Learn to Code Online in 2021 — Beginner’s Guide and Resources

Do you like math, logical puzzles and writing code? If so, programming might just be the hobby — or career! — for you. Today, there are countless educational resources available to aspiring coders. In this guide, we’ll walk you through several steps, including:

  1. What you should know before you learn coding
  2. How to define your goals and get started with basic coding
  3. How to choose the right programming language

We’ll explore different educational paths and touch on stellar resources that can help you turn your interests in programming into a fully fledged career (online coding bootcamps, anyone?). Read on to find out what you need to do to start your academic journey!

What You Should Know Before You Learn Coding

The ways that people pique their interest in coding are almost infinite. You might learn about the professional opportunities it offers from a friend in the industry or pick it up as a hobby during school. A five-second impression of a standout website, video game or mobile app could be all it takes to spark your interest and compel you into exploration.

Still, learning to code can be a challenge, especially if you don’t know where to start. It is normal to feel overwhelmed, confused or frustrated at first. But don’t worry — coding isn’t all that hard to pick up once you’re on the right path. There is a wide variety of resources that can help you hone your programming skills and advance your education.

But let’s start with the basics. Before you launch into an online class or how-to book, you should ask yourself: Why do I want to learn to code? How can coding improve my life? Let’s consider these questions below.

Is Coding for Everyone?

Coding is a skill that anyone can learn with enough education and practice. That said, if you start trying to parse raw code before you have any background knowledge about programming, even basic programming tasks can seem tricky or confusing. It can seem intimidating — especially if you’re older, had a career in a non-STEM field or lack industry-relevant experience.

That said, if you start small and dedicate yourself to your education, becoming a coder isn’t all that difficult. Think of learning to code as building an ornate LEGO model; at first glance, the architectural plans appear daunting. But once you overcome your anxieties and lay the first blocks, the project won’t seem as impossible to complete. Anyone can put two blocks together; it’s just a matter of knowing which blocks, where and when.

Coding is truly for everyone. Or, at the very least, for everyone who wants to learn to code.

Should YOU Learn to Code?

There are many reasons to want to learn coding for beginners. You may simply be curious and want to make a creative website of your own or delve into a personal project. You might want a career change and enjoy the professional opportunities and career satisfaction that software developers enjoy. You might simply want a new hobby. Even if you’re not sure that coding will be your nine-to-five job in the future, there are many advantages in learning to code.

The most important thing in learning to code is having the motivation and time necessary to achieve your coding goals. The academic track that a hobbyist takes, for example, may not align with the one an aspiring upskiller opts for.

You should also consider how much time and energy you have to dedicate to the process and choose your route accordingly. For example, you may need to fit your coding education around another job or family responsibilities or adhere to a set timeline. Luckily, there are options suitable for people of all resources and scheduling needs.

Alternative Tech Careers to Coding

It’s important to note that coding isn’t only beneficial for people who want to become professional programmers. The tech industry is ever-growing; today, having coding skills listed on your resume can not only help you get a job — it can help you do your job better. There are many other professions where coding knowledge is a tremendous asset, even when you don’t work strictly as a programmer.

For example, data science is one of the biggest growth areas in tech. Understanding the code that underlies data structures is a vital skill for data analysts. Cybersecurity is another high-growth market, especially as large companies depend even more on their tech infrastructure.

If you want to leverage your coding skills to achieve beyond programming, you can attend specialized online bootcamps that will help you succeed in alternative tech fields. There are countless options for those who want to find their dream job in tech, and almost all of them rely on coding skills.

Define Your Goals and Get Started With Basic Coding

Before you learn to code, it is essential to have a general direction in mind. Web development is a field with outstanding job prospects and upward salary trends, especially as you grow more advanced. The industry isn’t, however, entirely homogeneous in terms of roles and responsibilities.

Different coding professions require different skill sets — the languages you would need to be a front end developer, for example, differ from those you would need to know as a back end professional or mobile programmer.

For context: front end programmers work on the part of a website that a visitor can see and interact with, while back end developers work “behind the scenes” on the structures that make the website function. Full stack developers code applications across the front and back end stacks. Mobile developers, as you could probably guess, create applications for mobile devices.

