Empower Your Kids to Love Coding

“In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill. It’s a basic skill, right along with the three Rs.”
- Barack Obama, January 30, 2016

Natasha was introduced to computer science in the 6th grade. Her science teacher spent one day of class teaching her students how to create a mini-game. Natasha loved the class, so her mom enrolled her in a local after-school coding program.

However, the program was not what she had hoped for. Too often, she was bored, lost, or both. Her instructors were called away by other students and Natasha would wind up playing — instead of building — videogames to keep herself occupied. The code she did write was copied from the instructor’s examples rather than her original work. What started as an exciting possibility soured into an obligation after just a few sessions. Within a month, Natasha left the program and her interest in programming faded.

If you think that Natasha’s family lives somewhere outside a technology hub, where programming is an afterthought, think again. Natasha lives in Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley, right next to the headquarters of tech giants like Google and Facebook. But even here, Natasha had a hard time finding an engaging, personalized way to learn programming.

Today, Natasha has built her own website. She understands variables, control flow, and basic algorithms. She looks forward to her two Juni sessions every week where she codes with her online teacher, a Stanford computer science graduate and fellow enthusiast of Disney’s Moana and Frozen. During one of her sessions, her teacher annotates Natasha’s screen with hints to help her customize the welcome message on her website. Today, Natasha’s list of dream careers has grown by one. Next to a career in medicine (like her mom’s) is a career in software engineering.

This is the story of one of our first students at Juni Learning. We’re proud to see Natasha growing and challenging herself to be a young developer. And this is not an isolated story — nine in ten parents want their child to study computer science, but only one in four schools in the US currently teaches computer science.² As computer science graduates ourselves, we saw this gap as an opportunity to found Juni.

Juni is an online school for accelerated learning and enrichment focusing on computer science. We offer weekly online 1:1 coding classes for all students ages 8–18 with a top-notch instructor using our custom curriculum and digital tools.

Who are we, exactly? We’re the co-founders of Juni — Vivian and Ruby:

Vivian age 9 (left), Ruby age 11 (right). As you can see, Vivian didn’t do much coding until college (she was a total bookworm though), while Ruby spent as much time in front of the computer as she could (hence the thick anti-glare protector her parents had installed over the monitor).

We first met while we were both students in the Stanford Computer Science department. Growing up, we came from different levels of interest in programming. Ruby says:

I first discovered what coding was when I was addicted to Neopets.com, probably when I was 11 or 12. You could make websites for your virtual pets, and through a lot of tinkering, I figured out how to write a static website from scratch with HTML and CSS. From then on, I’d help friends and family make websites for their own small businesses. I even remember trying to decipher books about PHP that I had checked out from the library. I loved building things on the computer. Later on in high school (I grew up in Shrewsbury, MA), my school didn’t offer AP Computer Science, but I figured out a way to take it as an online class and get credit for it.

Meanwhile, Vivian says:

Although I’m from Palo Alto, I had not really coded until my freshman year at Stanford. The AP Computer Science class at my high school was only offered during one time slot and seemed inaccessible, as most people taking the course had previous experience and were (unsurprisingly) mostly male. Most of my interests lay outside of school — I was excited by entrepreneurship, and I spent a lot of my time leading various nonprofits. I only discovered my excitement about coding and building on my own after taking classes in college and doing internships at startups and Google.

For both of us, the traditional subjects we learned at school didn’t cover all of the topics we were interested in, especially not computer science. This inspired our company mission: to educate and empower kids who want to learn subjects that are typically not taught in primary or secondary school, like coding, design, and business. The first subject we’re tackling is computer science.

At Juni, we believe that the best environment for students is one in which they are fully engaged. Our teaching paradigm puts students in the driver’s seat from the start — no copy-pasting, and no switching seats so the teacher can check your work. During a Juni session, the student is in control and shares his or her screen with the teacher. If the student has specific questions, the teacher can take control of the environment to show the student how to use a new function or write a simple code example. The teacher can also annotate the screen while the student is working to provide hints or sketch out a concept. Throughout, both students and teachers are engaged and fully focused on a shared environment. Here’s what that looks like:

A live 1:1 Juni session in the Game Superstar Track. Students start with a project prompt and instructions (left) and build their own version (right) while the teacher helps to explain concepts and answer questions.

After each session, students and parents can use the Juni app to see their teacher’s notes from the session and track their progress throughout the course:

Since it’s all online, as an added benefit, there’s no extra driving for the parents! :)

Focusing our instruction online also unlocks our ability to reach students anywhere. Since June, we’ve taught over 200 sessions with students in the US, China, Hong Kong, the UK, and India. And as female founders, we’re especially passionate about introducing young girls to the opportunities in computer science. The underrepresentation of women in technology is both well-documented and a pressing industry shortcoming.

Studies show that girls are ten times more likely to major in computer science if they are introduced to it early on, like in an AP Computer Science class.³ However, enrollment in AP CS is still only 27% female,⁴ and in 2016 there were no girls taking the test in the entire states of Mississippi and Montana.⁵ Furthermore, while 66% of girls ages 6–12 are interested or enrolled in computing programs, this drops to just 4% in high school.⁶

Our goal isn’t for every single one of our students to grow up and become software engineers (although we wouldn’t be upset if they did — there will be 1 million more computer science-related jobs than graduating students qualified to fill them by 2020!⁷) Computer science is becoming a fundamental piece of many cross-disciplinary careers, including medicine, art, engineering, business, and law. Our goal at Juni is to promote computer science literacy — so that our students can grow their foundation of logic and creative skills, develop strong intuition about how to break down complex problems, and build confidence in pursuing technical topics.

For more information about our curriculum and pricing, visit our website. We are always open for enrollment (all new students can sign up for a free trial session), and you can contact us anytime at hello@learnwithjuni.com. (Also, for those who are interested in teaching with us — we’re hiring!)

Ruby (left) and Vivian (right) today — with slightly less interesting hairstyles!