Interview With Code Avengers Founder Michael Walmsley On The Importance of People
So coding is not necessarily the most riveting activity to learn. And, that’s exactly why Michael Walmsley, founded Code Avengers, the coding tutorial site that is actually fun. We caught up with Michael to learn about his CA brainstorm sessions, how he manages to be both developer and PhD student (no biggie) and where he had his last “Wow” moment.
Tell us a little more about Code Avengers
I was trying to get my 17-year-old brother into web development so he could help me out. I had him try a few freely available resources on the web. He tried a little, but stopped because he found them boring.
Consequently, I decided to create my own computer programming courses. My goal was to create a fun and effective resource specifically targeted at high school students.
What’s a typical day at Code Avengers look like?
I am currently working 3 days a week writing up my PhD thesis and 3 days and nights each week on CodeAvengers
As the sole developer I spend much of my waking moments thinking about what I can do to improve CA as well as brainstorming new lesson material.
There are two main development tasks. The first is developing the framework for the site ; the second is creating and refining lesson material. The process for developing new courses begins with mapping out the order of concepts that will be covered in the course.
Next, I brainstorm ideas for lesson material, then create a draft and try them out on real learners. After initial refinement the lessons go live. CodeAvengers tracks the common problems learners have with each lesson; this data is used along with feedback from learners to further improve the lessons.
I also spend a few hours a week on marketing. I am also lucky enough to have a friend and a few family members that are helping out with the marketing.
How do you motivate yourself?
Having a supportive and positive team is one of the keys. But the biggest motivator is all the positive feedback we get from learners and high school teachers.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
- To begin with I am trying to keep costs as low as possible in order to minimise risk. All I am risking is my time.
- Get people involved that are passionate about your idea and willing to work for free.
- One of the big benefits of software startups is low startup costs… if you [are] a software developer.
When it comes to software development there are always a thousand new features you could add to your system. I try to focus my development on the features that will give the biggest bang for buck! That is features that add the most value for the shortest amount of development time. It can be quite difficult to maintain the discipline to not get distracted working on low priority features… but it is something that must be done… especially since I am the only developer.
Before implementing a new feature it is important to think carefully about whether it is really needed, and whether there is an easier approach to achieving the same result.
We want to know about where you spend your day! What’s on your desk right now?
I work on my PhD at university 3 days a week… and on CodeAvengers at home. Most of my day is spend in front of a computer developing the software or testing with users.
What entrepreneur do you admire?
No one in particular… But I must say that I was very inspired by reading the stories of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and watching the movie The Social Network!
If you were given inside access to 2 Internet companies to invest in, which ones would you pick?
Google… and more Google.
How would you like to be remembered?
More than any career or startup, family is most important for me. I want to be remembered as a good husband and father… One of my main goals is that my family relationships and health do not suffer at the expense of my work.
What apps/sites/software do you use every day and can’t work without?
I use Eclipse IDE as my development environment since it is free and was what I used in my University degree.
The main tool I could not do without is the Chrome web browser developer tools. They are a great aid in testing and debugging web apps.
Can you share what got your latest “WOW” moment was?
I am on my way home from the Google IO conference. Too many wow moments there to limit to just 1. Some of the new technology they are developing is amazing.
What kind of company would you start if someone gave you $1 million to launch a startup?
I am passionate about making education fun. I would use the $1 million to expand the scope of the startup I am currently working on.
A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually put your life on hold and realize yours?
Initially, I was working on CodeAvengers in my spare time. Once I released first lessons and started getting lots of really positive feedback, I decided to go for it.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get their business off the ground?
I am very new to this game, just trying learn as much as I can and enjoy the journey.
At the Google IO conference I attended a couple of panel sessions talking about startups and getting funded. One of the key points from the VCs was assembling a great team. One VC commented that in accessing the value/potential for success of any startup, the 3 most important things are people, people, people.
The product idea comes next.
Thanks Michael! I did start level one on Code Avengers, but then quit when I realized that I actually had to write this article. And, I’m not the developing kind. But, if you are a wannabe code monkey, check out Code Avengers and actually have fun learning the language of the Web.