Much of the content in the new app is free, while those who subscribe to Code School’s premium product will be able to unlock all videos. The app, however, is meant to complement but not replace Code School’s online educational resource, which is where developers learn hands-on by coding in the browser while watching screencasts and other course videos.
A Community First, A Business Second
The idea for Code School came about through Pollack’s own interest in creating educational content for developers, which he began doing around eight years ago. His focus at the time was the then still relatively new framework, Ruby on Rails. “As with any new technology in its infancy, the documentation sucked,” Pollack explains. “So I would blog about it. I got into podcasting; I would go and speak at conferences about it; I would create videos about it…it was just something I would do in my spare time,” he says.
For his day job, Pollack consulted, eventually rebranding his consultancy to “Envy Labs” around five years ago. All the educational material he was publishing was attracting clients, but he wasn’t trying to turn that content into a money-making business of its own at that point, he says.
But in November 2010, Pollack released what soon became a popular course, “Rails for Zombies,” where he combined video content with coding in the browser for the first time. This was long before other online “learn to code” startups even existed — for instance, competitor Codecademy wasn’t founded until the following year.
“Other people had done the coding in the browser thing,” Pollack admits. “But we put it together in a new way,” he says. In the Rails course, developers would watch a video then practice what they learned in the browser, and then repeat that process over and over again. Though this was still free content, there were so many users coming in, Pollack realized there was the potential to do more.
By March 2011, that business idea became Code School, launching with just one free Rails course and one paid. Today, the site has grown to include over 40 courses across a variety of topics and designed for a wide range of developers, from the newcomers looking to learn coding for the first time, to more advanced developers looking to refine or expand their skills.
However, most of the audience identifies as either intermediate or advanced, a recent user survey found, with 33 percent and 29 percent, respectively, claiming those skill levels, versus the 14 percent who said they were beginners, or the 24 percent who knew just enough to get by.
Code School today has roughly 40,000 users actively learning on its website at any given time, and has seen 1 million sign-ups to date. Around 15 percent of customers have reported some sort of positive outcome after taking Code School courses, like a promotion at work or a new job.
Now the company is working to reach an audience who is interested in learning while on the go with its new app. Though, obviously, the app doesn’t include the ability to code alongside the videos, it can serve as a way to reinforce what you previously learned while practicing on the web, familiarize yourself with new topics, or just brush up on rusty skills.
The bootstrapped startup, based in Orlando, is now a team of 35, and profitable since the beginning.
What makes its courses unique amid what’s now a large number of online learning competitors is the time that goes into course production, says Pollack. It may take six people three months to make just five hours of content, he notes. That may seem like a drawback in terms of scaling the product, but the founder claims it’s a feature. “What we’re creating is more like creating a video game than just a screencast,” he says.
Some videos in the new app can only be unlocked by subscribing to Code School online for $29/month. Pricing discounts for teams are also available, and the company claims customers including Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, Zendesk, and Fandango as using its product.
Code School is a free download here.