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Startup Profile: Codecademy

Teaching Anyone to Program, for Free Online

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Startup Profile: Codecademy

Image © Codecademy

Technology is becoming ever more a part of our daily lives. With it, more people are looking to understand technology in order to interact with it in a more meaningful way. As a result, many startups have emerged that aim to disrupt education, putting the tools for learning directly in the hands of the consumer. Codecademy is one of a cadre of these startups that wants to teach everyone how to program computers.

Codecademy was started in New York City in 2011 by two former Columbia students, Zach Sims and Ryan Bubinski. Codecademy delivers lessons for free entirely online, creating a programming environment through the site interface. The site gained a great deal of popularity and a number of PR wins through its "Code Year" initiative, promising to teach the layperson to become a programmer in one year, with new lessons every week.

Codecademy Grew Quickly

The early marketing efforts payed off, and Codecademy was able to attract over 1 million users in less than 5 months. This lead to a series of successful funding rounds, culminating in a series B in June 2012. The company raised $10 million in a round led by Index Ventures and backed by funding giants Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and Union Square Ventures. This vote of confidence shows that investors are bullish on education ventures like Codecademy, despite the fact that the company isn't currently bringing in revenue. The strong user base shows good potential for advertisements, and there's talk of integration with career matching services.

Codecademy lessons started by teaching client side internet languages, teaching basic programming concepts using JavaScript. The "Code Year" lesson track went on to integrate this with HTML and CSS, allowing fully functional websites to be built. The lessons have now moved on to more advanced topics, including the popular JQuery, and server side languages Python and Ruby.

The sheer volume of lessons from Codecademy has been impressive, and has kept users engaged. But Codecademy relies on its community to help develop and vet the lessons before they are released. This has resulted in a variable quality level in the lessons, drawing the ire of many users. For example, the advanced topics in JQuery have been particularly weak, compared to stronger lessons both before and after.

Online Learning and the Economy

Codecademy, and services like it are finding real traction in our current economy, as many out of work individuals are looking to update their skills. Free services that provide an accessible entry point into the world of programming and technology may be invaluable for a workforce that is finding structural forces have caused their skills to become obsolete.

Programming provides some hope for many of these displaced people because it is one of the more meritocratic industries. Many great, employed programmers do not have Computer Science degrees, and some didn't even finish college. If, as a programmer, you build a solid portfolio of coding work, the work will often speak for itself.

The structural unemployment that faces North America arises from a deficiency in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field graduates, and these structural problems appear poised to continue. Companies like Codecademy may hold a possible solution to this by providing a democratized, accessible entry point to the world of computers. If you or someone you know is not a technical individual, Codecademy may be worth a look.

"Program or be Programmed"

A recent Codecademy hire is telling of the strategy that the company is charting for the long term. Douglas Rushkoff is an author who has stressed the importance of understanding technology given the coming exponential wave of influence that technology will have on our lives. Even the casual user of the internet should develop a basic level of understanding of the forces that dominate our lives. As Rushkoff himself said: "Program or be Programmed"

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