. That’s why our curriculum, we have people in our curriculum team, and our curriculum literally changes all the time, we’re always adding new courses, taking some out of the, the shuffle, because it’s just changing. And as a company, we’re able to stay on top of that. But as a school, like school systems, they have so many other things that they are responsible, so many other places that they try to develop children. So I understand that sentiment there. But I also there’s like, I forget what the article was. But there’s a correlation between those who grew up by computer labs, and those who are like, the billionaires in these, like, amazing tech companies, right? Like, I think it was Bill Gates, or someone from Mac, I forget who it was, but he grew up by like a university that he had access to computer lab. So he was able to learn how to code be introduced to computers. So I think it’s a little too far to say, you know, just teach them how to be good people. Because, you know, the other schools are doing that too. But the schools that have money are also teaching them how to, you know, code and all of those other things. And I think you might be even creating a more like tech inequality by just saying, you know, teach these kids how to be good people. So yeah.

Hannah Cree 12:00
Love that. Yeah, I love that. You, are you getting requests from adults, like I wanted, I’m a parent, and I see the value in this. But are you now at the point where adults are like, hey, I want in on this, too?

Kyla Bolden 12:12
Yeah, absolutely. And we’ve been at that point, like, since the beginning, parents were like, oh, like, I would love to learn how to code too, or, oh, I have like a 17 year old son or daughter, they would love this. And we really, you know, for the most part have been focused on our core age group, which is between seven to 14. And then we started adding the younger kids because we realized, okay, we could teach them key math in STEM and problem solving principles from a young age, even before them learning how to read. So we went into that, and that was really, and has been really successful. And now we’re launching programs for, you know, teenagers in high school, and then also those who might want to make a career switch. So pre employment programs. And the reason why we’re doing that is because we never, you know, our goal is to prepare students for this changing digitized economy. And I don’t want someone who’s gotten all of these great coding and stem and game development skills at 12. To then not experience anything else like that, until they you know, go into college, and then they’re less likely to go into engineering or pick a coding job, because they just haven’t had the opportunity to grow those skills. So we’re launching pre employment programs and programs for teens, to really be able to take a kid all the way from when they are three years old. Yes, we have students that young, all the way up until they decide to go into the workforce.

Hannah Cree 13:39
Three years old, for real, are they really learning how to code?

Kyla Bolden 13:43
Well, you know, when they’re that young, reading is a big problem. Like they don’t know how to read that well. But you could still learn the principles of coding at a young age through symbols through math, like teaching them about loops and functions with symbols. And you’ll be surprised like, you know, that you see kids online that like speak seven different languages and are doing like math, like all of these crazy math equations. And we sometimes we think, oh, that kid is a genius, but it knows that kid just has been exposed to problem solving from a young age and has been taught how to do those amazing things. And any kid could really be like that.

Hannah Cree 14:21
I am surprised and I am amazed. And I think that’s so incredible. And I love how you’re like this is another language to learn and, and that’s the ages in which to do those types of things.

Kyla Bolden 14:32
Absolutely.

Hannah Cree 14:33
Did I really hear that you’re in how many countries now?

Kyla Bolden 14:36
We’re in over 20 countries. Yeah.

Hannah Cree 14:39
Wow. 20 countries and like what does it take your team and everything to kind of execute on something like this, like how to move this forward?

Kyla Bolden 14:49
Definitely. Um, in the pandemic, our business grew a lot. And we you know, our classes are doing really well. And we often have to say like to parents,oh, like, you know, we don’t have any spots left, which has been hard. But it’s because we’ve grown quicker, it’s definitely caused us to be more organized. We’ve had to hire more people, because I can’t be the one doing kind of administrative work and the marketing and everything else. And really take a look at our systems and be like, Okay, this is where we are now, what do we need to sacrifice? Or what do we need to build put in place, so we could be where we want to be in six months from now in two years from now? And that really just is trying to make sure that everything runs smoothly putting in those procedures so that we can say, Okay, we have X amount of instructors. Now, we want to have like three times as much in the next six months, what does that look like? And who do we need to hire to be able to do that?

