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An open journal-- some of it written for you, but most of it is for me.

Learn to Code Online: Code School vs. Treehouse vs. Codecademy

Like any n00b, I spent a lot of time learning the skills of programming online. Outside of random YouTube Videos (NewBoston is worth your time), there are three well-known online products– Code School, Treehouse, and Codecademy. I’d estimate, I’ve spent around 80 hours on these sites. I don’t know if that is a lot or a little, but I do know that Code School is the clear winner…


(not to be confused with Code Academy) exploded on the scene last fall, but really falls short in the usability department and error feedback. To be fair, I only have spent time with their JavaScript courses, but it’s hard to get past first impressions. Granted, Codecademy is run by a couple of young’ins and haven’t had the head start that Code School has on its interactive browser, but I found myself more than frustrated going through their lessons. If they spent less time, hammering my inbox with weekly emails and built a better interface, I’d be more likely to take a look at their newly updated and well funded site (I’ve heard they added Ruby lessons). At least for now, Codecademy is FREE. So serious brownie points there.

EDIT: I recently revisited Codecademy and the usability (which is clearly my biggest gripe above) has really been refined and improved. In fact, I was impressed with the ease of use this go around… If I were starting from scratch I would start here, while Code School caters to an intermediate skill level and above.)

Treehouse is…

in a word, boring. Thankfully, I was able to guess most of the answers without struggling through the videos. I did spend, however, a portion of the time learning about subjects on the periphery. Their explanations of structs, I/O, and Ruby Core had slipped through the cracks of other beginner Ruby tutorials. I couldn’t get into the humor of Mike the Frog or some of their other movie “rewards,” but I guess that really shouldn’t be the main motivating factor. While others thought it is silly, I like that Jason Seifer is such a goofball. He is the lone source of humor in an overall dry learning experience. Personally, I learn faster by doing and Treehouse falls short here. Though they do sprinkle in a few interactive quizzes, it just isn’t enough. If you are going to financially invent in your learning, I’d save it for…

Code School

rocks. It has clearly been the best use of my time. The videos are much more in-depth and the interactive browser is the superior to everything else I’ve seen. The Envy Labs Team goes into significantly more detail than their aforementioned competitors. Their material is engaging, challenging, and well thought-out. What I enjoyed most (besides the information of course) is the self-depreciating humor that dots their casts. Cheesy graphics and dedication to a theme, for example Zombie terminology, finds the right balance of hilarious and non-interfering entertainment. When I first took their beginner courses, I grumbled at the level of detail they covered. Now that I picked up a few things, Code School does an amazing job of covering the entire breadth of subjects within a topic. Maybe most importantly, the error feedback is actually useful as are their hints. My sole criticism is that there is a recognizable difference between Gregg Pollack and the others characters. If he could navigate the office politics, Gregg should do all the casts.

Now in my 7th month of my programming career, Avi’s words have more meaning than ever:

“It’s not about learning the syntax. Anyone can learn that. Learning to program is learning how to communicate.” – Avi Flombaum

If you are going to learn the syntax (which we DO need to do), Code School is very much worth it and I’m not the only one who thinks so. But what do I know? Not that much. What do you think?

(Tip to David Baker for the subject.)