It’s a common lament among those old enough to have been young in the early days of computers and/or the internet that they never learned to code; that schools failed to have the prescience to see how vital it would be and in turn force them to learn it as they learned math or history. Many have gone onto be as computer-savvy as is required in this day and age, but still lacking in the mastery that might have opened other, more lucrative doors subsequently entered by Silicon Valley billionaires.
Young people today won’t lack opportunities to learn those skills, and CodELEVATE may have something to do with that. I spoke with Riteka Murugesh, the Founder and President of CodELEVATE about her mission to create GitHub educational material that’s more accessible, and how she and her team of young women are looking to help educate today’s students to be tomorrow’s tech professionals.
Mary Juetten: What’s the name of your company and where are you based?
Riteka Murugesh: It’s CodELEVATE. Our core team is based in the Bay Area, California.
Juetten: When did you start?
Murugesh: I thought of the very initial ideas behind CodELEVATE in December 2019, and after that, it was a jumble of learning more concepts by myself, planning, and execution. I got the idea for actually launching this into an initiative and to have several motivated students working on it when I began coding a website for a local home service professional/gardener. I then recruited two students from my high school, Nikita Senthil and Safaa Hussain, who are also really passionate about computer science and tech, and they are currently CodELEVATE’s Co-Vice Presidents.
Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Murugesh: After using GitHub in my high school’s robotics team, I realized how important of an industry tool it is for students aspiring to join the realm of tech. But, as a student myself, I realized that many of the GitHub user guides I found online were more intended towards a professional audience. So, with CodELEVATE we seek to spread GitHub skills presented in a student-friendly way in combination with HTML skills. Our GitHub curriculum is in the format of short-stories to make learning more interactive. We also thought of developing an HTML curriculum since HTML and GitHub make up a combination for learners to, for example, create their own static website and host it on GitHub.io.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Murugesh: To spread our curriculum to students, mainly middle school and high school students, we have been active in multiple modes, including Instagram campaigning, partnering with hackathons to share our curriculum with their participants, and more recently, trying to find places to host workshops. As a member of CSforAll, we’ve also published a portion of our curriculum on the CSforAll curriculum directory to make our curriculum more accessible to the 100+ school districts and other members of CSforAll. I also led CodELEVATE to partner with an ethno-computing organization in Africa, called Ethonoma. I’m working and talking with the organization’s head and an amazing teacher in Africa to learn more about their cultural context to see how we can tailor our curriculum for students in Uganda and broadly, Africa.
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Murugesh: Having taken Computer Programming, AP Computer Science Principles, and currently AP Computer Science A at my high school with the best CS teacher a student could ever ask for, I’ve been able to master fundamental programming concepts and complete many advanced projects. These experiences pushed me to excel in my extracurricular goals. As a board member of my high school’s Girls Who Code Club, my high school’s competitive FRC Robotics Team, AnitaHacks Hackathon, AdaHacks II hackathon, and HopperHacks @ Home Hackathon, I have been able to bolster my collaboration skills, leadership acumen, and creativity which have all been extremely significant for CodELEVATE from virtually maintaining an international team to devising new ways to spread our content.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Murugesh: Our entire team is currently all-female and has only high school students and college students! We have members from California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Canada, and India.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Murugesh: No, we did not!
Juetten: Startups are an adventure — what’s your favorite startup story?
Murugesh: From a very young age, I’ve watched Shark Tank, just absolutely amused by the plethora of products that are pitched. I remember watching the Drop Stop founders on Shark Tank, and just reading about them online. They turned an often life-threatening problem of dropping objects, especially phones, down the crevices next to the car seat, into a company. They didn’t have a smoothly-paved path. For example, they had to deal with counterfeit products since they didn’t initially have a patent. Their resilience, ingenuity, and their complete passion about what they created, is something I truly admire, making them one of my favorite startup stories ever.
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Murugesh: To me, success is the journey, not the destination. It’s like being able to scribble small green checkmarks next to each task on our daily to-do lists. The goals that I achieve are just a mere product or result of the journey. The blend of the knowledge I acquire, the relationships I foster, the skills I sharpen, from creativity to perseverance, and the experience of overcoming any barriers, show me how the journey is the true indicator of success.
My favorite and close-to-heart success story is that of my aunt, Dr. Radhika Rani, M.D., a gynecologist in Tanjore, India, who also runs her own hospital. Even though they lived in a rural village in India during her childhood, she made sure she used her education to the fullest extent and even ranked at the top of her state. Her perseverance, thirst for knowledge, and relentless passion to change the community around her transformed her into the amazing woman and gynecologist I know today. The hospital she now runs, mainly to help low-income families in her community, is just one out of a million examples that embody her values. She has shown me and is still showing me that the proper mindset and a determination to impact the world will make me a better citizen of the world.
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders?
Murugesh: I want to start off with this: do not ever fall into a spiral of imposter syndrome! It’s really hard to not doubt the value of your talents and skills. But, don’t let that ever stop you—you are worth more than you think.
Set long-term goals that you envision for the next five months or so and write them down somewhere.
Find people who are as passionate about your mission as much as you are to join your team. These people will bring out the best in you.
In general, always surround yourself with supportive people. You never know who you’ll find as a mentor!
In terms of thinking of ideas to start an initiative or startup, I’ve realized that brainstorming niche or hyper specific ideas is a great place to start!
Juetten: And of course, any IP horror stories to share (they can be anonymous)?
Murugesh: I actually don’t have any IP horror stories that I can think of!
Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for your company?
Murugesh: For the long-term vision of CodELEVATE, I plan to continue our efforts with Ethonoma to make CS education more accessible there and to expand from thereon.
I also really hope to get the chance to learn from Ms. Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, to see how our curriculum and more broadly, GitHub in combination with web development, could be possibly introduced into the Girls Who Code curriculum. I also hope to work with Ms. Ruthe Farmer, who I also really admire for all of her work in making CS equitable for all, to develop strategies to better our curriculum!
Thanks to Riteka for sharing her message with me. The world will be that much better for having more young people, and young women in particular, with the skills to help them change the world. #onwards.