According to a 2020 report from Stack Overflow, 55.2 percent of surveyed developers identified as back end developers, while 54.9 percent identified as full stack, 37.1 percent as front end and 19.2 percent as mobile programmers.

A chart that shows the percentage of developers who identify as different specialities, like full stack, back end or front end.

If you know which track you want to take, you may want to select academic courses that align with your preferred trajectory. However, if you hope to take a more explorative approach to coding, you might consider taking classes in full stack development. Doing so will allow you to learn how to handle the front and back ends of a website. With that core knowledge in place, you’ll be better positioned to choose a specialty when the time comes.

Transitioning to a Tech Career or Trying to Earn a Promotion: Short Intensive Courses and Online Coding Bootcamps

If you want to change your career and don’t have time to go back to school for a four-year computer science degree, bootcamps and other short, intensive courses can provide you with a solid education, practical experience, mentorship and guidance from skilled instructors.

Unlike traditional computer science programs offered through a university, coding bootcamps focus more on the practical side of coding than theoretical context. They provide real programming experience, and their intensive schedules allow students to immerse themselves in programming topics. That said, bootcamps aren’t just ideal for career preparation; studying coding intensively also helps you become a capable, confident programmer.

Can a Coding Bootcamp or Short Course Help You Land a Job?

In simple terms: yes.

Surveys and personal experience in the tech industry repeatedly demonstrate that employers believe in bootcamp graduates. Because these intensive programs have rigorous curricula and clear expectations, employers know that someone who completes a bootcamp has a certain level of baseline knowledge and competency and can handle heavy workloads.

According to HackerRank’s 2020 Developer Skills report (PDF, 2.8 MB), nearly one in three hiring managers have hired bootcamp graduates as developers. Of the hiring managers surveyed, 39.2 percent said bootcamp-trained professionals were just as equipped as other hires, and 33 percent said they were better prepared.

Statistics that show the top reasons why boot camp graduates succeed, according to hiring managers.

Bootcamps can also help you gain the portfolio and coding experience crucial to landing a job, as they naturally offer projects that you can later use to demonstrate your skills.

It’s also worth noting that the job prospects for coders are already quite good; there is strong demand for computer programmers, software developers and other coding specialists. For web developers, job prospects are on track to grow by eight percent between 2019 and 2029.

For software developers, projections are even more stunning, with 22 percent growth expected between 2019 and 2029. Both projected rates stand significantly higher than the average growth expected for all other professions (four percent).

Employers are looking for great candidates, and there is a significant potential for salary growth as you begin to progress in your chosen tech career.

Becoming a Professional Software and Game Developer

If you’re aiming to make a career out of coding, you probably already have a few professions in mind. You might want to make your mark as a professional software developer, writing the programs that underlie our personal devices and industry tools. Or, you could use your skills to help drive innovation in entertainment as a game developer.

Be thoughtful, though — your educational requirements may vary depending on your target job. If you want to get into operating system development or high-level software development, a computer science degree can give you a leg up, both in finding a job and fully understanding the projects that will eventually cross your desk.

Computer science degree programs are less focused on helping you find immediate employment than bootcamps; however, they delve more into the theoretical understandings of computing that underlie coding projects.

That said, a four-year degree is a significant commitment of time and money and may not be the best option for people who want to make an immediate or fast-paced career change. Besides, tech is one industry where you can prove yourself and excel by the quality of your code and your product on the job, so you can always deepen your education after entering the field.

Learn Coding as a Hobby: Free Online Resources

Not sure if you want to make coding your nine-to-five? No problem! You can learn coding online and engage in self-directed, low-cost programs. Taking a slow-start approach may also be beneficial if you’re still deciding whether you want to delve into an online coding bootcamp or another educational program that teaches coding for beginners. Below, we’ve listed several online resources to help you develop your coding skills and background without breaking the bank.

W3 Schools

W3 Schools is designed to teach coding to beginners; it focuses on HTML, CSS, JavaScript and other languages geared toward web developers. The site offers free tutorials and reference materials as well as quizzes and coding exercises.

As with all free resources, you need to have strong self-motivation to follow through on these projects on your own — but there is a tremendous amount to learn here if you dedicate yourself.

