Teachyourselfpython.com: Making Python easy to learn

Teachyourselfpython.com was created by Ruth and Jonathan Marvin. A passion for coding in python and a love of pedagogy was what led to the site’s development.

We have developers from all over the world that have contributed and continue to contribute to different parts of the site.

We got an opportunity to talk with Ruth, and see what she has to say. I am sure her interview with us will inspire you.

Give a brief info about your startup?

Our website www.teachyourselfpython.com, started under the umbrella of www.teachingcomputing.com and was the result of years of acquiring resources, pedagogical experience in programming and the desire to see coding in python become accessible to all, particularly students looking to delve into the wonderful world of Computer Science. Languages like C# and Java were simply not accessible at a lower level and the introduction of python as one of the main languages taught in UK schools sparked the idea that led to the creation of this platform. Ruth Marvin (nee Benjamin) is a Bangalore born entrepreneur and former Head of Computing in a secondary school in South London. Her experience with coding began with taking a Bangalore based course on web-centric programming with NIIT and it took off from there. Python is her particular passion with a love for teaching, both of which were combined in the creation of www.teachyourselfpython.com. Jonathan Marvin, her husband, is a lawyer in the UK and also works part-time supporting several churches in the South East England area. Together, they run this site (and others) which now has over a 1000 subscribing UK schools as members and hundreds of thousands of users across the world. One of their many objectives is to return to Ruth’s roots and take the site to Indian schools and Indian programmers in general, where python is now starting to replace the traditional C++ in many academic institutions. High profile users including IIT and several other top schools have taken the step to use python to teach and many others are set to follow suit. Our ambition is to be able to make the site available for free to schools and budding young programmers as well as provide free online training and support for those that are unable to pay for coding courses themselves. The platform currently has four main modules – the LEARN module which provides several different pathways (all free) for learners that are just beginning programming to undertake and follow through. The pathways range from absolute starter to advanced and all of them contain information, tips, tricks, code snippets, interactive powerpoints, as well as tasks, challenges and a clear step by step follow through of key skills. There is also the TEACH module which provides vital and inspiring teaching resources for the teaching and training of python programming. These are comprised of several series with hundreds of power points ranging from teaching basic skills to GUI programming, Django, web development, game development and more. There is also a CODING LIBRARY containing what will become the biggest and most comprehensive range of python code snippets on the web – a hugely useful resource for any python coder. Finally, there is the much-awaited TEST and TRACK feature which contains automated tests on every single aspect of programming and python coding right through from beginner concepts to advanced skills including complex searching algorithms, hash tables, binary trees, interview questions and more. Students can engage freely in the self-marking tests and compete on the leaderboard. Furthermore, teachers can say goodbye to laborious hours of marking and track their students progress in the teacher track section. Teaching programming doesn’t get better or easier than this!

What made you start your startup and what problem does it solve?

Our startup was inspired by a love of coding, a love of teaching and the passion to put these things together on an online platform to make programming accessible for all. Some programs solve problems, but our platform helps other people learn a skill that will, in turn, help them to solve problems! So, I suppose you could say we’re in the business of solving the problem (a lack of knowledge and ability to learn) that helps other people solve problems! Helping people to learn and learn well is what we’re about. One of the main issues around teaching programming is pedagogy and one thing that www.teachyourselfpython.com does is provide a pedagogical edge and insight. Our programming tasks are based on providing basic information, doing a task and challenge that first involves editing code rather than creating something from scratch, and finally creation! These lessons and pathways have been tried and tested in the classroom and they aim to bring learning to life with real-life scenarios and interesting starters to engage and encourage deep thinking.

Tell us about yourself, your previous jobs/ventures? What were you doing before this startup?

Ruth was born in St Martha’s Hospital, Bangalore and spent much of her primary and secondary education at Woodstock International School, in the foothills of the Himalayas – Mussoorie. After graduation, she returned to Bangalore – her favourite city in the world – or at least favourite on par with London – to study Microbiology at St Josephs College. Alongside her BSc, she learned how to code and specialised further by completing an MBA in London (minoring in programming and information systems management). Following a stint of business development, sales and analytical jobs, she stumbled into teaching computing, and never looked back. TeachingComputing.com was the first company she started, with a view to providing an online platform of resources for teachers and students alike to master the study of computing in schools. Jonathan provides the legal and marketing know-how and together they are always up for a discussion about new business ideas. Jonathan works as a lawyer in the UK, teaches and preaches in several churches in the South East as part of his current part-time role with the congregational federation, and has a passion for business and new ventures. Ruth continues to teach at her secondary school in Croydon and is keen to develop the sites and acquire a more global reach, starting with India. Jonathan and Ruth have a baby daughter, coming up to two years old in May, named Hannah Asha Benjamin Marvin.

