How to Learn to Code For Free: 7 Essential Resources

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Learn computer programming – for free! Via Shutterstock

Learning how to code may be the best way to secure your or your children’s financial future. “By 2020, U.S. universities will not be able to fill even a third of the country’s 1.4 million computing positions with qualified graduates,” said a recent Time article. Learning to code translates into guaranteed job offers, then.

The good news is that learning computer programming no longer requires advanced study in a classroom. Today, there are so many free resources available to anyone with an Internet connection – or public library access – that even young children can learn computer science! Don’t wait for public schools to catch up – 9 out of 10 schools do NOT teach computer science!

7 free ways to learn to code (for you and your kids!)


Ages: teens and up

Classes in: HTML, CSS, Javascipt, PHP, Ruby, Python, jQuery, APIs.

If you’ve never seen a line of HTML, this is the place to start. Code Academy has 7 basic online classes that move slowly and explain everything in great detail. Their online lessons are broken up into teeny tiny steps, so you feel you are constantly moving foward – and satisfied that you are making progress.

The site also remembers where you left off, so it’s easy to do a 10-minute lesson, grab a snack, and come back exactly where you left off. You can also very easily go back and review past lessons if you need a refresher. The site is very intuitive and doesn’t take a lot of time to navigate so you can pretty much just dive right in.

I took the basic HTML/CSS class and loved it. I never had any formal coding training before taking this course, and it was just what I needed. Super easy steps, with everything explained, and hints if you can’t figure it out. I highly recommend CodeAcademy for anyone interested in learning computer programming.

2. Hopscotch for iPad

Ages: 9-11

This iPad app is designed to teach young children the basics of programming. Kids drag and drop bits of code to make games, stories, animations, interactive art, and more. Here is the Hopscotch website and here’s where you can download the app on iTunes. The Hopscotch app is free. Unfortunately, there is no version for smart phones, perhaps because the screens are too small.


Ages: 5+ site wide, older for programming courses

Classes in: Hundreds of tutorial videos, plus classes in Javascript, Cryptography, Information Theory.

Computing science is just one subject covered by Khan Academy, which teaches math, art history, economics, and test prep, among other subjects. In the computer science arena, it focuses on Javascript and also has a course on Cryptography and Information Theory. The site is not as streamlined as CodeAcademy, but that is partly because of the wealth of information available on the site – all for free!

Khan Academy is also a great site for junior high school and high school students looking for a tutor or explanations about anything they are studying or interested in. Algebra, history, English…it’s all there in easy to understand video tutorials.


Ages: 4+

Teaches: basic programming concepts, Javascript, Python

Funded by tech giants Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Google, is on a mission to teach children computer science AND get programming into public school curriculums across the country. The site uses drag and drop programming for youngsters in “game-like, self-directed” tutorial video lectures. One example for kids is called Plants vs. Zombies. One major bonus is that the site is available in 34 languages.

Bonus: The NYTimes wrote a story in May 2014 about “The organization pays to train high school teachers to offer more advanced curriculums, and, for younger students, it has developed a coding curriculum that marries basic instruction with video games involving Angry Birds and hungry zombies.” runs the Computer Science Education Week and Hour of Code, two initiatives that aim to get more youngsters comfortable coding. Sign a petition that says you believe every student should have the opportunity to learn computer programming, and see how you can get involved. This year’s computer science education week is Dec. 8-14, 2014.


Ages: Female high schoolers

Teaches: Basic to intermediate programming skills during a summer camp program for girls.

Just .3% of girls chose computer science as a major in college. Very few end up as software engineers. Girls Who Code is out to change that. The site runs a 7-week summer camp immersion program in select cities across the country for sophomore and junior level girls. In 2014 the programs were in Mountain View, CA, Palo Alto, CA, San Jose, CA, San Ramon, CA, San Francisco, CA, New York, NY, Boston, MA, Miami, FL, and Seattle, WA. The program is free and scholarships for transportation are available.

Campers study programming from 9-4, plus take field trips to Google, Facebook, Twitter, AT&T, Gilt Groupe, Foursquare, and the News Corp. They also meet female entrepreneurs, CEOs, developers, designers, and computer science majors who function as mentors.

The program is very small right now – just 20 girls were selected for the 2014 summer camp, but the group plans to expand. Sign up to apply to the 2015 program here.

There are also Code Clubs if you are not near an immersion program. The clubs are a bit broader, accepting grades 6-12. A group of 15 girls are required to establish a new club, which are supported by the organization with monthly, project based activities.

6. Computer Science via Harvard University

Ages: adult or advanced teen

Teaches: Extensive programming in C, PHP, and JavaScript.

Tune into computer science lectures taught as an extension class at Harvard University. There are 2 hour-long videos each week; the course is 13 weeks long. You can listen in three different formats: Quicktime, MP3, or Flash. Taught by David Malan, PhD.

The course covers “algorithms (their design, implementation, and analysis); software development (abstraction, encapsulation, data structures, debugging, and testing); architecture of computers (low-level data representation and instruction processing); computer systems (programming languages, compilers, operating systems, and databases); and computers in the real world (networks, websites, security, forensics, and cryptography). The course teaches students how to think more carefully and how to solve problems more effectively.”

Start the Harvard computer science course here.

7. Massive Open Online Courses

Age: adults

Teaches: no classes offered directly through this site, which aggregates provides of free online classes.

There are many, many more free computer science classes available online (as well as for hundreds of other topics), also called massive open online courses. (Massive, because hundreds of thousands of people are taking them. Open, because they are free. I think you get the rest.) One site that aggregates all the MOOCs available is

Search for courses by category, university, instructor, country, language, type of certificate. Note, MOOCs typically do not offer college credit, but you may be able to earn a certificate. Contact the entity that offers the course for details. Read reviews of past courses. See the course work required. Watch videos. The site is free to use and there are a lot ads to support it – so be wary where you click.

Bonus! 8.Computer Science Online

The organization Computer Science Online has a guide to 2015’s Best Colleges for Online Computer Science Degrees, which highlights the post-secondary institutions with quality and affordable distance learning options in CS and related fields. A rep told me “for students who need more information about computer science and tech in college, the in-depth guide breaks down degree options by academic level and specialization, and includes research and input from professors at Cornell, Carnegie Mellon and five other top universities.” View the guide here.



Do you code? What programming sites do you like?



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