But those are among the creative strategies that Tarr’s ever-booming MV Code Club has deployed as the business continues to feed an insatiable demand for its ability to teach kids in first through 10th grade how to code.
The reason? Tarr knows that coding for kids has passed its nascent stage. In a recent White House meeting with President Donald Trump, Apple CEO Tim Cook remarked that “coding should be a requirement in every public school,” and a recent estimate found that there are as many as 500,000 open computing and data-science jobs in the U.S. but fewer than 50,000 college students graduating with the qualifications to fill them. With little doubt about the demand for MV Code Club, Tarr is committed to growing the business in a sober, efficient way that keeps costs from ballooning and maintains his initial vision for it.
“We’re a bigger organization now,” says Tarr, who moved to Mill Valley in 2012 with his wife J’Amy, a Mill Valley native and fashion and textile designer after stints in Seattle, New York City and San Francisco. “I had a vision for what this could be and I was very specific about how I wanted this to be effective for the kids. I wanted to make sure that the experience for the kids who came here was a good one. We needed to do it right.”
To that end, Tarr has taken a multi-faceted approach to MV Code Club’s growth. He hasn’t eschewed the obvious step of opening more locations beyond its flagship Mill Valley “lab” downtown on Miller Avenue in the Mill Creek Plaza building, where his wife also runs her atelier-style design studio upstairs. In fact, MV Code Club opened its Greenbrae location in 2014 as Tarr quickly realized that traffic and logistics were keeping many students from outside of town from making it to their downtown space.
Locations in San Francisco’s Laurel Heights neighborhood and in Redwood City followed in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and MV Code Club opened a fifth location in Albany last fall. The first four locations each teach between 100-150 students, Tarr says. More locations are on the way in the next year in San Mateo and the East Bay.
But while those new locations expanded MV Code Club’s footprint and addressed a need within communities where there was demand for its curriculum, Tarr knew he had to diversify what he was offering.
“Teaching coding can be pretty hard, and we hire trained software developers to teach kids, so if you just keep scaling, you might lose some of your ability to meet the needs of the kids and their parents,” he says.
The program has evolved from those early days as a casual, drop-in to more of a structured membership program that allows instructors to foster strong relationships with students that go beyond technical instruction and into mentoring. MV Code Club also has a popular, distinct summer camp program that organized around “week-long capsules where students get to make a game or build a robot – it’s very project-oriented,” Tarr says.
“We want to continue to grow our visibility beyond Mill Valley and Marin, and working with schools helps us do that,” Tarr says. “Getting our curriculum and content out there however we can is really valuable.”
Tarr has also taken that vision well beyond the Bay Area, licensing the MV Code Club software he’s developed over the years to coding programs in New York City, Connecticut and even in China.
“I’m a developer – my solution to a lot of problems is software,” Tarr says. “Software provides a great way to grow and maintain consistency at scale by offering a great experience. A lot of my effort has really gone into that system so that we have a blueprint with curriculum guidelines, training and all sorts of stuff for people – that’s how we can scale over time.”
That software-based blueprint, particularly its curriculum, is an iterative, collaborative thing, he says.
“The teacher is the number one factor that determines the success of a student, and those teachers all need input into the curriculum they’re given,” Tarr says. “They all participate in the creation of the curriculum.”
That laser-like focus on the maintaining high educational standards has helped MV Code Club build a great reputation within the increasingly crowded coding-for-kids landscape. MV Code Club garnered a Gold for Best Technology Camp, a Silver for Best Technology Program and a Bronze for Math or Science Support from the widely read Bay Area Parent “Best of the Best” awards.
Tarr’s next big project – and an opportunity to meet the demands of parents who come to him with an array of technology-related questions around issues like screen time and email use – is to write a book, a parent resource guide around STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) education.
“One value I didn’t realize we were providing is that parents are often at a loss on a lot of these subjects and we’re the experts for them,” says Tarr, who hopes to have the book done by Spring 2018. “We get the same questions over and over, and this book will hopefully become a resource for parents around those issues.”
With all of those diverse programs and projects in play, Tarr is confident that MV Code Club will continue its growth in a smart, sustainable way.
“The value of our business is what people think of us, so if we can continue to reach a larger audience without a huge amount of capital to put into it – and maintain that reputation, we’ll be in a good place,” Tarr says.