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Follow Your Dreams: Codecademy Edition

Codecademy Homepage

Codecademy, a quick, fun way to learn the JavaScript programming language has only been live for less than 100 hours, and it has already crawled its way to the front page of Reddit and been featured on Wired and Techcrunch. Developed by recent graduate Ryan Bubinski, CC ’11, and Zachary Sims, CC ’12 (and taking a leave of absence to focus on this project), as part of the prestigious Y Combinator program, the site provides free, hands-on lessons that introduce different aspects of programming one by one. New lessons build on previous ones, and as users progress they earn badges visible to friends. Continuing with our series profiling recent Columbia undergrads, Bwog talked to Zach and Ryan about Codecademy, their time at Columbia, and their pets.

How did you come up with the idea for Codecademy?
Zach:  We had worked on another project earlier in the summer, but the two of us had always been frustrated by the fact that my coding skills weren’t as good as they could have been.  I took a bunch of tutorials over the summer and had watched videos, read books, and taken a class at Columbia.  Nothing seemed quite right, so we decided to try to build something that would help people like me.
Ryan: I spent a large portion of my time at Columbia teaching and practicing programming, and I honestly believe everyone should have at the very least a foundational knowledge of the craft. If you love teaching and you want to reach as many people as possible, the logical conclusion is to build a learning platform like Codecademy.

Are you surprised to see it take off on such a large scale?  So quickly?
Z:  Yes.  We intended on getting some quick feedback and making some changes before trying to get more users.  We posted Codecademy to Hacker News in an attempt to get some feedback, but got more than 700 upvotes.  Everything started rolling from there.
R: Absolutely. At any given moment we’re reaching thousands of people across the globe. It’s very inspiring.

Are there any Columbia easter eggs in the program?
Z: Not yet.
R: Nope, but we’re open to suggestions.

Any recommendations for aspiring Columbia CS majors?
Z:  Tinker. Start building something fun (and if you’re not a CS major, learn with Codecademy!). Get to know people on campus and in New York who are interested in startups and programming.
R: Join the Application Development Initiative. Build something (nothing is too trivial). Share it with your friends. Incorporate feedback. Iterate. Don’t be afraid to throw away code at any point in this process.

Do you have any advice for humanities majors?
Z: Learn what you’re interested in and, if you don’t know, try everything. I was a political science major but I knew early in my freshman year that I wanted to work in tech so i picked up a ton of internships. It was super helpful.
R: Being a humanity major does not exclude you from learning a technical topic like programming. Often the most interesting research comes from combining techniques of two completely disparate fields of study.

Is it still worth taking Intro to Java?
Z: I took it last semester and definitely found it valuable.
R: I never took the course, but my friends speak very highly of the course’s instructor, Adam Cannon. I’d be more eager to recommend the course if it was taught in Python or JavaScript.

Where is/was your favorite place to code on campus?
Z: I’m a huge fan of the new Northwest Corner library.
R: Joe’s has fantastic natural lighting, but your laptop needs to have a powerful battery to compensate for the lack of power outlets.

Mac or PC?
Z: Mac (just got a new MacBook air—it’s awesome)
R: Was once a PC, now a Mac.

Do you have any pets?
Z: A dog at home with my family (chocolate lab) but not with us in CA.
R: No, but I think I’d enjoy a dog once I have the means to care for one.

Do you plan/hope to make this your career?
Z: This is definitely a business we hope to be running in 20 years—it’s something that not only could turn out to be a good business but it could also end up being good for the world.
R: I can easily see myself spending the next decade or more working on this endeavor, if given the opportunity.

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10 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous don’t trust Ryan’s plug of the ADI–he was the old leader. If you join, you might end up like him, jobless.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous This is the most myopic comment I’ve read this week.

  • SEAS '15 says:

    @SEAS '15 SO FUCKING COOL. And Columbia kids made it?! FUCKING COOLER.
    brbbecomingaCSmajor

    1. cole, seas '13 says:

      @cole, seas '13 join ACM then! we’d love to have oyu

    2. moses, cc '13 says:

      @moses, cc '13 join ADI–we’ll teach you how to do this stuff

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Soooo awesome. These guys are great!

  • Wow says:

    @Wow This is really cool! I’ve always been really bad with computers and things like this, but Codecademy is making it a lot less miserable to at least try my hand at it.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Awesome! Congratulations!

  • Van Owen says:

    @Van Owen Congratulations Ryan & Zack!!!

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