Want to learn the basics of coding? This app can help

You don’t have to clear your schedule to polish up your computer skills. There are little moments throughout the day— your lunch hour, the commute home, a coffee break—to take in a coding lesson or two. Find a comfortable spot and fire up Lrn, a mobile app that teaches the basics of coding through interactive mini-quizzes.

The app can be used without a connection once it is downloaded, optimal for commuters like co-founder Nathan Bernard. “As you ride the train in NYC—I live in Brooklyn—and you commute to and fro every day, you see everyone on their phones, playing games,” he says. “We didn’t want to create a game, but we wanted to create an experience as immersive as a game.”

Bernard, 25, has been involved in tech since his college days at Boston University, studying operations and technology management alongside accounting. He originally moved into WeWork NoMad to start Coffee, an app that Bernard describes as “Tinder for jobs.” Coffee grew steadily, raising $610,000 in early investments.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, his growth and success in Coffee was what led Bernard to move on to a new business. “When I started Coffee,” Bernard says, “I was not technical. I didn’t know a thing about programming. Over the last year and a half, I’ve easily put over 1,000 hours into teaching myself—20 hours a week.” It was through Coffee that Bernard connected with Chirag Jain, a software engineer.

Bernard sold off the data and tech of Coffee to other New York businesses working in a similar field, and began working on Lrn full-time with his younger brother Logan and Jain in May 2015.

Though Bernard’s recent learning experience in Coffee prompted the switch to Lrn, he sees the business as a return to his roots in education. His first startup out of college was Urban Business Accelerator, a 10-week program in which teams of four students were sent into small businesses in Boston to learn business and accounting practices, build the books out, and advise owners how they could save money. The experience was so well-received that Bernard sold the business to BU, where the program is now a staple of the School of Management.

According to Glassdoor—a job site where users post salaries and reviews—software architect, software development manager, IT manager, UX designer, and software engineer are among the top 25 highest paid, in-demand jobs in the current market. Software engineering also has the largest number of job openings on the list, over 99,000.

But Bernard, however, sees potential for coding beyond these roles. He believes learning how to code has furthered his education in business.

“I don’t think you need to have a deep interest in becoming a software engineer to learn how to code,” he says. “I really think that for anyone interested in business, startups, or really moving into the working world in the 21st century—these are skills that you’ll need to get any job.”

Bernard and his co-founders aren’t above learning new things themselves, especially while working on Lrn. The app’s code was developed using React Native, an open-source JavaScript-based platform for app development released in late March 2015 by Facebook. Using this emerging technology wasn’t a simple decision, as Jain explains. “It was a huge bet on the entire company, on the entire product, but it’s paying. It cut down development time to just two months.”

The team’s work and effort culminated in the official launch of Lrn, with 125 chapters on the fundamentals of JavaScript in the first version. The entire team is excited about the prospect of expanding into other coding languages. And for Bernard, the process itself is gratifying.

“When you talk to people in education who care about what they’re doing, it’s not because they’re going to make a ton of money,” he says. “They think, what we’re doing is good, and we know it’s good, and we feel good about doing it.”

Photo credit: Lauren Kallen

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