Meet Nick, Co-Founder of CodeCombat

In-person school play-testing with George observing some young new coders.

CodeCombat is a fun way to learn code by playing a game. Here is an interview with co-founder Nick.

How did you get started with CodeCombat? What led you here?

My cofounder, George, would always get frustrated during our previous venture because he’d have to wait for Scott and I (the programmers) to build new features instead of being able to jump in and help with the coding. So he tried every resource out there for learning to code, but he just found them unengaging. They were lessons, and there’s a reason we aren’t in school: lessons are boring.

So we thought about it, and we realized that especially with coding, it should be fun, because programming itself is really fun once you get past the frustrating parts at the beginning. We had some ideas for how to skip all the frustration and bring the magic to everyone, so we started hacking on CodeCombat to see whether we could make something amazing.

What is your favorite thing about the program? What makes it different?

If you take 100 people who are sort of interested in learning programming and have them try to do some coding tutorial, 99 of them are going to get quickly disengage and think, “I guess this just isn’t for me.” This is a tragedy, since they just haven’t gotten to the fun part yet! It’s been super rewarding for us watching many of the other 99 would-be programmers actually getting into it: slaying ogres, saving peasants, and clapping their hands in victory. Watching kids as young as seven get through variables and loops in under an hour, with real code? That’s the best thing.

What is your educational background?

George, Scott, and I went to Oberlin College for degrees in, among us, Computer Science, Mathematics, Economics, East Asian Studies, and Cinema Studies. When we graduated, we didn’t want to get normal jobs, so we just started doing startups.

An early morning shot of the CodeCombat office.

If you could do anything differently about your education, would you?

I would have blown off all my classes in college, minimized rather than maximized my GPA, and just worked on my own projects instead of looking for that traditional credential. I triple-majored, and yet my degree has never, ever mattered–the only thing that counts is my code.

What is the importance of learning code in today’s work force?

(omg it’s so important — skip)

Why do you teach the specific coding languages that you teach within the game? What are the advantages of that coding language?

CodeCombat is an HTML5-based browser game, so everything has to be JavaScript. But that didn’t stop us from writing a transpiler and adding support for Python, CoffeeScript, Lua, Clojure, and Io. Those languages were the ones that our open-source contributors wanted to add. Now the default is Python, because that’s a great language for beginners and experts alike.

What kinds of people and markets does CodeCombat attract and market to?

We are marketing towards 8–18-year-old kids, but we’re getting plenty of older players, too, and a few even younger. It’s a challenge getting the difficulty and pacing right for all these age groups, but programming is a surprisingly age-independent skill.

What is your favorite thing to do in San Francisco in your free time?

Longboard around the waterfront on my electric longboard.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I had no idea; a poet? I didn’t start programming until college, at which point I kicked myself for wasting all this time and not starting sooner.

The CodeCombat office, featuring George designing some new screens.

What is your favorite book, and when was the last time you actually picked up a hard copy of a book?

Current favorite is Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I have a Guinness Book of World Records sitting on a table behind me, which I have been flicking through lately to see what the strongest dog is and who shot an arrow the furthest using their feet. But all my real reading is done on Kindle now, on my iPad.

You get to have afternoon tea with whoever you want! Who is it?

Archimedes. We could take turns blowing each other’s minds with massive science shock.

If you could order any food and have it in front of you right now what would it be?

I bet I could fit about a thousand pounds of tins of Almas Beluga caviar on my desk before it collapsed and crushed my legs, which I could then resell for somewhere between $10–30M depending on how much I depressed market prices with my chicanery.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Keanu Reeves, the greatest living actor of our time.

What is something you’re really excited about right now?

CodeCombat is hiring a Chief Artisan (level builder) right now, and there’s a lot of interest from some great people, all around the world and of all age ranges. It’s really exciting that distributed teams are becoming more and more viable, and that we’re moving past traditional credentials and towards a merit-based hiring system, at least in small tech startups.

Originally published at on January 17, 2015.

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