Get With The Program: Learn to Code with CodeYear

2012 could be a big year for Persephoneers with all of these challenges popping up! Here’s another brainy challenge for you.

CodeAcademy is offering interactive computer programming lessons with Code Year for free online! It’s an awesome user friendly opportunity to learn something new and relevant to our technology driven world. By 2013, you could have a shiny new skill to add to your resume!  Read more for details on Code Year and why it could be important for women in the professional world.

All 304,564 of the cool kids are doing it!

I am completely dependent on computers for most things, from blogging, cat videos, and Persephone to paying my bills, getting driving directions, and keeping in touch with my brother thousands of miles away. I even work for an IT company, though not providing actual IT support, thank goodness. My job primarily deals with social media, which still has everything to do with computers. I rely so much on computers for just about every aspect of my life, and I am still embarrassingly clueless about how they work! And I’m sure I’m not the only one. Most of us have a basic working knowledge of computers, but the bar for “basic knowledge” is constantly rising. The modern necessity of computers and a rapidly evolving technology market creates a constant demand for an advanced understanding of computers that simply wasn’t necessary before. But acquiring that knowledge can be daunting for a lot of people, especially those of us who don’t consider ourselves very technical. CodeAcademy tries to make it as easy as possible. Just give them your email address and every Monday, they will email you a new course and give you a week to complete it. It’s easy, it’s free, and it’s totally user friendly!

Instruction on the left, code on the right!

I am almost finished the first course, Getting Started with Programming, and I am already pleased with the program. I’ve always been a learn-by-doing kind of girl, so if you are the same way, CodeAcademy’s style of instruction that involves actual programming every step of the way is ideal for you. Each course is broken up into lessons. Those lessons are made up of a handful of bite sized exercises. Much like programming itself,  which requires you to segment larger tasks into smaller more manageable ones, these exercises break coding down one step at a time, which makes the material much easier to get through. You read a few sentences explaining what a command does and how to implement it, then you create your own code and run it immediately to see the results. Coding right from the get-go and constantly writing code throughout the lesson makes for an interactive experience that is rarely boring, and actually starts to get kind of fun! The courses are simple, because they are mainly geared towards beginners.

ughhhhhh but whyyyyyyyyyy

One drawback that I can already see to this method is that there is very little actual instruction. Reading the same 3 sentences over and over again won’t help me get to the answer any faster if I already have trouble understanding it. I don’t think that bodes well for me if I continue the courses throughout the year, but I’m assuming that with sufficient practice, all of this will become much more intuitive. Some sections have hints, which aren’t so much hints as they are answers to the exercise. Unfortunately, if you’re tempted to check the answer key that is only a convenient click away, that could keep you from actually learning things. So, no peeking!

We found skillz on a scratch pad page. We found skillz on a scraaaaaaatch paaaad paaaaage!!

The short exercises ensure that you move on quickly from point to point without boring drills. But, because the lessons move rapidly (if you get the hang of it) without getting much practice, you don’t have much time to retain what you’ve learned by practicing. I had trouble remembering how to do things I had understood only a couple exercises before. If you have this problem as well, I suggest using the “Scratch Pad” feature, which gives you a place to experiment and test all of the codes and concepts you learn along the way. You can access the Scratch Pad by clicking the right button (seen in the image here).


It’s too early to tell how much of an expert I, or any other participants in Code Year, will be by 2013. But, as with most things, if you plug away at it diligently, you are bound to get better at coding and, at the very least, understand the mechanics behind it.

Obviously, CodeAcademy may not actually be a viable substitute for programming courses at most accredited educational institutions, but I think it could definitely be a step in the right direction. Code Year’s accessibility and the buzz surrounding it has prompted over 300,000 aspiring programmers to enroll, many of whom either had no prior interest in the field or who simply never thought learning computer programming was an option for them. I’m willing to bet that a large percentage of those people are women. And, if they aren’t, well dammit they should be.

It's my laptop and I'll code if I want to.

Women are woefully underrepresented in the tech industry, making up 58% of the total U.S. professional workforce but only occupying 25% of the computing workforce. Women are also leaving the computing workforce at twice the rate of their peers. Those are jobs we can’t afford to lose, especially if the US Department of Labor’s projections are correct, and the tech industry opens up over a million job opportunities by 2018. This lack of representation in the workforce can be attributed to an educational culture that frequently leaves girls out of the loop when it comes to math and sciences, including computer science.