Hannah Cree 15:48
And so it’s not just like a course where you sign up, and then you take it when you want, like, these are live classes, which I actually think is pretty much key in any type of learning is the live pieces. So you’re, you’re not even doing this the lazy way.

Kyla Bolden 16:00
Yeah. And trust me, it would be really a lot easier if it wasn’t live. Like I think about this, you know, most of the times it runs smoothly, but then I’m like, Oh my gosh, if it just wasn’t live I wouldn’t it like be worried about if this class is happening or not. And I mean, we have ways to check in the classes, you know, 99% of the time, it runs smoothly. But it definitely is like you live with a little bit of sense of anxiety, like, okay, it needs a human to actually execute this class. But it goes well, we hire really great graduate, and like, senior university students who are computer science students to teach these classes, and they’re so committed. And it’s great, because it’s a great job to have as a university student, and you know, they love it. They’re happy. We tried to make it a great workspace environment so that, you know, they want to come to work and they want to inspire the children.

Hannah Cree 16:55
That’s amazing. What are you seeing in the terms of in your industry? What’s the future of coding the future of tech? What are what are some movers and shakers? Like, what are you, maybe what you’re doing also, but what are you seeing in the industry? What’s next?

Kyla Bolden 17:07
Yeah, you know, it’s hard, because I like I keep on I like I say, tech industry a lot, too. But I keep on thinking what industry doesn’t involve technology? But yeah.

Hannah Cree 17:18
I would I also go back and say, Hi, Facebook and Google are actually not tech companies are marketing companies, because they make their money by ads. That’s a marketing company. So I know, it’s a weird word I agree with you. Yeah.

Kyla Bolden 17:18
But I think when it comes to, like, we could say the tech industry is really, you know, ethical design. I think people are realizing, you know, that a lot of the apps and just the way they go about their life and the way technology is in their life that this is not healthy. And they want to figure out ways, you know, how can we make our apps more ethically, you know, friendly, and sustainable, all of those things. And I think that actually comes into place when more people of different backgrounds, create these apps and create these technologies and actually have a seat at the table. So that’s something that I’m really passionate about.

Hannah Cree 18:13
Oh, I love that you said that. I had chills. And it was, there was an interview that Melinda Gates did, and where they were talking to her about coding and so on. And of course, like, everyone’s like, she’s not just someone’s wife, which she gets a lot like she was engineering and doing all of these pieces. And, and they said, you know, are you so excited about the future of they were talking, I think of VR, virtual reality? And like all the things you do, and she actually said no, because she said the same people are at the table, creating this. And so what world do we want to live in? We need to have more diversity. And at the table, there needs to be more ethical pieces and like, and I was just like, oh, wow, to hear someone going, Oh, no, we’re just creating the same stuff all over again, who’s been in these industries forever and has seen the inequities firsthand? You know, I think it’s a really important piece. And then how do we do it? We do it by having companies and funding women like yourself that are already doing this and are creating it. This is how we change that. So thank you for—maybe we should be thanking that company that was no longer taking interns?

Kyla Bolden 19:24
Maybe yeah.

Hannah Cree 19:26
Because here you are.

Kyla Bolden 19:27
I think about that all the time. If that didn’t happen, like I would have been in—very happy in probably a consulting job because that’s like what I wanted to do before I started my own business, but yeah, it’s funny life. Everything happens for a reason. I strongly believe in that.

Hannah Cree 19:44
Yeah, yes. So do you have you know, you’re a younger entrepreneur, you know, this is a podcast, people can’t see you. I can see you, younger entrepreneur. What advice do you have for other other entrepreneurs you’ve been through? It’s been five years, what would you, what would you say?

Kyla Bolden 20:01
I would say two things like don’t get, I think it’s called analysis paralysis, like where you’re like, I have to have everything right, I have to have all of these credentials in order to, you know, start something. Like I was an English major, like, Yes, I learned how to code when I was younger, but like, I’m not an engineer, I’m not a computer science student, I am very self taught. I was an English major, I say that again, like, I wasn’t in business, or engineering, I was an English major. And I did not have any plans to start my business when we started it. But I just knew it was something that I wanted to do. I didn’t have all the answers. And I said, but who actually has all the answers and went out and did it. And there’s some like statistic about how men will go out for jobs that they know they like can do they like know they can do I’m doing air quotes for everyone can’t who can’t see me and women go out for jobs that they’re like, absolutely qualified, like they have all of the credentials, right. And I think that stops us, especially women, it stops is a lot from actually achieving our goals a lot quicker. So I always say like, you know, we have the internet, you have two eyes, you could read, you can work hard, if you have those things, then you could really accomplish anything that you want to.

