STEM Career Series, STEM Careers

STEM Career Interview Series: Founder and CEO, Sakina Fakhruddin, of Codinu

I am excited to introduce Sakina Fakhruddin, who is a computer engineer and the founder and CEO of Codinu.

A computer engineer develops the hardware and software for computers and other devices. Computer engineering combines both computer science and electronic engineering in order to design technology for computers that are very small (think microprocessors, computer chips, etc.) to very large (think supercomputers, radar systems, etc.). They work in a variety of industries.

Sakina previously worked in the computer engineering industry but was later drawn to education and therefore she started Codinu. Codinu provides and promotes an all-inclusive, fun and collaborative environment for kids to learn to code. Sakina launched Codinu to pursue her passion for education and coding.

MTF: When and how did you become interested in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields? How did you become interested in computer science specifically? Do you have a specific memory or event that happened in your life that helped you choose your career path?

Sakina: For as far back as I can remember, I had been very interested in STEM. When I was 11 years old, my dad bought us (my siblings and me) a Windows PC. That was our first computer. It was mainly used by my brother who was in high school then and I would tinker with it when he was away. I was so fascinated by the technology and the application side of it as well. At that time, I wanted to be an astronaut. But perhaps around 8 th or 9 th grade, I knew I wanted to delve deeper into computer science and technology.

MTF: Growing up, what were your favorite subjects and why?

Sakina: I really loved Math and Physics. I was also very interested in History. Growing up, my parents always emphasized on Math. That may have been a reason why all of us excelled at Math.

MTF: In your own words, how would you describe your career to a child?

Sakina: As a computer scientist and coder, I get to solve problems. I can work with people from various fields and help them solve a problem at their workplace by building a solution with code. It’s really exciting to be able to work with people in various fields like fashion, makeup, finance, and more, help them find a solution to a problem. Currently, I get to work with students, teach them how to code and build fun projects with code.

MTF: What did you study in college and how / why did you choose it/them?

Sakina: In college, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering and majored in Data Structures and Algorithms. Computer Engineering degree focused on understanding how to build better computers and technology and my major allowed me to delve deeper into designing better algorithms.

MTF: What is your current occupation and how would you briefly describe it?

Sakina: As the CEO of Codinu, I lead a highly qualified teaching team dedicated to building learning environments that nudge students to be creative thinkers and problem-solvers, opening doors to new perspectives and bright ideas.

MTF: What was your college / university experience like as a student?

Sakina: I grew up in Kuwait so going to India for college with family being in a different country, was quite a daunting experience at first. I worked really hard in the first semester and got excellent grades. That really helped boost my confidence and also allowed to take it little easy and enjoy with friends. I loved going to the college library and studying there for hours and living in a dorm would definitely be one of the most memorable experiences of my life!

MTF: What made you decide to pursue advanced degrees in education (masters
& doctorate)?

Sakina: My area of interest was mainly algorithm design and development. I wanted to delve deeper into the field of Computer Science so when the opportunity presented, I had to take it and go for it.

MTF: What are you favorite coding languages and why?

Sakina: My current favorite language is Python. I think that’s probably because I currently teach coding to students and Python is an incredibly easy to learn programming language. Python is a highly versatile language, and it comes with many libraries that allow students to create wonderful projects. The first programming language that I learned was C++, and I think that would always be my favorite language. It is an amazing coding language that allows coders to write powerful code.

MTF: What has been the most rewarding part of your career?

Sakina: As a computer scientist and coder, the most rewarding part of my career has been to collaborate with teams across the world and be a part of a bigger solution. I have also enjoyed writing code for smaller organizations and improving their internal systems with the technology that I created! Now as an educator, every day is rewarding! I really enjoy interacting with creative and enthusiastic young students.

MTF: What has been the most challenging part of your career?

Sakina: After my Masters’ degree, I joined a small company with just 10 of us and I was the only female coder. The company grew to 25-30 employees however I remained the only female coder for quite some time. While my male colleagues were fantastic and I shared a very comfortable working relationship with them, I did face quite a bit of challenging moments as a consultant. The clients were not used to having a female software engineering consultant so there was quite a bit
of mistrust and doubt. I had to work much harder and a lot of hours to prove myself. I also had my first child during the first year of my job and I returned after a 4 month maternity leave. I would leave office at around 4 pm so I could be home at a decent time and then work at nights after baby slept. Retrospectively, I think that was just a crazy time.

MTF: In your opinion, why is investing in computer science education important
to children and the community?

Sakina: Computer Science education is relevant now more than ever. We are surrounded by technology and it is really important that we introduce kids to what goes on behind-the-scenes and help them be technology creators rather than mere consumers. Whatever career a child pursues, be it computer science or not, it could be medicine, fashion, paleontology, education, technology is everywhere. In this information and digital age, it has become absolutely essential that computer science and coding is taught just like Math and Reading. In addition to equipping the kids to with the ability to create technology, coding is one such skill that truly enhances problem solving and critical thinking skill.

