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D-Code aims to make coding cool, then scale it

Karamjit SinghJul 10, 2013
  • D-Code is a startup that wants to create the ‘Kumon of coding’ in South-East Asia
  • Model currently in pilot phase, will launch commercial phase in 2014 after refinements

WITH her youthful looks, Arul Jothi could pass off as a student instead of the Cambridge University Master’s degree holder that she is.
 
A lecturer at the School of Technology, Management and Logistics at Universiti Utara Malaysia, Jothi came down from Alor Star in the north to participate in the recently concluded D’Code Bootcamp (D-Code) held from July 5-7 in Kuala Lumpur.
 
The only lecturer among the 500 participants, she says she enjoyed the whole experience.
 
“I am used to engineering-based software, but you also see more of computing-based software in manufacturing today, and I knew I needed to sharpen my skills in this area,” she says, describing her experience as enriching.
 
“I also got to know some participants who have their own startups, and listening to their challenges and the opportunities they are trying to capture was really interesting.”
 
Jothi (pic, left) was among the 60% of D-Code participants who had no or merely basic knowledge in coding.
 
Others came with many of the skill-sets already garnered from university, but who wanted to learn more in the intensive but fun environment afforded by D-Code – among them 30 computing school students from Universiti Teknologi Petronas.
 
Even coders from a leading startup, Piktochart, got into the action. According to Leong Wai Yin, he and his colleagues got into D-Code to learn new things about developing Google chrome extensions, and to learn from the other participants.
 
They are hoping that their demo of a mini music composer which one can export and share and use much like how Twitter works will be their ticket to attend the Oct 11 to 12 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES 2013) in Kuala Lumpur.
 
Whatever their skill-sets coming in, all the participants went back enriched from the experience and with a piece of software that they had created, even if it were buggy.
  
“With the start they have, it will be up to them to improve their skills and get better,” says Jonathan Baudanza, who started learning to code at the tender age of nine.
 
That’s apparently how these coding camps work in San Francisco. It is up to the desire of the participants to continue their learning on their own and with the peer connections they built from attending the camps. But those camps are much smaller in size versus the massive D-Code Bootcamp that Baudanza facilitated.
 
Expressing reservations when the idea was first shared with him, he says he has nonetheless seen that same sharing going on among participants here.
 
He was particularly taken in by a team that had no coding experience at all, but just from a booklet given to all participants, learned very fast from trial and error and asking for guidance from their peers. They were even ambitiously trying to merge two apps.
 
“They were motivated to build something and that gave them the drive to learn and ask and make mistakes and build on those mistakes,” Baudanza says.
 
Now, it is up to them to keep learning. He himself has picked up on an idea from D-Code Bootcamp that he will be trying out back in San Francisco.
 
An entrepreneur of some note back in 2006, Baudanza (pic), together with Shawn Fanning of Napster fame, founded Rupture, a web-based social network for video gamers which was acquired in 2008 by Electronic Arts.
 
Baudanza now runs beatlab.com, a web-based community for music composition and collaboration.
 
Dash’s latest startup
 
D-Code is merely the latest startup founded by entrepreneur Dhakshinamoorthy ‘Dash’ Balakrishnan, also the founder of StartupMalaysia.org, a not-for-profit organisation which aims to increase the number of fundable startups.
 
But as Dash himself admits, for a self-subscribed ‘startup catalyst,’ a tech-based startup was missing from his very brick-and-mortar entrepreneurial track record.
 
“There is no point talking about helping startups if I do not have my own,” he acknowledges.
 
D-Code sets that right with Dash aiming to make coding ‘cool’. He has previously hinted that he was working on a startup in stealth mode and as he tells Digital News Asia (DNA), “D-Code is actually the result of my post-grad at Cambridge University back in 2010.
 
“This was a programme specifically for entrepreneurs, teaching them the methodology to build sustainable startups.”
 
The obvious question then was why did Dash pick coding as the space he wants to make his mark in? Surely there are enough such initiatives in Malaysia and the region.
 
“There is lots of competition in every field, not just this. The key lies in the execution. And I am confident I can build a Kumon for Coding,” he says, referring to the Japanese reading and math education methodology.
 
Describing the current phase of his model as the pilot phase, he says he is fine-tuning the model to ready its commercial launch, which will happen in 2014. D-Code activities for 2013 are being funded by the Malaysian Government.
 
Support for D-Code has come from the Ministry of Finance and Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd. The idea of catalysing and connecting a community of young coders attracted the stakeholders, who believe that this will also spur better quality technology entrepreneurs.
 
There is yet another reason. “I also want to show the Malaysian Government a new way of funding where, if entrepreneurs can show sustainable models, the Government can give them seed money and they can scale the programme,” says Dash.
  
“In a way, this also trains the Government to support entrepreneurial players so that the money goes further than just if it were project-based,” he adds.
 
Dash is appreciative of Cradle too, which acts as the custodian of D-Code. “They do not stand in your way as you execute, nor do they take credit for the programme,” he says, hinting at poor past collaborations.
 
He is confident that he can scale this as in a previous brick-and-mortar business he ran, he helped train 10,000 children to use the Internet. “So I know that I can scale this and do it fast.”
 
This scaling, incidentally, involves South-East Asia.
 
Dash, who is also the current president of the Technopreneurs Association of Malaysia (TeAM), says he has received funding offers from angel investors in Silicon Valley and in Malaysia to fund this model, but he plans to take his time and focus on getting the model right before he scales and takes funding.
 
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