Are Online Coding Resources Better Than School?

By Justin Boyle

Have you ever looked for coding resources online? Like looking for trees in a jungle, right? The online coding resource base is a vast and varied assortment of tips, tricks, hints, hacks and how-tos tailored for just about every skill level in the programming craft.

With the career value of code skills still on the rise, these resources are getting extra attention. Can they actually train you well enough to compete on the job market, against degree holders and experienced professionals? Is coding really that important in the first place? Let's take a look.

Coding really is that important

We'll get that out of the way first. It's likely that you don't go 10 waking minutes in an average day without executing at least a little piece of code. So much of the lives we lead today depend on multiple layers of this secret language that it's a wonder we don't teach it in preschool.

It's also the case that the supply and demand ratio for coders in the job market is skewed toward demand in an encouraging way. One of the most important elements in most tech startups is a talented programmer. Even tech services workers like technical writers can reap employability benefits from code literacy. Computer education nonprofit Code.org puts the number of unfilled coding jobs in the United States alone at a cool one million.

How online resources can help

Whether you're completely new to coding or you have dabbled and are looking to go deeper, a little searching can help you find the right tool to get you learning.

The emergence of massive open online classes (MOOCs) in online education can be a boon for aspiring programmers who learn best in a lecture-based class structure. Companies like Coursera, Udacity and edX are popular MOOC purveyors, and MIT OpenCourseWare lets students take classes at the tech school online for free.

Other options are out there for less conventional learners. Code/Racer, for instance, is a gamified take on code learning that uses instructional videos and step-by-step methods to teach you HTML, CSS and programming fundamentals.

There are also scholastic-style resources that focus on teaching practical code -- Codeacademy, Code School and Treehouse (where Code/Racer was created), to name a few. Some tout themselves as more effective than standard computer science education, which may be fact or it may be marketing copy. Hard to say, really, but some users have reported effective results.

But do they work?

Most of these resources haven't been around long enough to make a definitive call on whether or not they're a confirmed success, but for now they seem to be holding their own in the wild world of the Internet. Some stay afloat through grants or sponsorships while others charge a per class or per program fee for their services.

Differences definitely exist, some subtle and some quite large, between offbeat online coding resources and more traditional coursework. The current state of the market does suggest that code education from any source can enhance your competitiveness as an occupational candidate. With a little bit of research and some trial and error, it's almost certain that you can find the right tool to help you learn the high-value job skill au courant on any budget.


"Learn to Code for Free With These 10 Online Resources," Mashable, Zoe Fox, March 13, 2013, http://mashable.com/2013/03/13/learn-to-code-free/

"Learning How to Code is a Waste of Time," Forbes, Tara Tiger Brown, http://www.forbes.com/sites/tarabrown/2012/01/10/learning-how-to-code-is-a-waste-of-time/

"Why Everyone Should Learn to Code: An Event Recap," Slate, Madeline McSherry, March 29, 2013, http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/03/29/codecademy_hacker_school_why_everyone_should_learn_to_code.html

"Zuckerberg, Gates, Will.I.Am Encourage Students to Code," Mashable, Seth Fiegerman, February 26, 2013, http://mashable.com/2013/02/26/zuckerberg-dorsey-gates-coding/

Justin Boyle is a freelance writer and journalist in Austin, Texas.

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