Khan Academy

While Khan Academy is a general online education resource, some of its most popular topics cover computer programming. The site provides courses for both kids and adults and provides lessons on SQL, JavaScript and other popular coding languages.

freeCodeCamp

When you sign up with freeCodeCamp, you have the opportunity to learn coding online by engaging in over 800 course-hours. The curriculum is very strong, and when you complete it, you can get practical coding experience working on nonprofit projects. The opportunity for hands-on experience can be enormously helpful for those who want to add to their portfolio or reinforce their theoretical knowledge with real work. When you complete freeCodeCamp’s self-guided program, you also receive a free coding certification.

Codecademy

Codecademy is a popular site for interactive online learning. The site offers immediate coding review services, so you can get feedback instantly as you create your code. Codecademy provides a range of technical lessons as well as computer programming skill training; its curriculum encompasses a wide variety of languages, including Angular.js, Ruby and Python.

Edabit

Another free online option, Edabit, focuses on small, fast and interactive coding challenges that you can fit into your daily schedule. Rather than a full-scale curriculum, Edabit focuses on building knowledge through short, bite-sized challenges.

How to Choose the Right Programming Language

If you’re going to dedicate time and effort toward your education, you will want to choose a programming language that adds value to your career path and prospective employers. If you intend to be a mobile developer, you probably want to focus on languages used in Android or iPhone application programming; if you want to get into front end development, you will need to tackle languages used in that specialty.

That said, when you first start, it can be beneficial to take an exploratory, full stack approach so you can learn what you most enjoy about coding. Full stack development encompasses both front and back end development — i.e., the underlying mechanics and the aspects of a website or app that users interact with. Once you get to know a few programming languages on both ends, you can better decide whether you want to delve more into the back end building blocks or front end, user-facing coding.

Moreover, coding has a shared logic; once you learn one language, your understanding of its underlying principles will help you acquire others.

Step-by-Step Guide to Choosing Languages for Web Development

1. Master the Basics: HTML, CSS

If you want to get started in a web development career, it is essential to begin with the basics. HTML and CSS form the basic structure and appearance of most of the websites you interact with every day. HTML, or hypertext markup language, defines the underlying skeleton of a web page or site. CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, defines its appearance. Both of these are integral to understanding basic web development.

2. Progress to JavaScript to Create Interactive Web Pages

JavaScript is a scripting language that allows your webpages to be more than simple, static displays of information. With JavaScript, you can make your web projects interactive, dynamic and animated. Web developers looking to create web-based projects today and into the future should understand JavaScript and how to use it well.

3. Learn to Work with Servers and Databases: Node.js, MySQL

When it comes to web development, knowing how to manage and manipulate servers and databases is crucial.

Websites are based on servers. These provide data that other computers can, in turn, connect to, view and interact with. Handling the server side of web development can be important to improve speed and the overall user experience. In addition, many modern websites, especially large or interactive sites, rely on databases, collections of structured information or data.

If you want to leverage servers or databases to enhance a website’s capacities, you’ll need to have a grasp on several relevant tools. These include Node.js, a JavaScript runtime environment that allows you to execute JavaScript-created projects that would be otherwise impossible to run, and MySQL, which is one of the most common open-source database management systems.

4. Deepen Your Proficiency: PHP, Python, Ruby, Java, C#, Amazon Web Services

Of course, the languages and tools listed above are only the basics of web development. There is even more to be gained from deepening your proficiency in different areas and languages, especially as you learn more about what you would like to focus on.

PHP

PHP is a web scripting language that can be inserted into the HTML of a webpage. PHP borrows a good amount of its syntax from other programming languages. Still, it has its own approach to generating dynamic web pages and allowing web developers to quickly and efficiently ramp up their work. If you are interested in writing themes or plugins for WordPress, for example, PHP is an essential skill.

Python

Python is a versatile language that has been growing in popularity and is well-respected by employers. There are web frameworks, like Django and Flask, that allow you to create back end Python code that runs on your server, as well as a wide array of data science applications for Python. In short: this language has significant upsides and is on a strong growth trajectory.

