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Just Took My First Job: @Codecademy

So my officemate (or more accurately, office donor) Ian Alexander was perusing the net a few months ago, and then shouted across the room to me, “these guys are doing what you’ve been saying.”

He was talking about Codecademy, a website built by two Columbia University students (well, former students) who realized that computer coding was becoming an essential skill for participants in an increasingly digital culture and workplace. They set on an experiment: Could they create a command line interface so compelling, so easy-to-use, that it quite literally taught people how to code?

The result, a work-in-progress of online courses for Javascript, html, and more, realized that dream and more. I was intrigued and inspired by their approach of offering free programming skills to anyone who has the time and energy to learn. Instead of making students bear the cost of their education, these guys want to transfer the cost to future employers, who will eventually pay Codecademy for access to programmers looking for work - whose skill levels and achievements have been documented by the courses.

Thrilled to have found people actualizing the agenda I espoused in my book Program or Be Programmed, I wrote about Codecademy in one of my CNN columns. I wrote so enthusiastically about these courses that the “standards and practices” people at CNN called to make sure I wasn’t an investor or business partner. I wasn’t, but they were onto something: if I was already talking like a partner in this enterprise, maybe I should be.

So I went and met the founders in real life. They were very familiar with my work - as inspired by what I had written as I was about what they were doing. They wondered whether there might be a role for me at Codecademy a bit like, say, Vint Cerf’s role as “Net Evangelist” for Google. So did I. Besides, there must be something better to do with my freshly minted PhD in New Media and Digital Culture than go for tenure at a college, right? Couldn’t I participate in higher education without putting my students into lifelong debt?

Thus, my first real job since serving as a tennis attendant one summer at the public courts in Westchester. I’m now a member of Codecademy, dedicated to promoting code literacy and digital education.

What will that mean? We shall see. I’m not about promoting one website’s solution to the problem of digital literacy as much I am about promoting the culture of knowing the code. This is bigger than just computers. We live in a programmatic world - “code literacy” in business or economics means something different than it does in religion or politics. But coming to grips with the underlying languages of digital landscapes we inhabit is a great and accessible first step toward seeing the languages and agendas embedded in pretty much every other landscape on which we interact.

They are all operating systems, and they are all fungible by those who bother to learn how they are put together. That’s what I’ll be writing and speaking about a lot in the coming months. I am also planning to develop some courses for the site concerned a bit more with the “why’s” than the “how.” Maybe a new radio show about this as well. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll be taking the courses at Codecademy starting today. If you want to go through the experience at the same time or to be in my peer group, come on over. 

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Reader Comments (10)

First off, congratulations on the new gig.

But second: you could, of course, choose to teach at a CUNY school or another university system that does not charge its' students the monetary equivalent of their first born child. At a little over $5000 a year, CUNY (where I teach) allows students to make their way through school with hopefully limited debt, or no debt load at all.

One of the ways that CUNY manages this, of course, is that it receives high levels of public support from the State of New York. Another way it manages it is that it pays faculty less than they would probably get if they taught at a private institution. It certainly pays less than Code Academy (I suspect).

Anyway, I meant my congratulations in all seriousness. I think Code Academy is a great gig (despite the fact that I signed up for it and never completed a single assignment!) I just think your flip assertion "besides, there must be something better to do with my freshly minted PhD in New Media and Digital Culture than go for tenure at a college, right? Couldn’t I participate in higher education without putting my students into lifelong debt?" is a little insulting to those of us who have made different career choices- and also perpetuates some myths about the nature and causes of the higher ed. debt explosion.

July 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterC.W. Anderson

A friend turned me on to Codecademy and I am going through the Javascript course. I have tried to learn programming before from books and always eventually hit a wall, so I am curious to see if Codecademy can help me pass that mark. It has energized me to want to learn more, so that is good. Another similar "teach everyone to program" idea that I found on Kickstarter is called "Code Hero." I backed it and then forgot about it, but this has made me want to look at that one again, too. Fun times.