MTF: What would your advice be to parents and / or educators to help children build confidence and interest in the computer science fields?

Sakina: Coding is a skill that in turn builds qualities like confidence, resilience, and perseverance. Overall, introducing coding at a younger age, develops a growth mindset in kids that in turn reflects in everything else they pursue. Due to the depiction of coding and tech in pop culture, coding is viewed as 0s and 1s scrolling rapidly on the screen. Coding is way more creative than that. As parents and educators, it is important to emphasize that Coding is as much about creativity as it may be related to Math. A child’s interest can be tapped into and coding can be introduced as a fun way to solve a problem in their area of interest (music, art etc.) while keeping it fun. A great way to inculcate interest in coding is to find a mentor for them who is in the Computer Science and Coding field.

MTF: What made you decide to start your own computer science educational
company at Codinu?

Sakina: My journey to teaching kids to code started with teaching 8 girls during the Computer Science Education Week in 2014. As I continued to volunteer for Code.org and interacted with elementary and middle schools, I realized that there was a need to have more Computer Science teachers with CS majors and also, there was a need to have an out-of-school environment where students can engage, collaborate, and explore coding. My unique background, mixed with a passion for both education and coding, inspired me to ignite the passion for technology in young minds, empowering them to change the world with code.

MTF: Can you tell me more about Codinu? How has it grown since it was founded? What do you hope to achieve? What kinds of educational opportunities are offered?

Sakina: I launched Codinu to pursue my passion for education and coding and provide and promote an all-inclusive, fun, and collaborative environment for kids to learn to code. The first 5 years of Codinu have truly been a learning experience. We have collaborated with local businesses, park districts, libraries, and community centers to bring coding to kids locally. In 2018, we opened our first studio in Naperville and recently, we have seen a huge market in online coding classes so for 1 year, our classes are being offered online to students in various time zones within US and Canada. We are currently hiring more teachers and expanding our operations globally. We mainly offer coding classes in Scratch (for ages 7-12), Python, Java, and Web Development courses for ages 11 and up. All our courses have 3 or 4 levels with about 16-20 coding projects to be completed in each level. Students progress at their own pace and the instruction is very individualized. We have very qualified instructors with a CS major and a 4:1 student-instructor ratio making it a fun and engaging learning experience.

Codinu’s first anniversary with US Congressman Bill Foster in attendance.
Photo provided by Sakina Fakhruddin.

MTF: In your opinion, what are the most important attributes or characteristics that someone with a career in computer science must have to be successful?

Sakina: In my opinion, perseverance, grit and a “can-do” attitude are the most important
attributes that someone with a career in computer science must have. I think it applies to any field, but I say this for computer science mainly because it is a rapidly changing field. A willingness to learn and push through a setback makes it a lot easier.

MTF: Do you feel that your studies and experiences in college are helpful to you in your career now? How or why? What were most beneficial to you?

Sakina: Yes and no! There were many courses that I had to complete as a part of my undergrad pertaining to computer architecture or computer networks that I hardly ever used directly in a real-world setting. That’s also probably because those were not my areas of interest. On the other hand, coding, data structures and algorithms have been relevant since I first learned how to code in my high school (in the year 2000). I studied in an all-girls school and went to a Women’s Engineering college so that was an experience in itself. I have always had a strong belief that girls can code and pursue any kind of STEM degree. We had amazing experiences in hack-a-thons and other coding competitions that really boosted my confidence overall.

MTF: If you have anything else that you would like to add, please include it here.

I recently authored the A to Z Computer Science Activity Book, to introduce kids and adults to coding and computer science, one letter at a time. After the first lockdown due the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to write this book as was to give back to the community and offer something for families to do together. The book was published in April 2020. I offered over 750 free e-copies of the book within 2 weeks of publishing. I am really excited to share it with everyone reading this interview. The book is available on Amazon: bit.ly/AtoZComputerScienceActivityBook

I would like to sincerely thank Sakina for sharing your career story in computer engineering. It was a pleasure hear more about your field and to also know why and how you fell in love with the STEM fields. I was very excited to learn more about Codinu as well. It is wonderful that you are sharing your strengths and knowledge with the future generation of kids!

Steve Jobs once said, “Everyone should learn how to code, it teaches you how to think.” With the speedy advancements in technology, coding is becoming a necessary skill in the workplace. It is important for children to learn basic coding at minimum, especially in the STEM fields. Soon, I will share a review of Sakina’s book “A to Z Computer Science Activity Book” mentioned above in my “Reading STEM’s Learning Book Review Series“. I found this book to be a wonderful book to introduce various computer science concepts and vocabulary to children!

If you are inspired by Sakina’s story or interested in Codinu, be sure to follow her via these links to Instagram @codinuinc, Facebook, Twitter @iamsakinaf, and LinkedIn.

If you would like to share your story like Sakina, please contact me at momgineeringthefuture@gmail.com

-Kristen

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