Meet Tina May from the Institute of Code

It was her passion for finding a different kind of learning environment that helped Tina May set up the Institute of Code school in Bali.

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.


Tina May, Institute of Code

Tina May is walking past a group of students when one calls out to her with a question. It is something to do with CSS, one of the languages used to build websites.

Although Tina was clearly on her way to do something, she happily stops and leans over the student’s laptop, scanning the page of code in front of her, looking for the error that’s causing the problem.

After a few minutes she finds it, explains the issue, fixes it and moves heads off in the direction she was originally going. The student seems happy and moves on to the next task.

Tina May, co-founder of Institute of Code

Here at the Institute of Code in Bali, Tina isn’t technically one of the mentors assigned to the students.

She is the co-founder of the school and she spends most of her time during the ten days of the course making sure everything runs smoothly – explaining the activities for each day, hosting events, dealing with problems.

I notice she also spends a lot of time working on the overarching issues that come with running a start-up business like this.

That doesn’t mean Tina isn’t always happy to help with the classes – and she takes a couple of them herself. After all, it was her interesting in coding and building websites that led her to start the Institute of Code with her partner, Emilio Kuzma-Floyd in the first place.

Tina May, co-founder of Institute of Code

“A couple of years ago we were sitting in a little restaurant in Cuba, getting some work done, doing the whole digital nomad thing, and we accomplished more in that one day than we would normally accomplish in a week and we sat down and really reflected on that.”

“What was it about that time and space that made us so much more productive? And the idea stuck with us through multiple businesses that the environment you surround yourself in, the food you’re eating, the atmosphere – they all have such a huge impact on your productivity.”

“So when we wanted to create a coding school, or when we were looking at options that were out there to learn to code, we thought ‘why hasn’t anyone incorporated everything we know about human psychology and human performance into a school?’”

“And so we decided to totally forget everything we knew about what a school was and reimagine what a school could be. 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, when we pop them down in a beautiful pool villa with natural light and experienced mentors and great food and daily yoga, they just learn really fast.”

Tina May, co-founder of Institute of Code

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my experience at the luxury villa in Bali, learning how to build websites with Institute of Code. It was certainly an experience that I hadn’t seen before in any kind of learning institution.

Today I wanted to give you a chance to hear more from Tina about why she and Emilio founded the Institute of Code and their philosophy behind it. It really is a different way of approaching this kind of school.

Maybe you’re interested yourself in learning how to code, adding another a powerful skill to your professional arsenal. If so, I would highly recommend checking out the institute.

Tina spends a lot of her time during the ten day course wearing a swimsuit or shorts and a singlet. I point this out because that’s how most of us are dressed the whole time – board shorts, bikinis, t-shirts, sarongs, caps.

It’s hot in Bali and there’s a pool right next to the room we’re using for our classes. It’s best to be comfortable and ready to jump in the water whenever there’s a break.

Tina May, co-founder of Institute of Code

And so I find it particularly interesting whenever we sit down and chat to hear her talk about HTML and CSS and other programming languages and coding tools. I’ll admit that I’m giving in a bit to stereotypes when I say it’s not what you expect a young blonde Australian woman in a swimsuit to be discussing by the pool in Bali

But when you hear Tina talk about her vision for the Institute of Code, it all seems so natural. These surroundings and this atmosphere are what makes the school so unique. She certainly has the drive of an entrepreneur behind her but it’s what’s best for the students that’s guiding that passion.

If you would like to listen to the interview I’ve done with Tina, you can do that right below:

If you would prefer to read some of our chat, I’ve put an edited (for space) transcript of the interview here.

Time Travel Turtle: How did you look at how you wanted each course to look and did you structure it?

“We dug into a lot of educational psychology. We looked at what had worked for us in the past and spoke with friends, interviewed founders and entrepreneurs and people who were living a really high performance lifestyle. And some of the key themes were: a beautiful environment, great food, yoga or meditation, some physical exercise. And then we just incorporated that into our program. We needed to find a balance because it is obviously an intensive course, not a holiday. So when we can put people all in this beautiful villa and have everything here, not only does it accomplish those goals but it’s really time efficient. We still get in eight hours of class per day, it’s just we cut out the cooking and the cleaning and the commuting to and from work, all those other things you do in our day, and replace them with stuff that really helps you perform more efficiently.”

Time Travel Turtle How did you get into coding yourself?

“I got into coding before I really even knew what coding was. I started a little digital marketing agency in my second year of uni, I wanted to start working with real clients and helping them with their business and I noticed very quickly that most of my clients either had an outdated website that they need updated, or they needed a new one. It was just a big win for all of my clients. So I tried googling ‘how to build a website’ and went through the Wix and Weebly and Squarespaces of the world, I tried outsourcing to freelancers, and it was either  low quality product or just an inefficient process. So I googled it and I got my first client and I said ‘hey, I’m going to build a website for you, I don’t know how yet, but I’ll figure it out’ and I hacked together this website in HTML and CSS through tutorials that I found on the internet. But after eventually months and years of doing it, a couple of things stuck with me. One was just how valuable coding skills are. A lot of people think of coding as something to be the next Zuckerberg but we don’t teach kids mathematics in school for them to be a mathematician, we teach it to them as an essential 21st century literacy. And coding is the same. It permeates so many areas of your professional life, you just don’t realise until you actually learn.”

