Cracking the Code

Photos by Kamala Kirk and courtesy of Code Ninjas San Marino

When Alan Quan drove his 5-year-old son to Culver City for Minecraft camp last summer, the time spent driving in traffic was taking its toll, so he started to look for similar kids’ activities that were closer to where his family lived in Arcadia — but to his surprise, he couldn’t find anything.

“One day we were searching online and Code Ninjas popped up,” Quan said. “We thought the franchise was very interesting so we looked into it further, then one thing led to another and here we are.”

Quan partnered with his wife, Queena Wei, and her brother, Roger, to open Code Ninjas San Marino. The store celebrated its grand opening in August. Code Ninjas offers game-based coding education for kids ages 7 to 14 through specialized afterschool and weekend programs. Participants learn to code by playing and building their own video games, creating their own website, programming drones and more.

The program is based on a ninja-themed nine belt curriculum, where students are instructed by “senseis” in the “dojo” and make progress by learning math, logic and problem solving. Every belt teaches JavaScript as the base programming language and parents can see the results as kids move through the curriculum.

“Every level gets harder and more challenging,” said Quan. “The goal by the end, when kids reach the black belt, is to be able to start doing a lot more with coding, as well as focus on building applications.”

“Our nine belt program is excellent in game development, which kids really respond well to,” added Nathan Allen, the center’s director. “We are committed to meeting the different interests of all our kids while still focusing on those core coding skills that we teach. Kids are way more in touch with technology these days and coding really allows them to engage with that to build confidence, which will transfer to other science and math classes.”

For flexible year-round learning, Code Ninjas San Marino offers a drop-in program where kids can come by twice a week for an hour-long session. 

“We recommend it so that kids don’t get fatigued, yet they’re still making progress and retaining what they learn,” Allen pointed out. “It’s a model that works for schools and we’re able to encourage the kids without making them too tired. As soon as they get onto a computer, kids walk away smiling. I can’t remember the last time I saw a kid walk away from a session saying they didn’t have a fun time.”

“There’s no set time that parents have to drop their kids off,” added Quan. “They can come any time between 2 and 7 p.m. during the week, drop their kids off and do errands for an hour. That flexibility is really important for parents and they love it.”

For children who are curious or unsure about coding, they can come by and try a 30-minute free game building session. There are 10 different games they can choose from and most kids end up completing a game during that time. The most important thing is that youth have a good time while learning.

One of the unique aspects of Code Ninjas San Marino is that the dojo is a parent-free zone. Parents can observe their kids’ activities through the large glass windows, but kids get the freedom to be creative, interact and experiment while under the supervision of their sensei.

“We want the kids to be able to challenge themselves so they’re not always looking to their parents for help,” said Quan. “They’re working with other kids in the dojo and they’re figuring things out on their own, which is a really important part of the program that we’re focused on.”

“One of the biggest draws to this program is that all kids can relate to screen time and games,” noted Roger. “It’s not just about sitting in a classroom and learning to write lines of code. The core concept is still learning a life skill, and what’s really important to us is that kids come here and have fun.”

In the near future, Code Ninjas San Marino is also anticipating the addition of a junior program for children between the ages of four and seven. At the end of the day, they encourage youth from all backgrounds to not be intimidated by coding, as it’s something that everyone can benefit from learning.

“Coding is actually more simplified than we think,” said Queena. “It’s about problem solving and analytical skills. Here, kids can showcase their creativity, be independent, and become the problem solvers of the world. We’re really happy about being able to share this with the community and neighboring areas. We’re really excited to be the first Code Ninjas center here in San Gabriel Valley.”

Code Ninjas San Marino is located at 8204 Huntington Dr. Unit A in San Gabriel. It is open Monday – Friday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call (626) 531-0911 or visit 

Code Ninjas San Marino Business Spotlight appeared in the print edition of the South Pasadena Review on 9.27.19. Support Local Business.

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Kamala Kirk is a contributing writer for the South Pasadena Review, San Marino Tribune and The Quarterly Magazine. Kamala formerly served as Managing Editor of Beauty Launchpad Magazine, West Coast Editor of American Salon Magazine, and Digital Editor for E! Online. A native of Hermosa Beach, California, she is a proud USC Trojan and pug mom to Wrigley the Pug (@pugofpasadena).