.net Entrepreneur of the year award winner Clare Sutcliffe is the co-founder of Code Club, a national not-for-profit project that aims to get children learning vital computer skills at a young age. We caught up with her for a chat so we could learn more about it.
Hi Clare, congratulations on your .net Entrepreneur of the Year award! How did it feel to win?
I was really surprised to win, I had horrible stage fright and had to run away! It was really funny because I was really hoping that Code Club would win a category, rather than just me. When I think of that work that I do with Code Club, it’s not about any one of us, we’re all working towards bringing into primary schools and that’s what we’re all about. I just don’t think of it as being, about me and I just don’t think of it as being entrepreneurial.
When did you start Code Club?
We launched our idea in April 2012, that was when we did our first tweet and a had a one page website. It was really just testing the idea at that stage and we thought people weren’t even vaguely interested, but it turned out they were, which was fantastic. Before we knew it we were on BBC Technology news and Wired, so we got a lot of attention quite quickly. After that we built our new site and developed our curriculum, and then in September 2012 we launched in 120 schools.
What are the main goals for the project?
Our main goal is to get Code Club into 25% of primary schools – that’s the target for the end of 2015. The way that we’re going to do that is by getting as many volunteers as possible as well as preparing schools for the possibility that they will be approached by volunteers so we come from both directions. We are also trying to make parents aware that Code Club is available in school too. It’s really, an awareness scheme mainly because once we’ve told people about Code Club, it’s quite an easy sell. We’re growing at about 100 (Code Clubs in schools) per week. I actually thought it would slow down a bit as it’s the end of term but people seem to be trying to sort out clubs now so that they are ready for September and the start of term. Hopefully we’ll be at around 1000 clubs by then. We’ve also just launched Code Club World, which allows other countries to take what we’ve done and apply it in their own country.
What kinds of skills do the kids learn at Code Club?
The activities are designed for the kids to work through them themselves, there’s no, what we call “chalk and talk” teaching, they’re learning by doing or “problem based learning” as it’s known. Obviously, the volunteers are always on hand to help the kids if they get stuck, but they kind of sit back and let them get on with it unless they’re needed. We give them problems to solve and challenges to do so it’s more hands on.
Michael Gove has been in the news recently, talking about improving the overall standard of IT education in schools. Do you think children get adequate IT education at the moment?
No, that’s why they’ve changed it. I think everyone knows that they weren’t and I think it’s great that the government has acted.
Why should kids be learning how to program and code at a young age?
Learning to program is really useful, it teaches you loads of different things – it can support other subjects like maths and science for example. It helps to develop logical thinking and problem solving skills which are life skills as well as anything else. Code Club specifically is really creative, fun and inspirational.
How did you come up with the idea?
A lot of people ask me that and I always think it’s a really simple answer. Myself and Linda (Sandvik, co-founder of Code Club) realised that children weren’t being taught to program we thought “we know loads of people that know how to program, why can’t we get them just doing an hour a week in schools teaching them how to do it?” The fact that the volunteers are great role models is even better. We just think it’s a really simple solution.
Does the rapidly changing nature of the web and technology represent any difficulties for Code Club?
Code Club is quite nimble and quick so we can make changes easily. We can be really fast with our response to any changes we see. It’s also really scalable as it doesn’t really matter how many schools we have, we can deliver the same product, all it means is we get a lot more emails! Yes, technology changes quickly but we can definitely keep up.
How did you get to where you are today?
Before I started running Code Club I was a user experience designer for a design agency in London, making things for people like Telefonica. I did a lot of print work too, but switched to digital about five or six years ago. Since I’ve been involved with Code Club I’ve done loads of events and really enjoy them. I’ve done a lot of odd things too, like I was invited to Windsor Palace, which was really cool – loads of odd things but I love it; I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Code Club is not for profit. Do you think there is more room for philanthropy among industries like web design and development?
Like any industry, you have to pay for further education. But in terms of learning new skills (like web design etc.), it’s a good market. I find that generally, people in the web industry like giving back, but the difficulty is finding the time as their lives are so busy. That’s where Code Club can help though, as we aim to remove barriers like that. If someone is interested in becoming a volunteer for us, we try and talk to their bosses for them and convince them that letting them get out of work early to do Code Club can actually help their employee development as well.
What advice would you have for someone starting a not-for-profit venture?
There are a couple of things. First of all, I didn’t do this on my own, I did it with my co-founder Linda, who I said to at the start: “Is this going to be too much? What if no-one likes it?” Linda just said “its fine, we can do, it’ll be awesome!” She really pushed me to do it and loads of energy from the start – she’s still like that now! So I think you do need a good support network around you and even though it took some explaining to other family and friends, they all seem to get it now and everyone has been really helpful and supportive. Also, knowing where your cash is coming from is important and it’s something that we didn’t know a lot about when we first started and we made some wrong assumptions. We thought, we didn’t need any money because we didn’t need to hire anyone – we thought that we could just write the project, put it out there and it would take care of itself and everyone we spoke to said we would definitely need to find some money to make it happen. The Code Club way was always, start a project, find the money for it later and ask for forgiveness, not for permission. It’s an exciting way to live!
Also, I think sometimes people don’t realise how much it can take over your life, Code Club took over mine very quickly but I love working on Code Club. You have to love what you do, or it won’t be worth it.
Please remember that all comments are moderated and any links you paste in your comment will remain as plain text. If your comment looks like spam it will be deleted. We're looking forward to answering your questions and hearing your comments and opinions!