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Retiree Finds New Life in Technology, Teaching

When Mark Freedkin retired about five years ago from a lifetime of working on computers, he got so bored that he tried being an Uber driver, which he says wasn’t intellectually stimulating.

Then he stumbled across The Coder School, a franchiser founded in 2014 by Silicon Valley resident Hansel Lynn. The company now has about 57 franchises, for which Freedkin and his senior partner, William Tungpagasit, own six—located in Irvine, Mission Viejo, Pleasanton, San Ramon, Walnut Creek and Los Gatos—that generate about $2.5 million in annual revenue.

“I have built that franchise to a tie for No. 1 [in the Coder School portfolio] in terms of enrollment and revenue,” Freedkin said.

The total investment necessary to begin operation of a franchised Coder School business runs from $75,250 to $150,650, including a $29,950 payment to the Palo Alto-based parent company, state records indicate.

Aircraft to TVs

Originally from Chicago, Freedkin started coding BASIC and FORTRAN in high school in the 1970s. After earning a bachelor’s in industrial engineering and computer science from the University of Illinois, he moved to Southern California in 1978 and nowadays quips, “I’m never going back.”

He’s worked as a technical program manager for nearly 40 years at both small startups to Fortune 500 companies such as Hughes Aircraft, and counts a stint at Irvine-based Vizio Holding Corp.

Teaching Thinking

The Coder School is an after-school program where students, generally from ages 7 to 18, learn not only coding, but also problem solving.

“We’re teaching them how to think,” Freedkin said.

A monthly course starts at $120, which Freedkin points out is $33 a class, up to $260 a month.

Public school teachers often lack training on how to code, he said. By contrast, the Coding School’s instructors have computer science degrees or are working towards them, he said. Also, the ratio is about two students for every instructor.

Students have included “an extremely gifted 5-year-old” and a 44-year-old doctor who learned alongside his daughter.

“He wrote the code to make his own medical practice far more efficient,” Freedkin said.

Freedkin says coding is a “learned skill, just like learning to drive an automobile.”

“Some of these youngsters have an amazing capacity. They’ve grown up with the technology. It’s an amazing process to watch.”

During the pandemic, the school shifted to online teaching, and it now has customers from outside of Orange County, including Austin, Salt Lake City and Taiwan. Earlier this month, it reopened its Irvine location and doubled its size to 1,700 square feet at the Heritage Plaza Shopping Center.

In recent years, there has been discussion about coding being taken over by artificial intelligence programs.

Freedkin isn’t too worried.

“AI is artificial. Somebody still must do the rules. It’s also not all that intelligent. There will be plenty of opportunities. There will always be a need for coders.”

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Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan has been a journalist for 40 years. He spent a decade in Latin America covering wars, narcotic traffickers, earthquakes, and business. His resume includes 15 years at Bloomberg News where his headlines and articles sometimes moved the market caps of companies he covered by hundreds of millions of dollars. His articles have been published worldwide, including the New York Times and the Washington Post; he's appeared on CNN, CBC, BBC, and Bloomberg TV. He was awarded a Kiplinger Fellowship at The Ohio State University.
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