SkilStak Coding Arts Helps Students of All Ages Learn Computer Programming
SkilStak is a unique private school located near Town Hall
in Cornelius, North Carolina (off exit
28), where we believe learning
to code Jedi-style is not only a fun, empowering skill but an art
form preparing students for life, college, and job opportunities.
Word of Mouth
Congratulations you found us! Though newspaper articles have
been written about SkilStak, we have done very little advertising
other than local sponsorships and volunteer work. Most students
have been referred by others or found SkilStak themselves. We get
downright metaphysical in our belief students are led to SkilStak
when the time is right. Is this the right time for you?
Small by Design
We like small. Even though our schools can enroll up to 400 students
and class sizes range from 3 to 20 students each student is grouped
with two other students and a teacher's assistant based on aptitude,
personality, and learning style. We select our teacher assistants
from among our most dedicated and exceptional students. TAs help
students understand having learned it the same way themselves and
are as effective (or better) at connecting and communicating. This
reinforces the TAs learning as well and gives them something for
their resumes and college applications later.
Our classrooms are designed with partial separation to help with
sound levels and so each subgroup feels like its own private class.
Core concepts are taught together briefly and then subgroups take
on the task of the day with their personal TAs. Course content is
available online for review and self-paced learning and the course
instructor is always available rotating through each class subgroup
checking on status and offering guidance for both students and
Courses are grouped by a general level and learning rate and subgroups
within them provide additional fine tuning to customize an educational
experience for each student personally. Class organization is fluid to
allow immediate changes when needed to better meet the needs of each
You won't find any way to register on this site and you never will.
That's because we want to meet you first. There is simply no better
way to understand your needs than to discuss them in person. You
can read more about this in the Meet Us section.
Every course is carefully selected from current and future technologies
that are real and relevant. In fact, special in development courses
are regularly offered at a discounted rate to students by invitation
as they collaborate with instructors to prepare and test new
technologies and new course materials for them. As a result our
curriculum and materials change much more quickly and organically
than most every other school, almost too quickly some students
lament, but this is simply the nature of technology and the pace
of change is only increasing. To help keep up, we use the same
systems to manage our code that we do to manage our course materials
so changes are immediate and on-going. This is the closest thing
to a text book SkilStak will ever have. The term "technology text
book" is practically an oxymoron today.
Learning to Learn, Just in Time
Anyone who has spent any amount of time in IT knows the most important
skill to learn is how to learn, often just in time to make the
deadline. When combined with a solid foundation in logical thinking
and creative problem solving just-in-time learning allows those in
IT to quickly digest any relevant technology, understand it, and
apply it productively.
While SkilStak is not associated with Montessori, we have always
shared philosophical and pedagogical preferences. The biggest of
these are independence, accountability, fostering internal drive,
and ownership of one's own learning. The loose structure and emphasis
on mastery over gold-star false progress at SkilStak demonstrates
our commitment to these principles. You won't find any numbers in
any of our courses and you won't find any grades. You either know
it or you don't. How you learned it is irrelevant.
Mastery is measured by completion of Prep achievements, SkilStak
Fundamentals Certification, (which is free to students and must be
renewed every two years), and attained through skill-based projects
and activities, student-led presentations and workshops, and teaching
others, which often grows into rebate opportunities to work as a
student teacher assistant on staff. Students don't move on until
they are ready and they know they are ready.
Students, parents, and instructors will monitor fluctuations in
mastery through our custom learning management system, which is
currently being developed by our instructors and senior students.
Every Fundamentals, Core, and Pro course is taught by instructors
with more than five years professional programming experience.
Code and Play™, Code and Prep™, and some camps are lead and taught
by trained adults over 18. Most classes have one or more experienced
teacher assistants who are selected from our most exceptional
students to maintain our 3-to-1 student to mentor ratio.
