Codecademy: Learn to Code Online, Naturally

If you use computers long enough, chances are you’ll eventually want to learn at least a little bit of programming. You can only hear so many stories about exciting new apps and whole businesses built from several thousands lines of code before you start thinking that you could do it, too. Problem is, it’s often daunting to get started programming. Most programming books almost seem too difficult, or else they start out so slow and basic that you’re bored before you even get started.

We clearly need a new way for the next generation of coders to learn how to program. Programming doesn’t have to be an exclusive thing only for über geniuses. And you don’t need a Stanford Computer Science degree for it, either. Codecademy is an exciting new web app that aims to make programming more approachable for everyone. Best of all, you can start off learning JavaScript, that all-important language for web apps. Let’s take a look.

And You Said it Couldn’t be Done…

Codecademy is a neat new startup that’s focused on making it simple for anyone to learn how to code in any popular language right from their browser. Right now, it’s got 19 lessons to help you get started with JavaScript, but the team is working to get more lessons in many languages to help you learn anything you want about coding. It’s an ambitious goal, but with projects such as Khan Academy and OpenCourseWare taking root, it seems that education is ready for a shakeup.

Anyone who’s been to college, or just taken a special class online or at a learning center, knows how hard it can be to register and figure out when everything’s going to happen. Most web apps even make the process of getting starting too difficult. Codecademy took all the complexity out, and lets users start out with programming lessons right from the front page with an interactive console, without signing up or anything. Just follow the prompt at the top, enter the correct code (ok, just your name in quotes), and … you’ve just started coding basic JavaScript.

Just when you thought you couldn’t program, there you are getting a computer to do your bidding, without even installing a program or registering for a web app! Voilà.

Getting started with an app was never simpler

Even if you’ve never programmed, you can easily follow the prompts and try out the simple coding if you understand basic English. Everything is explained very carefully, making it easy for anyone to understand. Best of all, you can really start learning from these lessons. Rather than just reading chapters of writing about code, you’ll be trying everything right as you’re reading about. In fact, many instructors would suggest that you’ll remember content much better if you’re using it as soon as you learn about it, and Codecademy just might be proof of it.

As you progress thorough the lessons, Codecademy will award you points and badges, and will prompt you to signup for an account once you get to the 3rd lesson. 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 without having to activate your email or login.

Sign up right when you need to

Digging Into Coding

The first basic lessons let you code right in an interactive terminal, but as you advance through the lessons, you’ll get a basic online IDE that lets you write code, save it, and run it in the interactive terminal as before. You can jump back through your save history to see what you’ve changed, which is a great way to fix your mistakes. Basic code syntax is highlighted in the IDE, and if you want to speed things up, you can click the function names on the lesson to add them directly. Best of all, you can get a quick tip if you get stuck.

Step up from a terminal to a basic online IDE

You can quickly progress through the lessons as they’re automatically loaded once you finish an exercise. Alternately, you can jump over to your account page to jump to another lesson or see your progress. Right now, there’s only 19 lessons in 3 courses, which will only be very useful for absolute beginner JavaScript coders. However, we’ll be excited to see how Codecademy expands their offerings over the coming weeks and months.

Find the lessons you need and earn achievements as you proceed

The Future

Truth is, Codecademy isn’t the only web app that lets you learn to program from an interactive console in your browser. Code School‘s TryRuby has for some time now offered a similar interactive console for learning Ruby with a friendly computer tutor. It recently received a redesign, but it works slower than Codecademy albeit with a somewhat nicer design. What’s more exciting about Codecademy is that it is designed to go beyond just one language and basic lessons.

TryRuby, a similar learning tool for Ruby

The neat thing is, Codecademy already has a strong headstart, and backing from some of the top venture firms. They’ve got the base app functionality to turn their site into a serious learning environment for programming. And, they could even go beyond that; an interactive prompt like this could be used for teaching all types of subjects. It won’t be putting colleges out of business any time soon, but it just might start making intro courses less relevant.


If there’s one part of society that needs shaken up, it’s higher education. Colleges and special classes are exorbitantly expensive, and most online classes offer less than their on-campus classes for a higher price. Students are required to own computers in college, but in many classes, they’re simply used as search tools and wordprocessors.

Codecademy offers a peek at how computers could help push education further, even letting computers teach us how to program them. That’s a brave new future, one I’d love to see help spark changes in the way education is done. For once, the For Dummies series of books might be in danger.


A new free learning platform to help you learn how to program and practice it at the same time.