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Silicon Valley’s secret sauce: Code Army marches on (Part II)

This article is written by Zafrul Noordin and first appeared in Digital News Asia on Jul 16, 2012. Read the original release here.

  • Being in the Valley changes your whole perspective on what’s possible
  •  Close to 50 companies signed up for beta, product targeted to launch only in September

Code Army wants to use the concept of Gamification [the use of game design principles in applications outside of games] to solve the problem of talent shortage that companies face. Here, in the second of two parts, its ‘commander-in-chief’ describes how his team went to the heart of the tech world, and the challenges it faced.
 
I arrived in San Francisco on June 2. I came early to learn and understand the pulse of Silicon Valley. It helped that my good friend and classmate from St. John Institution was already here (he has a startup called QuickSchools.com). From the moment I said “Hi,” he’s been doing everything to convince me to move over to the Valley.
 
I have to say, being in the Valley changes your perspective. Suddenly all your standards just jump a couple of notches. And actually going to the Google, Facebook and Apple campuses puts everything in perspective. It’s possible. The dream might just come true!
 
I immediately fell in love with Palo Alto and Stanford. I cannot explain it. You’ll just have to come here. My affair with Stanford started from New York but did not take off. She’s demanding. Will only ‘layan’ (entertain) me if I showed up in front of her doorstep. True to their word, once I was in Palo Alto, they agreed to meet with me after our G summit conference.
 
On June 16, two other members from my team arrived in SF (pic right, Ying-Wei Toh and second from right Ramin Vakilian), and I moved to SF from where I was in Palo Alto. We had a conference to prepare for and to debut Code Army. Plus, I had to give the city of San Francisco a fair chance. We checked out the pulse of the city and compared it Palo Alto – co-working spaces, the community and lifestyle. But I think New York City has better energy.
 
I was ‘60% excited and 40% nervous.’ If the market spat out Code Army, that would be a gut-wrenching feeling but I was prepared. However, June 20, the first day of the conference, was an amazing day. We had such a reaction to Code Army that we could not believe.
 
We had companies ready to sign up as clients, saying things like: “Get me on your beta, I want to use Code Army now.” My favorite comment was “You mean to tell me that you just got off the plane from Malaysia with that idea? Are you serious? Wow ....”
 
We’ve got close to 50 companies signed up for the beta, and our product is only targeted to launch in September, 2012. Some of the companies that want to give us a try include:
 
Tata Consulting: They have about 450,000 employees, do about 50,000 outsourcing jobs a month. Told us they have not seen anyone use Game Mechanics the way we do. I liked their statement “Do you know who we are? We’re from Tata Consulting.”
 

Microsoft: They are probably the biggest fans. They have got 60,000 startups in their BizSpark program and really want Code Army to be an option for all startups to find talent to build their products. Also said something interesting: “You guys looking for funding? We can help you out if you're interested.”
 
[We’ve had the most post-conference meetings with them. We went to their Mountain View campus, discussed some things and they made some tempting suggestions: Build Code Army’s mobile app on a Windows 8 platform, and piggyback on Microsoft’s Windows8 launch. If Code Army does well, it could potentially be the featured app in all Microsoft stores across the United States!)
 
So, we ended the day feeling on top of the world. The journey’s still a long one, but it was a great start. We allowed ourselves to celebrate the moment.
 
Staying grounded
 
Fresh from that excitement, June 22 threw me back into my ‘40% excitement, 60% nervousness’ mode. It was to be my first meeting with Stanford. I was meeting a rock star of a professor. What the hell is a Malaysian uni drop-out going to say to this award-winning guy that’s known as ‘The Math Guy’?
 
I was expecting a tough guy to grill me with questions. It was the opposite. Keith Devlin was probably the nicest guy I’ve met.
 
I explained the concept of Code Army. He somehow knew to ask one fundamental question. I gave him a similar fundamental answer. And it was done! “Let’s figure out how to get you to Stanford. You have a unique situation, which is giving me a slight headache. But that’s my problem, I’ll sort it out. You just come to Stanford.”
 
I couldn’t believe my ears. I asked him “What next?” His answer was “Just submit your resume and a 200-word write-up about Code Army, nothing more. I won’t read anything more.”
 
Was I dreaming? Microsoft and Stanford in the same week? Only in Silicon Valley. It only happens here. That’s the secret sauce of the valley.
 
But I am keeping my feet on the ground, as things are still only verbal. But I’ve met with Stanford again and will be meeting with them on Thursday [July 5 as I write this] before I fly back to Malaysia. Hopefully I’ll be able to lock things down and have a big smile on my face on the 20-hour flight home.
 
While I was in the Valley, I found out about Boston, and the fact that there’s 50 colleges and universities there. I was wondering “Where am I going to find a virtual workforce to service 60,000 startups? I don't think Malaysia can handle it.”
 
Coincidently, my quickschools.com friends just hired a team from Boston and were travelling there to connect with them. So I just went with the flow and bought a ticket to go with them and just absorbed everything in, including sitting at this café now, putting my thoughts together and hearing a real buzz in my ears.
 
Just imagine, Harvard, MIT and Boston University are all just a stone’s throw from each other and walking distance from where I am seated now. Crazy amount of talent here.
 
Microsoft wanted to connect me with their recently opened NERD or New England Research and Development centre, but everyone’s away on holiday for the 4th of July, Independence Day in the United States.
 
So just putting myself into the ultra-competitive but also ultra-helpful US environment has helped me figure out where I’ll get my startups [thank you Microsoft!] to put jobs into Code Army. And, also where I’m going to get talent to sign up and form Code Army’s virtual team [Boston area grads].
 
The only thing left to do is to get out of beta, and launch Code Ar.my to the world. I purposely named Code Ar.my (with a .my) to remind everyone this is a Malaysian product.
 
Born in Malaysia. Bred in Malaysia. Going global by way of the US.
 
Zafrul Noordin is the commander-in-chief of Codearmy.com

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