Amber Manry studied Systems Engineering as an undergraduate and then worked for 20 years as a full-stack software engineer and technical architect for several IT consulting firms. For 10 years of her career, she worked as a contractor to the US Federal Government with a Top Secret clearance. As a generalist, she took on many technical roles. Her favorite parts of her jobs were recruiting technical talent and managing/mentoring software developers. Nowadays she is teaching children how to code to conquer the technological environments of life.
Amber, how did you come up with the idea for bitCubs?
As a technologist and mother, I started buying every toy/game/app out there that promised to teach kids how to code. I quickly realized that my kids needed me to teach them the concepts. They were not learning on their own. I began teaching classes using third party products and had over 200 paying families. Classes would sell out, but the business was financially sustainable and not easily scalable as a service-based business. Our cartoon was the solution to this scalability problem. I showed parts of the cartoon to the children as it was being built. The most common responses were “when are you going to finish and where do we go to watch it?”.
Why do you think that children need to know how to code?
In my opinion, coding will be a basic skill that everyone must know. Think about trying to get a job today and not knowing how to use Google Docs. Here in the US, 22 states have adopted Computer Science standards and that number is growing each day. I don’t think that everyone must become a programmer, but understanding the fundamentals will be an essential life skill. Learning to be a critical thinker will become more and more important as technology evolves and becomes more and more part of our everyday fabric.
What tools are you using to make this complex topic easy to understand?
Animation is one of the most powerful teaching tools we have. Animation leverages storytelling, music, and art. By giving context to a problem, the lesson taught has more impact on a child’s learning. Plus, in this YouTube generation grabbing a child’s undivided attention is difficult. Animation and a good story still commands the sustained attention of children and adults alike.
What’s your favorite moment from the past teaching those children to code?
I once taught a group of girls from Grades 3-5. One sweet girl with a learning disability was having trouble grasping a concept. She unhesitantly told me, “I need help. I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” I sat down with her and worked with her one-on-one until she understood a coding concept called an IF Statement. At the end of class, she gave me 3 big hugs and thanked me for helping her. I almost cried when that happened. LOL.
What was your experience as a female business owner in a male-dominated environment?
In the corporate world, I was very well respected and supported by males and females. A few times, I had some men that were dismissive of me at first. They were always men who worked for another company (ex: a client or another consulting firm). Once they got a chance to work with me, they often became some of my biggest advocates. It’s probably one of the most validating feelings in the whole world.
Being a solo Female Founder is a whole different ball game. In the corporate world, I never had to interview for a job. My reputation always spoke for itself. As an entrepreneur, no one knows who you are. So I had to get outside my comfort zone and start to introduce myself and state my credentials upfront. I’ve faced a LOT of rejection and a lot of people have been dismissive of me. Honestly, that just motivates me to prove them wrong. There’s a fire in my belly!