While we support and assist traditional educational institutions
we believe the best way to learn and teach is by using the
same workflows and tools professionals and college computer science
Early Employment Opportunities
We believe strongly in helping students work as soon as possible
in positions they choose and love. Teacher's assistants are hired
from exceptional current students and are paid in rebates to tuition.
Some motivated students have paid their entire tuition with these work
opportunities while learning valuable non-technical skills in the
process. Our TAs have started code clubs in their own schools and
community organizations and been invited to work elsewhere as well.
Some prefer coding projects for SkilStak including building
Minecraft worlds, updating the web site, system administration tools
and more. Over $2000 was paid to SkilStak students in 2015.
This might not seem like much, but we are proud to say our students
literally helped build our school.
For our senior students we have our SkilStak Pro Incubator program
focused entirely preparing and creating opportunities for students in
the professional enterprise, higher education, and freelance
entrepreneurship. Projects, portfolios and professionals we call
it as we work to fill out students' Linkedin profiles and resumes.
Recruiters and professionals from the tech community are regularly
invited to visit, share, and mentor Pro students and occasionally
take them on field trips to local tech conferences, meetups, and
on-site tours of local tech companies.
SkilStak Pro students have also done paid work for free-lance
customers while attending SkilStak. Our instructors provide that
needed safety net bolstering the confidence of students as they
create their own sites and apps for themselves or customers. We are
proud to say some of our students have created their own LLCs and
partnered with SkilStak to take flight on their own teaching Summer
camps and more. Our greatest mission is to prepare an army of
qualified, personable technology professionals instilled with an
innovative and entrepreneurial spirit and mind (and to hire as many
of them as we can ourselves as part of our
We believe strongly in promoting education where ever it is happening
including public and private schools, local Parks and Rec, scouting
programs, even organizations others would see as 'competitors'. We
encourage anyone to do whatever they can to join the education
effort and will do whatever we can to promote it including giving
free semesters as raffles to local schools, providing external
intern and mentoring opportunities, participating and sponsoring
local education meetups, and sending our SkilStak SWAT™ (Skilled
With Awesome Technology™) team to local STEM nights. In fact,
several of our students and parents have founded code clubs on
their own. Need help? Let us know.
What Do You Want to Learn?
Our main offerings are organized by tiers or categories priced by
semesters, which are 16 weeks of 90 minute classes.
Code and Play™ - $240
Code and Play gently introduces students to programming in a camp-like
environment. Each class has two parts: code and play. Students
spend the first half of every class learning in
(Clan: SkilStak Coding
CheckIO and other fun educational sites
dedicated to learning code. These are great ways to learn programming
that anyone can take home with them. This gives students and parents
something fun to work with outside of class and combines well with
homeschooling, afterschool, and Summer camp programs.
The second half of Code and Play is usually why students sign up,
to play Minecraft on our special SkilStak servers where each class
gets a server and can use special tools and powers like World Edit
that they normally could not use without a subscription to a public
server like Hypixel™ or Mineplex™. In fact, our Minecraft servers
use the same technology as these popular sites and students can
eventually learn to run their own servers.
Games counter frustration and keep students motivated. Students
learn best when they care about why they are learning the skills.
We've had students go from academic probation in their public school
to the honor roll because they learned to associate math and science
with the skills needed to make a really good game.
Minecraft is very educational with a rich command-line that
strongly encourages kids to learn to type, navigate their command-line
history and more. Some students actually type faster than their
parents after playing Minecraft a lot for a semester or two.
The camp-like atmosphere and low-cost of Code and Play™ makes is
great 'extra' course for students enrolled in other courses —
including older students — that want more time at SkilStak
to have fun. Code and Play is also the first course most Teacher
Assistants will work with.
Code and Prep™ - $400
Code and Prep is the next step. Students are encouraged to move from
Play to Prep as soon as possible but not before they are ready. There
is no need to wait for a semester to end, for example.
Each Prep class is split roughly into three parts: code, prep, and play.
