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Coding for Dummies with Codecademy

Zach Sims did not know how to code, or at least, not very well. So what did he do? He used Codecademy. In fact, he…

Zach Sims did not know how to code, or at least, not very well. So what did he do? He used Codecademy. In fact, he helped create it and then used it to improve his programming skills. Don’t worry, though, it really is a website for novices.

The Codecademy website, which has since garnered several million in funding, was founded last year and provides an easy and fun solution to those looking to learn that Holy Grail of the geek world: coding. Even if, like me, you’ve never programmed before, Codecademy really helps dumb things down. Rather than just reading chapters of writing about code, you’ll be trying everything right as you’re reading about it. Many instructors advocate this kind of interactive learning and Codecademy seems to be proof that it really does work. As anyone who has learned a second language will tell you, the best way to become fluent is not to read about how to speak it, but just to speak it. Same principle.

On-boarding new users to the world of coding is one of the hardest parts and Codecademy wastes no time. On the homepage itself, you can begin lesson one by following the prompt in the text box (just your name in quotes) and you’ve started coding basic JavaScript! As you progress thorough the lessons, Codecademy will award you points and badges and will prompt you to sign-up for an account once you get to lesson three. You can keep studying without registering, but you’ll be able to keep track of your progress with an account, and it only takes a moment to register with your email or Facebook account. Once you’ve registered, you’ll be sent straight back to the lesson.

But, as anyone who has spent much time on the site can attest to, Codecademy has had one big problem: there just aren’t that many lessons available. And the ones that are on there sometimes seem to be moving too quickly, without many practice exercises to explore and reinforce what you’ve just learned. In my use of the website, I started off fairly confidently, only to become totally bewildered once the more advanced lessons started. For example, I learned about variables pretty early on but a couple of lessons later, I was too busy trying to remember where the semi-colon went to recall what they were. However, Codecademy has introduced new tools to rectify problems like this. Now you can now click on certain keywords (like variable!) to jump to the lesson where that concept was explained, in case (like me) you need a refresher. Also, courses in HTML and CSS are coming soon, followed by Python and Ruby, with the goal of helping users create their own websites.

“All the learning is ultimately geared towards helping be able to build something from scratch,” Sims explained. “So to get there, there are lessons (the instructional courses that teach new concepts) and projects (small applied lessons that show how concepts can be applied in different contexts) that all work together to teach the user about programming. At the end of a bunch of lessons and projects are the challenges. This is when our users are asked to build something like a blackjack game, or to build a program to scrape data off the internet.”

The end goal is to build a platform that will attract not only novices but also advanced users, who may use it as a refresher course, and encourage them to write their own courses, which in turn will attract more novice users. According to Sims, Codecademy is both a site where people can come to learn courses, as well as a platform for more skilled users to share their knowledge, so everybody wins.

While there seems to be a surplus of materials that teach programming, from books to YouTube clips, Codecademy seems to be the first website of its kind. For those zealous users who really want to make sure they’ve got it down, there are websites like Coderbyte that offer coding challenges and competitions and can be used as supplementary to Codecademy. With teaching projects such as Khan Academy and OpenCourseWare taking root, it seems that education is ready for a shakeup and, as its over one million users will attest, Codecademy seems to be the way to go.

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