It’s as Easy as A-B-Code

If you think learning to build apps is just for computer geeks, think again. People from all walks of life are hopping on the coding bandwagon, brushing up their resumes with marketable skills, sharpening their critical thinking and gaining newfound confidence.

“It’s a wide array of backgrounds, from teachers to journalists to lawyers to PhDs to graduate students to high schoolers,” says Michael McGee, co-founder of the fast-growing Chicago-based Starter League. His is one of several schools—both in person and online—offering professional coding instruction across the U.S. and abroad.

“We have people from all over the country, all over the world,” says McGee, who started the company in late 2011 due to what describes as a lack of coding instruction offered by traditional universities.

With only 35 students in its first class, to date Starter League has taught some 650 students in full- and part-time programs. They learn web development skills such as the programming languages Ruby and JavaScript and the markup languages HTML and CSS. Costs range from $2,000 for evening classes to $33,000 for a comprehensive full-time, nine-month program.

“Most of our students are just people who have ideas, but they don’t know technology,” says McGee, adding that many graduates have changed careers and now work as professional software designers and web developers.

Some, like Jimmy Odom, start their own tech businesses.Odom, who kept his retail job in an Apple store while also learning to code, is now co-founder and CEO of WeDeliver. The venture turns regular people into delivery staff for local businesses.

He says three months of coding instruction gave him the confidence to go out on his own and saved him from spending unnecessary dollars on web development for early prototypes.

“That was enough to begin to make you dangerous,” Odom jokes. “In three months, you understand what it took to build Facebook.”

WeDeliver won a local Startup competition late last year and now has six full-time and three contract employees. It made its first delivery in February.

“(Coding instruction) changed the way I think regarding technology, regarding the web, regarding building a business around technology,” he says. “Anyone can do it.”

 

Coding for Kids

Young children are among the new ranks of people learning to code, too. Kids as young as toddler-age can learn the basics of coding by playing a animated block game, in which each block represents a function and each function is strung together in a series.

“Children can read the technology by using their devices, chatting and texting. I’m interested in seeing kids learn to write new technologies by writing their own computer programs or code,” says Mitch Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT Media Lab.

“For example, when you learn to read, then open up more possibilities and you read to learn,” Resnick told a TEDxBeaconStreet audience. “When you learn to code, you can then code to learn.”

 

Resources:

Codecademy (http://www.codecademy.com/)– A great way to test the waters, this free online service offers basic coding instruction in several programming languages.

Code School (http://www.codeschool.com/) — A $25 monthly fee gives you access to a range of courses and videos.

Hopscotch (iPad, free) – A visual introduction to programming for kids where they select characters and manipulate them by dragging-and-dropping method blocks.

Scratch (http://scratch.mit.edu) – A tile-based visual programming environment where kids can make games, animated stories and interactive art to share with others on the web.

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