Li Tianchi and Sun Yue: Crack­ing the code to suc­cess

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA -

Li Tianchi and Sun Yue dream of cre­at­ing a Hog­warts-like en­vi­ron­ment for China’s young com­puter pro­gramers, aka coders.

In 2015, the en­trepreneurs, then both in their mid-20s, founded Code­mao, an on­line provider of pro­gram­ming tu­ition for chil­dren.

“We hope kids will re­al­ize that pro­gram­ming is like a magic key to un­lock the fu­ture,” Li said.

Li and Sun came up with the idea of start­ing a cod­ing ed­u­ca­tion busi­ness while pur­su­ing master’s de­grees at the Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­sity of Ber­lin, Paris-Sud Uni­ver­sity in France, and the Eu­ro­pean In­sti­tute of In­no­va­tion and Tech­nol­ogy in Bu­dapest, Hun­gary.

Sun, 29, went abroad af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Bei­jing Uni­ver­sity of Posts and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in 2012, while Li, 28, went over­seas af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Shan­dong Uni­ver­sity in 2013. They stud­ied on the same pro­gram, which would al­low them to ob­tain master’s from all three Eu­ro­pean uni­ver­si­ties.

While at­tend­ing an in­ter­net sum­mit in Ire­land, they were sur­prised by the pro­gram­ming skills of Eu­ro­pean chil­dren and re­al­ized how far be­hind China lagged be­hind. They de­cided to drop out and start their own busi­ness.

“The de­mand for cod­ing ed­u­ca­tion in China is grow­ing rapidly as a re­sult of tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments such as ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and the in­ter­net. The op­por­tu­nity to start a busi­ness may have been lost if we had waited un­til we grad­u­ated,” Li said.

“Bill Gates dropped out of school to found Mi­crosoft, and we have also founded our own busi­ness.”

The dif­fi­culty in pro­mot­ing cod­ing ed­u­ca­tion is that there are only a small num­ber of teach­ers who have ex­pe­ri­ence of both pro­gram­ing and ed­u­ca­tion.

“It’s not only a prob­lem in China, but world­wide, as out­stand­ing com­puter pro­fes­sion­als are sought by com­pa­nies who pay high salar­ies. Schools can’t of­fer equally while, the tra­di­tional pro­gram­ming codes and tools are dif­fi­cult for stu­dents and pri­mary school teach­ers to learn.”

That prob­lem pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity for Li and Sun. They are pro­fes­sion­als in com­put­ers and pro­gram­ming, so they in­vited ex­perts in ed­u­ca­tion and cog­ni­tive psy­chol­ogy to help them cre­ate Code­mao. The aim is to make cod­ing as sim­ple and in­ter­est­ing as build­ing blocks for chil­dren.

Based on the com­puter tu­ition sys­tem at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity in the United States, the teach­ing sys­tem is di­vided into nine lev­els.

It starts with teach­ing kinderthe ba­sics of cod­ing via game-play­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, with guid­ance from an­i­mated char­ac­ters and graphic in­struc­tion op­tions shaped like blocks. Then it grad­u­ally de­vel­ops to in­clude al­go­rithms, data struc­ture and pro­gram­ming lan­guages.

“On our plat­form, kids learn to de­sign graphic changes at the very be­gin­ning and then cre­ate sim­ple games,” Li said.

“When they fin­ish all nine lev­els, they will be ca­pa­ble of build­ing and man­ag­ing big data­bases and de­vel­op­ing large-scale web­sites. The world will need more new tal­ent be­cause com­put­ers or AI will re­place hu­mans to some ex­tent. There­fore, peo­ple should learn cod­ing to make com­put­ers or AI work for us, rather than let­ting them ma­nip­u­late us.”

What many peo­ple con­sid­ered a reck­less move has turned into a suc­cess­ful busi­ness. The com­pany has won many startup and in­no­va­tion awards and has more than 3.2 mil­lion users. It re­ceived in­vest­ment of 300 mil­lion yuan ($43 mil­lion) in May, fol­low­ing on from 120 mil­lion yuan in Novem­ber last year and 20 mil­lion yuan

We hope kids will re­al­ize that pro­gram­ming is like a magic key to un­lock the fu­ture.” Li Tianchi, who runs a cod­ing tu­ition com­pany with his busi­ness part­ner Sun Yue

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Li Tianchi teaches a fourth-grade stu­dent how to write code in Shen­zhen, Guang­dong prov­ince.

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