Time Travel Turtle: Most of the people here at the course are ‘cool’ and not the stereotype of a coder. What kind of people do you find come here?

“We’re really trying to break down some of the barriers as to what kind of person learns to code. If you google programmer, you will see on google images pages and pages of white and asian nerdy-looking men, sitting in dark rooms together usually and part of the reason we’re offering a ten day intensive program and not just a 16 week or 8 week coding bootcamp is to give those essential coding skills to people from other industries. So we attract entrepreneurs and graphic designers. We’ve got a lot of people who don’t even necessarily want to build websites, they want to manage someone who is, or understand how to talk the lingo. But, yeah, definitely different kind of rations to what you would normally find in a course. We’ve got 80 per cent women in our program, which is pretty much unheard of in tech.”

Tina May, co-founder of Institute of Code

Time Travel Turtle: You’ve put an emphasis on attracting female students. Why is that?

“I just think that technology should be accessible to everyone. It opens so many doors and a lot of people – particularly women and minorities – find tech really intimidating. There’s a lot of subtle conditioning that we receive from a really young age that tech is appropriate for certain groups of people and a lot of women I speak to make comments like ‘oh, I’m just not tech-savvy enough’ or ‘I wouldn’t be good enough’. So we’ve run a lot of programs that let people have a taste test, whether it’s a free one hour workshop or video tutorials and different campaigns to let people try. And we find that once we can get them to try it, they’re much more willing to dive in and give it a go. And believe in themselves. I think people need role models, they need to see people like them doing it, so when they see the students that we’ve had, when they see a coding school with a female co-founder, they are like ‘wow, you’re the coder?’.”

Tina May, co-founder of Institute of Code

Time Travel Turtle: How do you see people take the skills they learn here and apply them in the future?

“Part of our model is to have these short burst immersive courses that give you just the skills you need, when you need them. And for people who want to go out and become a developer or freelance in web development, there’s obviously more skills to practice, there are new skills to add. What we see is that often people don’t even realise before they get here how they’ll use their skills. We’ve had someone who was working in marketing for Uber and she said coding was not a part of her job but once she learned to code, all of a sudden the developers, when they would come and talk to the marketing team, would now talk to her and she became the gateway between the developers. And then the developers started giving little task to her and within about six months she got a promotion because of the value she was adding to the team. So we have that happen a lot where it’s bits and pieces of what they’ve learned, they’re integrating into their existing role. We’ve also had quite a few students who do take the leap and decide to freelance right after this. And we provide a lot of ongoing support to our students so they’ll often hit us up with a message or a Skype call a few weeks later and go ‘I need to learn this’ or ‘I want to touch back on that subject that we learned’ so there’ definitely more to keep practising and learning after the ten days.”

Tina May, co-founder of Institute of Code

Time Travel Turtle: Should people think that HTML and CSS are difficult?

“I think anything can be easy and a new language is intimidating but when we think about the fact that toddlers can learn languages with thousands of times more words and punctuation and complexity than HTML and CSS at such a young age, we can do this. It’s just that you kind of have to open yourself up to learning something new. We’ve had almost 150 students now and we’ve never had someone unable to complete the course.”

Time Travel Turtle: A 100 per cent success rate is pretty impressive!

“I think most schools, at least in Australia, are set up to have a maximum of a 30 per cent fail rate, 30 per cent that they want to get between a pass and a credit, and 30 per cent to get a distinction and above. Which means you’re expecting going into it that 60 per cent of your students are going to understand less than 50 per cent of the content – and that’s mind-boggling to me! We want all of our students to understand at least 95 per cent of our content. So we have four mentors so the person who is struggling a little bit can sit down and get us much one-on-one help as they need.”

Tina May, co-founder of Institute of Code

Time Travel Turtle: And, finally, we’re here in Bali. And I love how the students get to explore a bit of the island during the ten days as well.

“I actually think it’s a really important part of the learning, is to sometimes take yourself away, give yourself a mental break. It will be when students are standing up on a paddle board for the first time or hiking through the monkey forest that they’re like ‘oh, I get that jquery thing that we were talking about yesterday’ and thats something that we found before starting this program as well, that if we pushed ourselves to take breaks from the business and go for a run or go for a walk on the beach, often that’s when great inspiration would hit you. So every second day we leave the villa and go out and explore this beautiful country. We’ll be paddle boarding in Sanur, people go parasailing, we hike through the rice terraces, watch the sunset, have a cocktail.”

Time Travel Turtle: Well, it’s been great. Thanks so much for having me.

“Thank you very much.”

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

1 thought on “Meet Tina May from the Institute of Code”

  1. Thanks for sharing your honest experience. When I first took a look at my headshots,
    I wasn’t too thrilled with mine but you’ve given me a new perspective!

    I appreciate the shout out in your article too!


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