Right before his senior year of college, my high school friend Zach Sims, decided to jump on the entrepreneurial bandwagon, drop out of Columbia University and co-found a company called Codecademy. The mission of the company is to teach just about anyone how to code through their simple and user-friendly interface. And it’s free. Codecademy launched a program in 2012 called “Code Year” to encourage people to make learning how to code a New Years Resolution. The popularity of the company has grown dramatically over the past few months, and is evidenced by Mayor Bloomberg’s tweet in which he said, “My New Year’s resolution is to learn to code with Codecademy in 2012!” During their first round of funding in October 2011, Codecademy received $2.5 million from investors, including investment from the renowned venture capital firm Union Square Ventures. The founders of Codecademy believe that in the 21st century, coding is going to become almost as essential as reading and writing and will transform to be one of just a few marketable skills.
I personally have pledged to be a part of Code Year, have participated in a few lessons, but am definitely far away from creating the next Facebook. I have found it hard as a busy college student to dedicate time to learning this skill. When I’m 65 years old, is coding literacy going to be equivalent to pressing the power button on a computer today (a skill my grandparents never quite got a grasp of)? I want to remain technologically competent, but is Codecademy the answer?
I wasn’t so convinced. That is, until I heard Ryan Bubinsky, the other co-founder, say this in a recent interview with Fox News: “Computers are these universal tools. You can write programs to do almost anything you want the computer to do, and the computer will follow those instructions. If you don’t know how to create those tools, than you’re subject to the power or the prejudices of the people who make the tools themselves.”
“Subject to the power” are always chilling words to hear, but I think there’s a lot of truth in what Ryan is saying. None of us really asked for Facebook or Twitter or Linkedin, but they have come to dominate many of our lives. We are active participants – we have succumbed to the creations of Mark Zuckerberg and Biz Stone. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but is there going to come a point where simply participating isn’t enough?
The theme of this week is the story or the history of stuff. What I think is most relevant to Codecademy is the future of stuff. Or even the future of the creation of stuff. Society is largely composed of users, but dominated by creators. The internet and social media completely changed how candidates campaign for presidency, starting with Barack Obama in 2008. This is a powerful thing – the fact that a kid in a messy college dorm room typing code managed to change the process in which our nation’s leaders gain support and get elected.
It’s cliché, but the old saying goes: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Is it possible that Codecademy has been right all along? That learning how to code and making the transition from user to creator is the answer? I think it’s a hell of a start.