During the code portion students have the option of coding online
as they did in Play facing the harder upper levels. During prep new
essential skills are practiced over and over so students have no
problem logging into the Linux command line, using vi to edit files,
and understanding how to use GitHub basics. During play time students
have the option of playing Minecraft as in Play, or creating art
and assembling any of several custom pre-made SkilStak games with
in a game they are motivated to want more and often ask, "How do I
..." which naturally motivates them to move forward to Fundamentals.
Fundamentals - $600
Everyone eventually takes Fundamentals. Students master programming
are so ubiquitous and contrast so well. While not technically a
programming language HTML is the language of the web and absolutely
essential. Knowing these languages is as important as knowing to
speak English in the modern tech world.
The fancy term for this is polyglot programming and you will
probably have a hard time finding any school in the world offering
programming instruction in this way, which is unfortunate. Our
unique polyglot approach provides a valuable contrast as well as
instills confidence in students to learn any language they may
encounter later. Too often programmers develop strong language
biases early in their careers that hobble them later. Fundamentals
combats this in the best way.
All programming is done in class on Mac and Linux systems from the
command line using the professional
vim editor. skilstak.sh is a
remote Linux host students can access from home or school using
ssh, another professional tool. Students can also use our Raspberry
Pi image or download our SkilStak-On-A-Stick Linux virtual machine
to run on whatever computer they have at home. We strongly believe
students do not need educational substitutes for real tools and
technologies. Students are initially exposed to these technologies
in Code and Prep.
Programming is useless without data. In Fundamentals we cover
reading and writing data in different formats (JSON, SQL, etc.)
from different sources (file system, web apis, etc.).
Although we have fun making games, interactive stories and adventures,
and fun web pages in Fundamentals this course has only the last 10
minutes for play time. Fundamentals is a serious programming course
and students will likely decide if programming is really for them
during this course. Like Chemistry 101 is for many would-be doctors
or Physics 101 for would be astrophysicists and engineers, Fundamentals
is hard enough to serve as a filter for students who may wish to
choose other career paths later. Students will have learned
computational thinking before Fundamentals, but Fundamentals is
designed to master programming and provide the independence required
for Core and Pro courses. Chasing down missing brackets and semicolons
isn't for everyone. Better to find that out as soon as possible.
Core - $600
SkilStak currently offers the following Core courses for those that
have completed Fundamentals (listed roughly in order of popularity):
- Game - Game development these days is not just about games
but also about simulation. This course focuses on creating mobile
HTML5 game apps with the PHSC stack (a term we coined referring
to Phaser.io, Harpjs, Surge.sh, and Cordova/CocoonJS) that can be played
from the web or on mobile devices. The same games assembled in
Code and Prep can be further customized in this course. This
course does not include 3D game development as would be done in
Unity, which is something Pro students can further specialize in.
- Linux - Linux on DigitalOcean.com or Raspberry Pi is a great way to learn
hands-on Linux System Administration as well as basics in electronics
and real robotics. This includes learning POSIX shell command-line
scripting, imaging and formatting disks, installing packages,
understanding different Linux distributions, and creating and using
virtual machine images with Virtual Box. Students who complete
Linux are eligible for SkilStak work supporting and expanding
our infrastructure as well as further Ethical Hacking specialization.
Our own SkilStak Professional Linux Certification is also something
our Pro students are helping to put together.
- Engineering - Like to make stuff? Then this is the
specialization you want. While Engineering primarily deals with
Raspberry Pi™ we also work with Arduino™ and do modeling with
SOLIDWORKS™. This specialization requires proficiency from
Fundamentals in Python and includes some basic Electrical Engineering
diagramming as well.
- Web - Modern web technologies are so ubiquitous and powerful
there is a good chance your favorite mobile app is actually a
hybrid web app. HTML5 changed everything and even four years later
the demand for modern web developers is overwhelming. Whether you
want to make cool sites, apps, games, or get a job for a company
that needs these skills, one thing is for sure, they are core.
