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Codecademy founders Ryan Bubinski CC ’11 and Zach Sims, who entered the College with the Class of 2012.

An Online Platform for 21st Century Literacy

Former students Ryan Bubinski CC ’11 and Zach Sims created Codecademy, an online platform that teaches practical programming skills through fun, engaging exercises.

Ryan Bubinski CC ’11 and Zach Sims want everyone to learn how to code.

The two see a disconnect between the large number of jobs that require coding skills and the small number of people trained to fill those positions.

That’s why in 2011 they created Codecademy, an interactive online platform that teaches practical programming skills in an engaging, fun way where people learn by doing.

“Programming is becoming a fundamental part of every field,” said Sims, a member of the Class of 2012 who left the College after his junior year to work on the start-up. “Algorithmic trading dominates finance, lawyers are using automated discovery tools, journalism often requires a solid grasp of statistics and programming to write data-driven investigative stories and small businesses increasingly need to control their web presences.”

“We think programming is a form of 21st-century literacy,” Sims added. “We think that everyone should have a basic grasp of programming that they [can] apply in their everyday life.”

Bubinski and Sims met in 2008 through Spectator, where Bubinski was the online editor and Sims was the online business development director. Bubinski left Spectator to found the Application Development Initiative (ADI), a campus programming group that Sims later joined.

The group originally targeted computer science majors, Bubinski said, but it quickly became apparent that students from a range of majors were interested in joining the group to learn programming.

“That experience helped me better appreciate the universal appeal and power of programming,” said Bubinski, a computer science and biophysics major who has been programming since he was a teenager.

To gain more programming experience, Sims, a political science major, read manuals, watched instructional videos and did internships for companies like drop.io, AOL Ventures and GroupMe (founded by Jared Hecht CC ’09). He was disappointed that learning to code wasn’t more intuitive.

The two also had friends who were struggling with their practical programming skills and interviewing for jobs that required coding skills they didn’t have.

That’s how they came up with the idea for Codecademy.

“Ryan and I built Codecademy to teach practical programming skills in an engaging, fun way where people learn by doing,” Sims said. “Ryan drew on his experience teaching programming as the founder of the Application Development Initiative, and I drew on my experience learning to program. We wanted to help more people learn to program.”

To get feedback on their project before publicizing it, Bubinski and Sims posted about Codecademy on Hacker News in August 2011. Within a few days, the site received more than 200,000 views. Then the company took off. Codecademy made it to the front page of Reddit and then was featured in WiredTechCrunch and The New York Times. As of September 2011, the site had more than 550,000 users who had completed more than six million exercises. At the beginning of 2012, Mayor Michael Bloomberg tweeted that his New Years resolution was to learn to code with Codecademy.

Now, less than two years later, Sims and Bubinski have raised $12.5m in venture capital funding and the site has several million users. The two manage a growing team of hackers in their New York office who maintain Codecademy’s most basic principle: Anyone can be empowered to learn how to code.

The free site attracts users by allowing personalized tracks, offering personal feedback from other users and giving badges to motivate and encourage participation. Users select a track, or a series of courses that teaches their desired subject matter. This might include Javascript, Python, HTML/CSS, Ruby or APIs (application programming interfaces). Users can take as many courses as they would like, eventually building websites, games and applications.

The Codecademy website touts “digital literacy” as “a fundamental skill like reading and writing.” In line with that philosophy, Codecademy distributes free kits to high school and college students hoping to start a coding club at their own school.

Mike Brown Jr. CC ’06, managing partner at Bowery Capital and a former general partner at AOL Ventures, where Sims worked while in college, said coding is an important skill.

“Helping folks learn to code is extremely important as technology becomes more and more ubiquitous,” he said. “We are now living in a world that is ‘Internet native’ in every way — think about the amount of time you spend on the Internet, your phone, your computer and other devices. Understanding even at a high level how these machines work is a really important skill given our dependency on these devices and the networked world.”

That’s why Sims and Bubinski are building a business for the long term.

“Codecademy is something that’s been used by millions of people in a little over a year and we’re excited to see what happens during the next few years,” Sims said. 

- Stella Girkins CC '15

Last updated Monday May 22, 2017

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