Ruby

Ruby is an object-oriented programming language, much like other all-purpose languages. Ruby also drives Ruby on Rails, a web application framework, and the Ruby community has long had a primary focus on web development. Ruby’s advantages for advanced web developers overlap with those provided by Python — which means it’s no surprise that both are popular.

Java

Don’t let the similar names fool you — Java and JavaScript are not the same. While JavaScript is mostly used to bring dynamism to interactive websites, Java is a full-featured, high-level programming language with many back end programming capabilities. Like C++ or Ruby, Java is an object-oriented programming language that is often used to create web applications and innovative mobile apps.

C#

C# is an object-oriented programming language that is also close to C or C++. It is widely used for building web and desktop applications and is frequently used in game development. Its versatility makes C# one of the most popular choices for programmers across specialties.

Amazon Web Services

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is not a programming language; however, its cloud is one of the most widely used and fully featured hosting programs for full stack and front end developers alike. Practical knowledge of AWS is critical for those seeking employment in the web development industry.

Languages for Building Mobile Apps

One of the most rapidly growing areas of the tech industry is the field of mobile app development; mobile app usage has exploded worldwide.

Mobile app development overlaps somewhat with modern web development, as both strive to provide speedy, user-friendly experiences. However, developers for the two fields don’t necessarily approach their work in the same way. The two major smartphone operating systems, Android and iOS (or iPhone), have different languages and skill sets, but most apps will launch jointly on both platforms.

As a beginner, you may find that one path is more appealing or choose to explore both over time. Either way, the skills you develop will empower you to excel as an iOS or Android developer.

iPhone apps: Objective-C and Swift

iOS apps are developed primarily on Objective-C and Swift.

Objective-C was the first language specifically intended to program apps for the iPhone. It emerged in 1984 as a spinoff of C, another coding language that was popular at the time. While Objective-C is still widely used in iPhone apps, a newcomer, Swift, attracts some iOS developers because of its useful protocol-oriented design. Swift is frequently named as one of developers’ most-loved programming languages.

Android apps: Java, C++

Android apps are developed in some of the same programming languages you might use to build web applications or full-featured software programs: Java and C++. Java is frequently used to create Android games and apps, while C++ code can be used in conjunction with Java. Both of these languages have gained widespread popularity.

Popular Languages for Software and Video Game Development

C++

C++, a middle-level programming language, is a standard in software development and computer science classrooms. It offers a workable, useful vocabulary for software development, software maintenance and even video game development. Learning C++ gives you an understanding of object-oriented programming as well as an easier gateway to related languages like C#. It has a wide array of uses, from desktop software to mobile Android apps.

Java

We’ve discussed Java several times in this guide, and for good reason — it truly is a tremendously useful and versatile language. This object-oriented, platform-independent language can run on all operating systems and is the basis of Android app development. Java also powers web applications on a wide variety of sites.

C#

We’ve discussed C#’s usefulness in web development; however, its applications in game development also deserve mention. As it offers Microsoft integration, applications developed in this language have enormous potential reach for PC gamers. And, given its similarities to C++ and Java, C# can be a quick learn for those who have a background in similar object-oriented languages.

Lua

Lua is a scripting language that is widely used in game development and desktop application programming. It is used to develop embedded systems and underpins well-known games like World of Warcraft. With its speed and performance, Lua comprises large portions of expansive applications and is currently the leading scripting language used in game development.

A Final Word About Learning to Code

Learning to code is a long-term project that could lead to a lengthy future of exploration and discovery. As an aspiring coder, there is much to be gained by learning through exploration.

Get started by pursuing your own coding projects. Explore some of the top coding projects for beginners; join online communities like freeCodeCamp or Stack Overflow that will allow you to discuss and explore real-life coding challenges.

There are many great books, like Steve McConnell’s Code Complete, that can also provide a solid background to helping you write five-star code. Programming Pearls by Jon Bentley encourages readers to explore problem-solving and highlights the type of questions often used by employers in technical interviews.

Coding bootcamps provide intensive education, high-level knowledge and practical experience; taking one could be a great way to launch your foray into tech. Start by exploring part-time and full-time virtual classes offered through Berkeley Coding Boot Camp.

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