The Web course focuses on using pre-processors such as Harp and
static hosting such as Surge.sh and hybrid tools such as PhoneGap
and Cordova to create sites and native web apps.
- Go - Golang is an incredibly fast and approachable language
used critically by many huge and innovative organizations, (Google,
Docker, Digital Ocean, DropBox, Canonical, 10gen, etc.) to create
commands and micro-services. Go is compatible with and as fast
as C, and was created as a pet-project by leading computer scientists
in the world while at Google. This course is required for any student wishing to work on SkilStak internal
development projects. We also host free monthly Go
meetups for the community
The SkilStak Core courses provide a firm foundation for further
specialization as students progress, by invitation, to SkilStak
Pro - $600
Another option for those completing Fundamentals is SkilStak Pro,
sometimes referred to as Projects, Portfolios, and Professionals.
While priced the same as the Core courses, this by-invitation course
is focused on assisting experienced, motivated students to create
line items for their LinkedIn profiles and resumes leading to direct
job opportunities and college acceptance. Each student is required
to have an ongoing project and regularly report on it to the rest
of the class. Every student is required to participate in every
other student's project in some way. This results in eight projects
for resumes and college applications with 'project lead' listed for
at least one of the projects.
Based on the nature of Pro, classes are strictly limited to eight
students. Pro classes have no TAs. Each student is expected to
support the others as needed in addition to the full attention of
the Pro instructor.
Pro students are strongly encouraged to bring their own laptops,
preferably Mac or Linux more as a matter of creating productive
development habits. We have more than enough laptops, workstations,
monitors, 3D cutter as well as several more high-end
graphic systems (Mac Pros, Wacom tablets, etc.) suitable for 3D
modeling, digital art, and other development.
Pro students have access to our extensive tech book and electronics
library where sensors and robotic parts of different kinds can
be tested and explored. Minimal soldering and other electronics
development tools are available, but the focus remains primarily
In addition to the regular SkilStak Pro instructor, (always an
industry professional with more than five years programming
experience), we invite technologists and recruiters from different
professions and industries to regularly speak and mentor. This
includes CTO's of large corporations, Directors of Technology for
large colleges, local successful entrepreneurs, local tech and other
industry recruiters, and other tech industry insiders who are willing
and anxious to share their wisdom even take the Pros on an occasional
field trip to a tech conference.
Classes rotate around specific topics requested by the students and
focus on specializations that normally cannot be covered in the
Core courses and include 3D modeling, printing and cutting; maker
projects, robotics, and electronics; video and audio equipment;
Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Premier; Native App Development; C,
C++, C# and other languages; ethical hacking, and more. For some
activities there will be fees for the materials used (3D printing,
solder, sensors, etc.) which can be paid with SkilBux.
In addition, Pros can come to SkilStak any time the school is
open based on availability. This provides many more hours than
other students to work on their project and receive periodic guidance
anytime during the week they can come (and extra space is available).
SkilStak Pro is a professional space and assumes a high-level of
trust and responsibility. Not everyone gets an invite and not
everyone will keep that invite. Like Google there will be a lot
of fun and perks, but like Google there are certain expectations.
We want students to mature and learn what it means to have fun while
remaining professional. Visiting professionals and recruiters
should observe that even our youngest SkilStak Pros are skilled,
mature and — most of all — employable.
While we are a technology company we strongly believe in balance,
which is particularly challenging for the geeks among us. Yoga is
a natural compliment to the intense amount of sitting that comes with
any technology profession. Yoga teaches students to be aware of
their body, how to code in different positions, and when and why
to take breaks as they embark in marathon coding sessions. These
skills help students be even more successful in their jobs and
lives than simply knowing how to code would ever make them.
