Very few skills are as valuable to the modern economy as coding. Dedicated developers who can use hands-on programming skills to solve problems are highly prized by organizations worldwide, and there are no signs of this trend slowing. A career in computer programming means plenty of job offers, strong annual salaries, and the comfort of long-term job security. The tricky part is figuring out how to acquire these skills quickly and economically.
Fortunately, learning to code has never been more accessible or economical. Many online education services cater to professionals looking to augment their technical skills. These courses are sometimes referred to as MOOCs or massive open online courses. Unlike university degree programs and intensive bootcamps, these coding courses are typically lower cost, self-paced, and highly customizable to the individual’s specific objectives.
Which begs the question of where to start. Who are these courses designed for? How much time and money will be required? Which programs are the best for beginners? Let’s take a look.
The Modern Coding Course
Let’s start with the good news. Many of these online coding courses are entirely free to participate in, including courses offered by well-established university professors. Even paid coursework within this segment of the edtech industry is extremely affordable, with complete courses coming in at $100 or less. These online programs have a strong philosophy and ethos that learning should always be accessible to the broadest audience at the lowest possible price.
The difficulty for most students pursuing these programs is not cost but commitment. Whenever a course is this convenient and affordable, the students must discipline themselves towards completing it. It’s a lot like paying for a gym membership. When someone pays to access a gym, there’s a tendency to go more often to justify that investment (even though we often don’t feel like working out!). It’s just the same with these modern coding courses. The investment of time is the key success factor, rather than money. Without that financial skin in the game, you’ll need to keep yourself motivated!
The time invested will vary from student to student, depending on their current skill level and professional objectives. The format is often (though not always) self-paced, with lectures being recorded in advance as videos that can be played at any time. Conducting the exercises and doing the homework means self-discipline. You’ll need to assign the work to yourself and make sure to complete it, correct it, and learn from your own mistakes quickly. For highly motivated students, this means they can learn a huge amount in a very short time. It all depends on how much time each day that student can commit to the learning process.
This brings us to the final and most critical observation regarding the coding course format, which is who these courses were optimally designed for. The university student benefits from the supervision and individual attention of university professors. This is a significant part of the value proposition of a university program. Online coding courses are the opposite because they explicitly cater to people who do not require this type of supervision. Are you self-motivated? Do you have clear objectives already set? Are there certifications, in particular, you are preparing for? Are you able to build your schedule and stick to it?
Suppose the answer to these questions is a resounding yes. In that case, online code courses are far and away the most flexible, convenient, and affordable option for learning or improving your software development skills.
Picking the Perfect Program
While options in this field continue to grow and are virtually limitless, it’s worth exploring some of the most well-established and reputable coding course programs. As many of these platforms offer certifications, the reputation of these organizations is quite important to the return on (time) investment you’ll get back. Let’s take a look:
One of the originators of the MOOC format and sponsored by highly reputable organizations like MIT and Harvard, EdX is a perfect starting point for the online code course curioso. EdX offers its courses for free and pursues a monetization strategy based on certifications of those courses. The paid programs, often around $200 per course, will include a certificate you can provide to prospective employers and a dedicated grader of your work. Courses tend to average out around an 8-12 week commitment (investing 5-10 hours per week). If you’re brand new to the wide world of coding, NYU’s Basics of Computer Programming is a great place to start.
Coursera collaborates with reputable universities to offer tons of unique courses. The monetization strategy here is more complicated, although most courses are free to enroll in. Premium services such as certification and graded assignments can be registered for $40/month. Higher-end certifications can be pursued via MasterTrack programs. For beginners, the University of London offers an Introduction to Computer Programming course that can be taken for free. There are plenty of specialized courses in machine learning, AI, and C++ for the more advanced users.
FreeCodeCamp is just as accessible as it sounds. It’s a non-profit dedicated to providing valuable resources for any current or prospective programming professionals. The best way to approach the coursework here is to pursue a topic-oriented certification by completing the entire curriculum. Two great starting points for programming professionals would be the Front End Development Libraries and the Back End Development and APIs certification programs. With over 6,000 courses on offer, all of which are entirely free, there’s something for professionals at any stage in their career. If these programs help land you a great gig in the future, come on back and drop these folks a donation.
Udemy offers a slightly different model than the others on this list, as every course comes in at a fixed price. Courses are more varied than EdX or Coursera, typically offering 5-15 hours of video lessons alongside a list of resources students should read through and master. Certification is included in each course with the enrollment fee, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for sales (courses are often deeply discounted from time to time). For folks just starting in IT, there are plenty of general courses like this one. Udemy is particularly useful in the variety of courses offered, so it’s a great place to look for something concrete like learning basic command lines in Linux or how to build 2D games using C#.
Shaw Academy is a subscription-based service at $70/month for full access to the entire technology catalog. It’s more centralized than MOOCs like EdX and Coursera, where Shaw Academy produces and delivers these courses as a single organization. Courses can range from four to 12 weeks, and enrollment is limited to a certain number of seats. This subscription comes with a free trial. It’s well worth scoping out a few courses. This web development course is a good starting point for new programmers, while more specialized topics like cryptocurrency are also available for industry veterans.
Another strong contender on the subscription-based service side of the industry is Pluralsight. With plans ranging from $30-45 per month, this online education platform emphasizes certified coursework in highly specialized programming fields. This is an excellent option for industry veterans looking to pick up key certifications, such as AWS or Cisco. Compared to the other MOOCs on this list, Pluralsight is all about preparing professionals for already established certification processes within the industry. It’s best suited for professionals with some experience under their belt and a clear idea of what they intend to do in the future.
With all of the free options at each of these coding course platforms, the best play is to try out a few different services to see what aligns best with your learning style and professional objectives. The majority of the content here is free to try, self-paced, and industry-recognized. There are many upsides and very few downsides to taking each of these for a test drive. At this stage, the best decision-making factor is pursuing the courses you’re most likely to complete, so take notes on your successes and failures!
As you work through these programs, the next consideration is what types of certifications and skills will best help you achieve your professional goals and ambitions. It’s unnecessary to master the content at this level necessarily, but instead to clarify your professional path and note the industry-approved certifications that will help you get there. If necessary, more intensive (and more costly) bootcamps are an option once you’ve oriented yourself, assessed your skills and knowledge, and planned out where you’d like to be professionally.
As you can try out one of these courses in the same time it takes to get to the end of an article like this one, what are you waiting for? If you’re a beginner, how about picking up some basics in Python? If you’re a professional looking to pick up some commercial certifications, how about managing cloud data with AWS? The only limitation is your attention span!