Cracking the code

If you’ve been thinking about learning how to build websites, perhaps this coding institute in Bali is the perfect mix of school and retreat.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Institute of Code in Bali

“A lot of people think of coding as something to be the next Zuckerberg,” Tina May, the co-founder of Institute of Code, tells me.

“But we don’t teach kids mathematics in school for them to be a mathematician, we teach them as an essential 21st century literacy.”

“Coding is the same. It permeates so many areas of your professional life that you just don’t realise until you actually learn.”

As I sip my beer by the pool and look at the pages of code I have written, I think about Tina’s comment and wonder if this is where our generation is at in 2017? Where, rather than heading overseas to do an immersive course in French or Spanish, we go to a tropical island to learn HTML and CSS. Perhaps it is… and I like the idea a lot!

course in bali to learn how to make websites

Let me present to you the Institute of Code – a fantastic idea for people who want to learn how to build websites, but also a fascinating example of where society is today. A project like this would have been unthinkable a decade ago. I would guess that even five years ago it may have been unsustainable. But right now – it shows a perfect confluence of trends.

course in bali to learn how to make websites

First, let me explain what the Institute of Code is. At the heart of it is a ten day intensive course to learn how to code websites. Students learn to write HTML and CSS – the two main building blocks of the web – and a little bit of Javascript as well. There are some classes, where one of the teachers will go through a lesson on a particular topic, but there is also a lot of time spent one-on-one with a mentor. There is a good enough ratio that there’s normally about one mentor for every three or four students.

course in bali to learn how to make websites

Already, this approach is a little unusual. It breaks down the traditional model of long lessons with students doing the same exercises. In this case, each of us has arrived at the course with a project we want to build and so the time with mentors is focused on exactly what we need and want to know, not what a textbook says we should learn next.

course in bali to learn how to make websites

But the real difference between Institute of Code and other ways to learn coding is the location. We’re here at a luxury villa on the Indonesian island of Bali. The classes take place in the large entertaining rooms, the meals are held at the long table outside, and the bedrooms are spread around the site. At one edge of the villa’s boundary is a long pool with a view out to rice fields and palm trees.

course in bali to learn how to make websites

The day starts with yoga as the sun rises, a chance to clear the head and stretch the body (although I have to admit that I prefer to either sleep in or do laps in the pool). The meals are all cooked by the private chefs and the menu has been designed to be healthy and relatable – dragonfruit pancakes for breakfast one day, chicken skewers for lunch another, slow-cooked pork and salad for dinner the next. In the early evening there’s time to relax – some days I go for a run around the rice paddies and some I have some beers with other students. And the mentors are all around until late, for those who want to work on a bit more coding.

course in bali to learn how to make websites
course in bali to learn how to make websites

None of this is accidental – it’s all been carefully designed to create the ideal situation to learn. All the stress has been taking away – no need to worry about commuting, cleaning or cooking meals – and the focus is on health (yoga) and happiness (socialising).

“We decided to totally forget everything we knew about what a school was and reimagine what a school could be,” Tina May explains when I ask her about it one day.

“When you took every decision from that standpoint of ‘how do people learn best?’ and when we take people away from the stress and distractions of everyday life and we pop them down in a beautiful pool villa with natural light and experienced mentors and great food and experienced mentors, they just learn really fast.”

course in bali to learn how to make websites

As you know, I have been running my website for almost six years. Although I don’t code it myself, I feel like I need to better understand what’s going on behind the scenes and be able to make more changes myself. Also, I have a few ideas for some projects that would be better if I knew how to use HTML and CSS. So I’ve come to the Institute of Code in Bali with a plan to build a microsite from one of last year’s trips. I’ll show you the final product later this week!

What I find so interesting about the whole affair, though, is why other people have come to Bali to learn how to code.

course in bali to learn how to make websites

I think it’s fair to say that building websites has traditionally been the kind of career that people associate with guys – and perhaps young, slightly nerdy guys, at that. I’m not saying that’s true – but it’s been the perception. But it seems that two things have happened in the past few years.

Firstly, coding has become cool. The idols of the millennial generation are people like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey and the thousands of young rich techies who seem to live glamorous and limitless lives. Gone are the dreams of Hollywood or playing in the Premier League – now being able to build websites and apps is seen as a much more feasible route to fame and fortune.

And, secondly, the industry has become a lot more appealing to women. Maybe, again, it’s to do with role models like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer. Or perhaps people can now see beyond the stereotypes of a cola-guzzling, overweight, bearded man in a dark room.

course in bali to learn how to make websites

So perhaps it should be no surprise that most of my fellow students here at the Institute of Code are women. They’ve come from across the world – Australia, the UK, the US and Austria – and are here for different reasons. Some of the women have small businesses and see the professional benefits of being able to build new websites themselves; some are thinking about a career change and like the idea of freelancing as web developers, building sites for clients; and some see a future where having control of their image online, through blogs and web projects, puts them ahead of their peers.

course in bali to learn how to make websites

It probably was the way people thought a generation ago about other skills – being able to speak French, for instance. The time spent learning that language was an investment in a career that could take you to French-speaking countries or into French-owned companies. Now it’s languages like HTML and CSS that are the investment in a professional future.

course in bali to learn how to make websites

I’m proud of the little website I’ve built during my time at the Institute of Code and can already see how these skills will take me further in the coming years. Ten days doesn’t seem like very long but I’m so impressed with how much I have learned. Of course, there’s still a lot I don’t know – but the classes have taught me the logic to solve any problems and the mentors have taught me the specifics to apply those solutions.

course in bali to learn how to make websites

I don’t imagine I will be the next big tech entrepreneur, that’s not the reason I came here. But I look around the villa on the last evening as the sun sets over the pool, my classmates celebrating their successes, our mentors beaming with pride, and I wonder whether one of them will be. We’ve now all cracked the code.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of The Institute of Code but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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