Hannah Cree 21:18
Yeah, and saying that, there’s still so many barriers that are out there, because we don’t have equal access to internet. And we don’t have all of these things. However, this is why we need to be funding and supporting women that are really not just building a business, but building a business that matters that has heart that has values. And is is creating the next world we’re gonna live in and in tech, like yourself. So how, you know, kind of wrapping up. What’s I know, you’re a new Venture, and this year has been so crazy in Canada, because we were able to accept all semi finalists in and what would be kind of yeah, what’s been your experience like? Or would you tell other entrepreneurs to apply? In your short time with us? What’s it been like for you?

Kyla Bolden 22:04
Yeah, it’s been really incredible. I think one of the things that SheEO does really great is they really look at the entrepreneur, they look at the business, they’re not, oftentimes when you apply to many things, it’s like a lot of red tape and a little like, like ahh gotcha! Not that they’re trying to mess you up. But it’s like, you don’t know what this is like. But, um, SheEO is not like that at all. It was such a—it is such a welcoming community. And not I don’t want to just say it’s such a welcoming community, because it also is a community filled with so many dynamic and successful women that gave you such great advice. And I would tell any entrepreneur to definitely apply. They really set you up for success, and they’re there to help you and there to help your company grow. And it’s just been such an amazing experience so far.

Hannah Cree 22:58
It’s so great to have you in with the Ventures. And my piece I’m wondering about is how can we help you? That is, as a Venture also, as a SheEO Venture? The one thing that struck me as being in the community is the community calls or the things I would show up to and talk to other Activators really every time is like, how can we help you? How can we help you? And so to anyone listening to this podcast, how can we help you? How did we get involved in your company? What do you need?

Kyla Bolden 23:26
Yeah, well, I think one thing that will be amazing is if you go check out our website, and if you have any children that are interested in taking classes, always reach out to us or there’s classes on our website, that would be amazing. And you know, it’s hard asking for help. It’s hard. But I think that that’s honestly the main thing. And if you ever have any questions regarding starting your own business, or you know getting your kid interested in STEM or coding, always feel free to reach out and ask. Contact me or even just contact like [email protected] and somebody will be there just to talk to you and help you to understand what STEM is what coding as and why it’s important.

Hannah Cree 24:14
So where can we find you?

Kyla Bolden 24:16
Yeah, so our website is wizkidcoding.com. So w-i-z-k-i-d-c-o-d-i-n-g.com. And then our socials are @wizkidcoding at almost everything so you can find the company there. And then also, if you want to reach out to me, you could just contact me, I’m Kyla Bolden on LinkedIn. And I’m always happy to chat. It’s always so nice to connect with other women and business owners and just people in general.

Hannah Cree 24:45
So amazing. Tell us what is next for Wiz Kid Coding.

Kyla Bolden 24:50
What’s next is that we you know, we’re single mindedly focused on achieving our goal which is to teach kids how to code or teach people how to code anywhere, so I want you to be in some remote area and you have, hopefully have access to internet and be able to go online and take one of our courses. And we’re even finding that a lot now that you know, people who are in like remote areas of you know, the world who homeschool their kids are taking our courses because it’s a great way to learn and socialize. But through that we are expanding our online presence. We are expanding our courses, expanding our courses for older children. So really staying true to that mission. But looking at every facet of what that actually looks like and how we can improve on that

Hannah Cree 25:42
Kyla Bolden, Wiz Kid Coding. You better watch out and get your kids involved and anything that you can do in terms of really supporting this Venture. I’m sure you will see her around all year. Thank you, Kyla,

Kyla Bolden 25:56
Thank you so much for having me.

Hannah Cree 26:02
Thank you for listening to the SheEO.World podcast. Like, comment, subscribe, and share this podcast with your friends. We invite you to join a global community of radically generous women at SheEO.World.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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