July 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

City College is *great* work - if you can get it. And I will continue to beg those schools to be allowed to participate - (even though I wouldn't be going for tenure at my ripe age. For me to take one of those assistant professor jobs would be robbing a young person of one of too few existing opportunities as it is). I would have different feelings about teaching someplace where the students needed to pay 50g/year just to get in a graduate seminar with me where I have 29 other students.

I didn't mean to be flip about the merits of higher education. (I just got an accredited degree, myself.) But I was looking for a way to invite people to come learn with me, where I wouldn't feel like I'm demanding they take loans to do it.

July 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrushkoff

Congratulations on the new job! Little did I know that when I emailed you today asking your advice about learning to code, that you were talking to the CodeAcademy guys about a job.

I hope it goes well for you, and I am sure you will do a great job there.

I took your advice and started with CodeAcademy today.

Thanks Again, and Good Luck!!

July 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSean Cotton

This is excellent news. I've been reading your work for a couple years and along the way have learned to code, become a contributing member of the free/open tech community, participated in my local Occupy movement, and am now just beginning to express my own excitement for empowering beginners with basic coding skills (especially women, since I think we can do a lot better in the tech/gender area) by volunteering with the Boston Python Workshop and brainstorming ways to bring a similar outreach model to my area. In the course of your evangelizing, I urge you to check out the BPW if you haven't already (good talk here ). I should heed your excitement and pay more attention to Code Academy, myself.

I'm looking forward to seeing where your work goes from here, and to participating when and where I can. Congratulations on everything you've done so far!

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

Congratulations, I know the whole Rheingold U Alumi are very happy to see you in your new roll at Codeccademy.

Good Luck from all of us...

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Sounds great Douglas -- congrats! Online education has the power to be really disruptive and I think Codeacademy specifically is doing a great job (go NYC!).

The main problem I've had with similar services is the lack of accountability experienced as a user. It's quite difficult to stick with online assignments without any reward or punishment or sense of obligation. Spending money is effective at combatting that, as are other aspects of traditional schooling, such as collaborating/competing with peers, pursuing socially desirable degrees, and simply physically interacting with other people. Since all these deterrents to akrasia translate poorly to the web (cheap, antisocial, low-status), the challenge becomes finding new ways to get users to WANT to finish courses and WANT to do well.

If only the most diligent and self-motivated people are successfully using Codeacademy, then obviously the project falls far short from its potential. It's the next notch of people, those who are somewhat motivated, and "know" they should learn this skill, but are busy and/or lazy and don't really need to do it.

Getting this group of people I think would be really powerful... I guess that's where you come in. :)

July 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

This comes three months after you posted your message, but better late than never, I hope. (I had written to you regarding Life, Inc. and Peter Kropotkin this past summer.)

Back in 1999, I was going to run away from my job as a teacher in a public high school. I took a course at Skidmore which taught HTML, Javascript, and rudimentary SQL. There were no jobs. After the Y2K farce, programmers were being laid off, and in spite of that I couldn't register for a class in Java at Pace because it was packed. In other words there was a glut of programmers. In the years that followed, programmers that I knew were losing career jobs and working for short term contracts. Then those short term contracts became shorter term and fewer. Then there was the financial "collapse" of 2008.

How did programmers become valuable again?

That aside, I think that learning how to write code is worthwhile.

October 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBob Gustafson

Hey there! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts! Keep up the superb work!

November 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergdsf
Douglas, I'm really glad to hear you've hooked up with Codecademy. I heard you speak on "Program or Be Programmed" at an MEA convention. As a professional software developer and amateur media ecologist, I'm coming at this from a different direction than most people. I recently stumbled across and, as a result of what I saw there, I started reading the book. IMHO it is truly prophetic in the best sense. I've applied to TA a learn-programming-for-free class called RailsBridge ( next month.

Congratulations on your job :)
September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeth Giobbe

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