Yoga classes are held at Community Yoga
about five blocks North from our Cornelius location. Times appear
on our calendar. Cost, payment and registration
is all managed through Community Yoga. SkilStak has no relation
with Community Yoga other than to promote their program and encourage
our students participation. Students receive SkilBux for participating
SkilStak instructors, mentors and teacher assistants are right there
doing Yoga with the rest of the students making it a great 'recess'
from coding, homework, and other hectic demands on students' time
during the week. Ashtanga yoga (originally a combination of traditional
Hatha yoga with British calisthenics) was actually created specifically
to deal with the energy and needs of young men and has since grown
into much more. Yoga also makes you a wicked skater, SUPer, or
martial artist if that's your thing. (So yeah, yoga's not just for
The best way to help you decide how to start is, you guessed
it, to talk to us in person so we can get a feel for your interests
and aptitude. Here's a link to the current weekly
to give you some idea.
All our courses can be entered at any time depending on the applicant
and course availability. Fundamentals and Core are the hardest to
enter mid-semester because the material is more scheduled than Play,
Prep, and Pro. Partial semester payments are pro-rated.
At SkilStak we have done a lot to create an extremely fun and intense
learning environment and curriculum for a particular kind of learner,
which isn't for everyone. SkilStak is a place where the right
students want to be, not where they have to be. For this
reason, and because of the high demand for SkilStak courses, the
application process is selective and often involves a waiting list.
Who Can Apply
Anyone can apply but SkilStak tends to attract students that don't
seem to fit in elsewhere or who are very bored with their current
school. Most of us who work and attend SkilStak fall proudly on the
spectrum between geek and nerd. Though we do sometimes accept
adult students the style and most course materials are designed
with younger students in mind (roughly 8 to 18).
Applications are judged based on maturity, aptitude, dedication,
and fit and SkilStak reserves the right to accept only those
applicants we feel will benefit and contribute the most.
An application process starts with a conversation. Call 704-310-6778
or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Someone from SkilStak staff will explain
things, answer questions, and ensure you understand where to find more
information including pricing and expectations.
We take a highly personalized approach to registration and enrollment,
no forms to fill out or buttons to click. This surprises some since we
are a technology company but we feel the human connection is critical
— especially during enrollment. Nothing should get in the way.
Schedule a Free Audit
If after speaking everyone still agrees SkilStak looks like something
the applicant might want then we set up a free audit. This gives
students a chance to see what it is like here, what is expected
of students, ask questions from other students, and let staff
evaluate the student. Sometimes more than one audit is appropriate.
If the applicant is excited about beginning and receives staff
approval the student can register in any available classes or put
their name on the waiting list. Priority is given to currently
enrolled and returning students. The process of registration involves
first sending an email confirming the desire to register and for
which courses followed by payment in person or by invoice. This email
and payment means you accept the school policies.
The only information required to register a new student is the following:
- Name, phone and email of responsible party
- Full name and birthday of student
- A Google Gmail/Plus account and password* for the student
- Optionally a Minecraft account and password* for the student
We create a GitHub account and password for every student
with their full name so it can easily be found with Google or by
recruiters, (who often find new hires by searching for content in
* Password information is optionally stored encrypted at the
school to prevent in-class delays looking up forgotten login
information. Any student who forgets a password even once is required
to store it this way.
Congratulations you got to the bottom! Maybe you just skipped past
everything *wink*. In case you haven't noticed we expect students
and parents to read, a lot. This wall-of-text web page is designed
this way on purpose. Reading is a core career skill any programmer,
technologist, or responsible human will every learn —
especially in this 140-character, TL;DR;, video-centric world.
Today, those who read accurately and quickly will dominate their
domains. These are the distinguished students (and parents) we want
We know everyone is busy. You still need to read, this site, mailing
list notifications, and lots of material on the Internet related
to what you are learning. Google is your main textbook. If you find
reading painful or bothersome SkilStak is likely not for you. Start
your reading practice today by making sure you read all this page
before calling the number below. And yes, we will know if you did