From left to right, Nick DeTello, Riley Holmes, and Dmitry Slavnikov are the minds behind CodeLand, a business that would allow young people to learn about coding.
From left to right, Nick DeTello, Riley Holmes, and Dmitry Slavnikov are the minds behind CodeLand, a business that would allow young people to learn about coding. (Mary Grace Keller / Carroll County Times)

Three software engineers with experience in education aspire to create a culture of coding by bringing together young people to learn from each other and a specially designed curriculum.

Nick DeTello, Riley Holmes, and Dmitry Slavnikov are the minds behind CodeLand, a business designed to educate the next generation of coders. The trio is working together to design a program that will walk students through a coding curriculum, allow them to take on their own projects, and benefit from the mentorship of experienced coders — all in one space.

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“I think giving them the culture where you have these college students around helping and you have other students with similar interest working on similar problems — I think that’s the important part," Holmes said.

He said they aim to market to middle school and high school students and connect them with college students who would serve as tutors and mentors.

CodeLand is only conceptual at this point, but its founders have big dreams for the business, which is why they entered into the Carroll County Biz Challenge, a “Shark Tank” style competition in which local entrepreneurs pitch their new business ideas, make connections, get publicity, and compete for a $5,000 cash prize and thousands of dollars worth of additional prizes and services. Sponsored by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, the event is in its eighth year.

CodeLand made it into the final five out of 47 applicants. The other finalists are Battleground, The Drifting Dreamers, FishED and KnowMe. The live finale is set for Thursday, Aug. 8 at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster.

“Between the three of us we have many, many years of knowledge on the topic. I think we have a cutting edge when it comes to experience in the field. We’re all developers, we have a vision for what we want to make and we can definitely make it," DeTello said.

From left to right, Nick DeTello, Riley Holmes, and Dmitry Slavnikov are the minds behind Codeland, a business that would allow young people to learn about coding.
From left to right, Nick DeTello, Riley Holmes, and Dmitry Slavnikov are the minds behind Codeland, a business that would allow young people to learn about coding. (Mary Grace Keller / Carroll County Times)

Holmes said one way the program would educate is by providing a simple example, then students would fill in missing pieces of the code in variations of that sample. They aim to reach students who are just starting to become interested in coding and those who already have a foundation in place. Students would learn math, problem solving, and logic that goes into coding, according to Holmes.

“These skills are also skills that, at least eventually, are skills you can get paid for. I myself just recently got educated in coding and here I am with a job in it," Slavnikov said.

Slavnikov, who holds a degree in biology, was a middle school science teacher in Connecticut before coming to Maryland. DeTello has a degree in general engineering and tutored at Carroll Community College. Holmes has a math degree and taught at a K-12 “mathnasium” in Colorado. They all met in Westminster, where they work at the tech company Skayl. Holmes started thinking about educational software a few years ago, then reached out to his coworkers to form CodeLand.

If they win, CodeLand would use the prize money to find a location to house the business, start developing the Intellectual Property (IP), and build the programs, DeTello said. They all agree one of the main goals is to keep students engaged and challenged.

“When they show up to, you know, an after-school activity, they usually are there because they want to do it and that’s just that much, more rewarding," Slavnikov said. “Our hope would be that whoever comes in would stay not just for the lessons, but stay for the people they get to know."

And since these men have learned firsthand what it takes to code for living, DeTello said they can design a curriculum that will help youngsters avoid “pitfalls" and learn more quickly.

“There’s a lot of potential for somebody at that age group to learn more complex things," DeTello said.

While coding can be learned at home by browsing through online tutorials, these software engineers want to provide a place where youth can learn in a community.

“Given that we know what’s needed and what necessary ... we can put things together in a way that makes sense," Slavnikov said. “Yes, it’s all out there, but, boy, is it hard to go out and absorb the correct things the correct way.”

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Regardless of what happens at the finale, the trio said they’ve already benefited from Biz Challenge by connecting with other professionals in the area.

“One of the things about the Biz Challenge is win or lose you get to know so many people in the community," Slavnikov said. “You get to know a lot of the resources around here.”

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