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Tyler Menezes of Student RND. (Photo courtesy Tyler Menezes)
Tyler Menezes of Student RND. (Photo courtesy Tyler Menezes)

In 21 cities this weekend, kids will be inspired to fall in love with coding as part of CodeDay, an annual event that allows student programmers to mingle with artists, musicians, actors, and mentors and build games and apps.

StudentRND is the force behind CodeDay, and Tyler Menezes is the executive director of the Seattle-based nonprofit. He’s also GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week.

Menezes, 25, said that he “played the traditional startup model” by moving to San Francisco in 2012, attending Y Combinator, and raising a bunch of money. But he says it wasn’t for him.

“I eventually realized I disliked the get-big-fast-by-any-means culture, and moved back,” Menezes said.

Tyler Menezes
(Photo courtesy of Tyler Menezes)

And at StudentRND, he’s become empowered by education rather than the notion of getting rich or famous.

“Coding is a revolutionary, accessible and empowering technology, but most students don’t realize it,” Menezes said. “With nothing more than a computer and Google, everyone can build something which changes the world, and almost everyone has access to a computer (if not their own, then through libraries and schools).

“Unfortunately, formal education isn’t set up to show this. We want to make sure all students realize that tremendous opportunity, which is why we’re putting everything we have behind reaching new students from underserved backgrounds in the U.S. for the next few years.”

Menezes interest in education even extends to his role co-teaching a tech entrepreneurship-focused class at Seattle’s Garfield High School. And when he’s not doing that, his hobbies include learning to fly planes, hydroponic plant growing, and using Linux.

Learn more about GeekWire’s Geek of the Week, Tyler Menezes:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I’m the executive director of a tech education nonprofit. You don’t get rich or famous working for a nonprofit, but we can solve problems that fly under-the-radar of pure-profit initiatives. If you asked most tech investors who we were, they wouldn’t know our name, but if you asked a student from a low-income school in Auburn, Phoenix, or Boca Raton, there’s a decent chance they could tell you a story about an impact it made on their life. That’s why I do it.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Despite tremendous effort to provide CS education in high schools, a lot of our partner schools have been finding that most students still don’t want to learn to code; they’re being placed in coding classes either because there’s free space, or the school wants to promote coding literacy. It’s good basic job skills, but these students aren’t going on to technical careers, and this is a problem that disproportionately affects low-income schools.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “One of the most important things to me is diversity of interests. I come up with more useful ideas from learning to pick locks or cooking than I do from reading Hacker News.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “For a while, I tried to live without my smartphone, and I really could do it … almost. Except for Google Maps. Smartphone maps are one of the most underrated inventions of recent times. It’s crazy to think that, when I was in high school, I’d actually print out paper maps.”

Tyler Menezes' work station at home.
Tyler Menezes’ work station at home.

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “My favorite place to work is The Office at Ada’s, a hidden gem of a co-working space with a year-long waitlist for a monthly desk. At only 12 people, it’s small (hence the long waitlist), but as a fully-remote team, the closeness of such a small group means a lot.

“I also spend a lot of time working at home. I have an Advantage 2 (aka ‘a weird ergonomic keyboard’) from Kinesis Ergonomics up in Bothell, and I sit on a fitness ball solely because I like to fidget while working.”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Remove email from your phone, you don’t need them! I’ve never had a problem without it; everyone from our staff to our partners instinctively call about real emergencies.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Arch Linux with i3 (although I run Windows for work).”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Kirk.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time Machine (has anyone here watched ‘Primer‘?)”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Kinda happened; we gave most of it back.”

I once waited in line for … “30 minutes at the Wandering Goose in Seattle. I ordered a $2 cookie.”

Tyler Menezes
Tyler Menezes, right, and James Newman of Megaprocessor.com, who built a room-sized microprocessor to explain how they work. Menezes visited him in Cambridge over the summer.

Your role models: “David Merfield, the guy who runs blot.im, a tiny blogging platform that does something pretty well, makes money, and has no wild dreams of being the next unicorn. I think too many people believe that it’s important to build something huge. I’d rather build something that makes a big difference for a small class of people.”

Greatest game in history: “‘The Witness‘ (Jonathan Blow).”

Best gadget ever: “Amazon Echo.”

First computer: “I only remember that I was 8, and it ran DOS.”

Current phone: “BLU Vivo Air LTE. $130 off-contract, thinnest phone on the market, and it’s lasted 2 years.”

Favorite app: “ReachNow.”

Favorite cause: “StudentRND ;)”

Most important technology of 2016: “I think the history books will say CRISPR.”

Most important technology of 2018: “Self-driving cars.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “For people interested in building a stronger startup scene: Let’s use our strengths. We’re not San Francisco. But Seattle has a diverse community with reasonable work-life balance. If you’re looking for ‘the next big thing,’ take advantage of that: explore new interests and meet people outside the ‘tech scene.'”

Website: Tyler Menezes

Twitter: @tylermenezes

LinkedIn: Tyler Menezes

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