Where is your startup based out of? Why do you think that is the best place for you?

We are currently based in South London, UK. We enjoy travel to Bangalore and were there a few months ago visiting family and friends. We also trialled the possibility of hosting a python conference in Bangalore’s luxurious Shangrlia Hotel. Future plans for training and events are underway. The UK is a wonderful place to live and it would be good to look into building more viable links, especially in the fields of education, training and software, between the two countries.

As a startup founder, what are you paranoid about? What keeps you awake at night?

Dependencies and compatibility issues. The problem with the web is that there are always so many different factors and variables upon which your business and success depend on. This means you can do your absolute best, and sometimes things can still go wrong! Just the other day we discovered that one of our core modules was failing to work on a particular version of Chrome. Developer friends across the world troubleshoot to try and solve the problem, but it wasn’t easy. Cross-browser compatibility is just a huge pain and has definitely kept us up at night on more than one occasion! Greed, however, and the desire to simply make more money or gain power is certainly not what drives us. Of course, it is important to make a living, as we all need money to survive, but money is just a tool – and often a test, and should be made and used wisely. We would never want to make money in a manner that disadvantaged anyone else, and would much rather spend our time investing in a better future and better world, even at a cost to us! So what are we paranoid about? Well, ‘paranoid’ is perhaps not the right word, but we’re keen to make not just a difference but the right difference, even if it is something small.

Who are your competitions and how are you better than them?

There are many competitors in this sector, but we have the benefit of Ruth’s experience as a teacher, a former advanced skills teacher and lead practitioner for Croydon Council.  This provides us with a pedagogical edge, and pedagogy in the teaching of programming is everything! Furthermore, most of our best stuff is free so it is easily accessible. Our test and track feature is entirely unique with nothing like it anywhere. It is an absolute must-have for school teachers setting out to teach, test and track the progress of their pupils learning programming. Our pathways have all been tried and tested in the classroom and again, that is what gives us a step up on any competitors that are simply bods working for a large firm with no personal touch or experience.

How hard is it to have a work-life balance as a startup founder and how do you manage it?

Hard work is part of life although finding a balance is important if you want to maintain a good quality of life! Running one’s own business certainly eats into the time you have with your family as you could potentially always be working – there are almost always a million and one things to be done. We do love going on holiday and ensuring that we have blocked out time for nothing other than just fun and spending time with family and friends. Other than that, I would say the secret to maximising time is rising early. The old gem “early to rise…..” holds true. We also believe that the best portions of our time ought to go to things other than business, such as God, family and friends. For us, that would be the right balance and makes life worthwhile.

Have you raised funding? If yes, then we would like to know the details. If no then please tell us if you are looking to raise.

We have plans to expand and for this funding would be necessary. To this end, we would be interested in investors and potential partners. Our current model, however, has simply been using our profits to put back into the development of the business. So far we’ve avoided any big risks and been quite frugal …it may be time, however, to take a few more risks and do more! Do get in touch, if you’d like to find out more about what we do and how you could get involved.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about you? Why do they have that? What’s the reality?

People specialise in misconceptions, so we’re never worried about this. People may assume that any enterprise starter is ambition and money hungry, but this is not the case at all. Money is a tool to survive in this world, but also to do good. Priorities are key!

What gets you excited about this company?

The potential. It is simply huge and absolutely global and massive in scope. We hope people will start to share our excitement and share our site and resources with others. The possibilities within the education sector for making a difference are a huge source of excitement.

Tell us how a day in your life looks like? Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night.

Early mornings are key. Time to pray, reflect and read the Bible. After many years of experience, I realise how important it is to find the time to reflect on life – on mistakes, on successes and on relationships. Without reflection, there is no room or scope for transformation or renewal and without transformation, an individual will rot. Think of an apple – it either grows or rots! So much of our days are spent in investment into the right things – things that will help us grow. Grow spiritually, first and foremost, and then of course investment into the things that are needed to make it in the world of business too. We maintain our day jobs part-time and in the time we have at home we are actively upskilling – learning PHP and Javascript instead of watching TV and reading and researching into the latest technological advances. That doesn’t mean we don’t have time for fun. We love to watch films, cook, have friends over for meals and go out travelling, visiting new places. A typical day, however, starts at 5:30 am and ends at 11:00…or if we’re extra busy at midnight!

Tell us about your team and how did you meet each other?

Husband and Wife! When it works, it really is the very best sort of team – and that says it all. Additionally, we have developers from all over the world that have contributed and continue to contribute to different parts of the site. Italy, Peru, Sydney, London and India to name a few…

Know a great startup story or want to share your own? Write to us at contact.bangaloreinsider@gmail.com and we will get back to you. For more updates follow Bangalore Insider on Facebook.