According to the AP National Summaries by the College Board, the AP Computer Science test has consistently had the lowest percentage of female test takers of any other AP exam hovering at a mere 18% for over a decade. The National Center for Women & Information Technology reports that although 57 percent of undergraduate degree recipients were women in 2009, only 18 percent of Computer and Information Science undergrad degrees went to women. Making computer science and technology education a priority for women at a young age could be a really important step toward balancing out the massive inequality in the computing workforce.

So, I have two challenges for you, Persephoneers. First, give this a try! Programming knowledge, as well as the initiative it takes to learn it all on your own without formal instruction, are really great professional assets to have. Add it to your resume! Teach it to a friend! Pretend to be Angelina Jolie in Hackers! The possibilities are endless! I also challenge you to share Code Year with some of the young women in your life. Whether you use it as a joint learning and bonding experience or encourage them to learn it on their own, Code Year is an awesome chance to introduce girls in middle school and high school to computer programming, and who knows? They might discover an aptitude or an interest in it that they would never have known about before!

Have you signed up for Code Year? What do you think of the lessons so far? Keep us updated!

By laurensmash

Writer, feminist, pop culture addict, and unabashed nerd living in Southern California. I'm enthusiastic about the Internet, and I enjoy smashing things.

27 replies on “Get With The Program: Learn to Code with CodeYear”

I managed to complete lesson 1 earlier this week, but there were several points when I thought I was stuck. They really should provide an answer key, so you can see exactly what the correct code really looks like. They should also have a forum, so that you can ask questions and discuss.

I’ll keep going, but I expect that at some point (probably soon) I will be truly stuck, have no way to get past it, and quit.

I’ll definitely check out CodeAcademy!

Might I shamelessly promote another online learning site? is a fabulous instructor-led self-paced online learning experience. I can personally vouch for their courses in CSS, HTML 5, and my favorite, JavaScript led by a kickass woman leader in the field (Dori Smith). There is a subscription fee, but you can preview the first chapters of each course for free, and in my experience, it’s well worth the $25/month or $250/year which gives you access to the whole shebang (I know that’s a lot! But if you have the discipline to actually keep doing the courses throughout the year, it’s a freaking ridiculous bargain). In my case, I was able to get my workplace to expense the annual fee, because one of the courses happens to have been related to my field (and if you can access one course, you can access ’em all); might be worth asking your boss.


I used to be a computer science major. I got through the first semester, built my graphic editor, and quit the program. I still know enough from that class to read and understand different languages, but I’m not capable of coding anything from scratch. I wish grad school didn’t eat all my time, or I would totally do this. I love coding… just not as a career.

I’m doing this! I had fiddled around a bit on Codecademy before this, just for the heck of it. I’m more interested in programming from a languages perspective than for any practical application. I have also done a few lessons in this, which is a lot more theoretical and not aimed at any language in particular.

One thing I’m worried about is forgetting earlier stuff. It’d be great if there were a “dictionary” linked–I’m sure there’re tons of resources out there, though.


I can do HTML basics and had to learn a bit of Python in college… I did all the Javascript lessons on CodeAcademy in an hour or two last week, and it was great, but like you said the lessons aren’t structured to get you to retain the information. Also they don’t explain every part of the code, which is annoying. I wanted to be able to click on an expression and see why it was needed in addition to the code the lesson was focused on.

I’m doing this, since even though my grad work is very, very programming-heavy, it’s all in Fortran, which is useful basically only to scientists who need to number crunch ridiculous amounts of data.  I figured this is a straightforward way to learn the syntax of some more useful languages, though it remains to be seen how in depth they’re going to get with things.  I think it’s great that this exists, though — it’s in small bits to make it not overwhelming, and it’s aimed at a broad audience so that it’s accessible to most skill levels.  I found myself getting frustrated at how slow it was, but I’ve built software (very specialized, like three people use it) before, so I’m not exactly the target audience.

OK, this is weird.  I registered for Code Year and was super exited to get the first lesson, but I was already irredeemably confused half way through lesson one.  And I use a Debian-based Linux OS on my laptop.  I’m no coder, but I can keep a wonky linux os operating.  Why on earth am I getting so confused with freaking Java?

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