Codecademy: A Slick, Fun Way To Teach Yourself How To Program

You’ve read the inspirational posts on Hacker News. You’ve purchased the recommended books. You’ve bookmarked the online tutorials. You even plopped down $80 on a set of instructional videos, promising yourself that the investment would only make you more motivated. And for some reason, you still don’t know how to program.

Codecademy, a new site that went live earlier this evening, might just be the answer.

It’s a web-based, interactive programming tutorial that holds your hand and walks you through the basics of JavaScript. At this point it’s just getting started — the lessons only go as far as ‘While’ loops — but it clearly has loads of potential for one key reason: it actually feels fun.

Codecademy’s initial signup process is very clever: there isn’t one, at least at first. As soon as you land on you’ll be prompted to complete the first lesson, which involves printing out and finding the length (in letters) of your name. It isn’t until you’ve made it through a few lessons that the site prompts you to create a user account, when it reminds you that if you don’t register, all of your progress will be lost. At which point you’ll probably register.

The lessons themselves are pretty straightforward. A sidebar on the left hand side of the screen will instruct you to complete a task, like, say, create a new variable called ‘myName’. You edit code using the web-based terminal, hit return, and your code is executed. The site hits a good balance between telling you exactly what to do, and prompting you to reuse something you learned in a previous lesson, so it doesn’t feel frustratingly difficult or boring.

As you progress through the lessons, you’ll rack up points and trophies, which are displayed on your profile. Friends can check out your profile to see how you’re progressing, and it isn’t hard to imagine the site building out additional social features, like leaderboards and competitions.

The application still has some bugs, which isn’t all that surprising — the company’s cofounders Zach Sims and Ryan Bubinski say that they started working on the app only a week and a half ago. In fact, they weren’t ready for the site to get so much attention so quickly (they posted it on Hacker News hoping for some initial feedback, and had 1,000 concurrent users within a few hours).

And there are still plenty of questions. The founders aren’t sure if they’re going to let the community create new lessons, and their monetization plans aren’t set in stone (though they do plan to make money). But they’re off to a solid start.

I just wish the first lesson included the words ‘Hello World’.