Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Website review - Codecademy

by Jonathan Smith

Being able to code is quickly becoming a useful skill to have, whether you want to write web programs or would just like to expand your CV! For many without a background in computer science, learning to code in a programming language can be extremely intimidating. For those who want to learn, there are many resources available on the web that offer to teach you how to write code in whichever programming language you want. In this review, the focus will be on Codecademy, a cool site that contains many free courses in an ever-expanding range of programming languages.

Codecademy is run by a group of hackers and programmers that aim to improve programming education worldwide without cost to the learner. It is an engaging and interactive site with a simple interface for easy use. The variety of examples offered is impressive – from learning HTML code to coding a game of Blackjack in Javascript! Courses exist for complete beginners that take you through the basics of writing code, step by step. The courses are made up of exercises that get you to input code into the browser in order to complete the exercise. By doing this, you progress to the next exercise and earn points for correct answers. This can get very addictive!

If you get hellishly stuck on an exercise, the creators do not step in. Instead, forums related to the exercise are easily available so you can find help from the community of users that are in the exact same boat. This works surprisingly well as users are always willing to help out. Speaking of users, you are encouraged to learn as a group as you can pool ideas. With this in mind, there is a 'follow' function that lets you link with other users and keep track of their progress. So if you and a friend want to learn together, then have fun! 

There are one or two issues that I would like to see improved in this site. Firstly, while it is beneficial to troubleshoot your own problems, it would be nice to see more feedback inside exercises as to where you went wrong. There is always the problematic exercise that fails because of a typo! Secondly, the obvious observation is that bugs still exist in some tasks though these are very rare and are sorted out very quickly when brought to the staff's attention.

In summary, Codecademy offers free, interactive courses designed to help you learn to code with lots of help from the community and I recommend giving it a try - that is if you can spare the time from your already busy university schedule!