Codecademy says it can turn anyone into a Web programmer

@CNNMoneyTech November 29, 2011: 8:37 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- It's a tough economy out there, but there's at least one skill in high demand: programming.

Industry veterans insist that almost anyone can master the basics of software coding. Now, a pair of entrepreneurs have teamed up to test that idea with a company called Codecademy, which aims to make learning to program simple and fun.

"Coding is going to be the literacy of the 21st Century, and we think we have the easiest way to do it," says co-founder Zach Sims.

After working with a variety of startups in business development roles, Sims, who is 21, dropped out of Columbia to focus on his own venture. He teamed with Ryan Bubinski, 22, who graduated from Columbia with a degree in computer science and biophysics -- and, more importantly, an extensive knowledge of programming.

Codecademy isn't the first site out there to teach people programming skills, but Sims says its secret sauce is its focus on making training accessible and affordable.

"It's totally different from books that are one-way learning experiences," he says. "We think it should be more interactive, more fun than something in a book, where you read for half an hour and then you go code."

Right now, everything on Codecademy is free. Users receive badges and points for completing lessons. The site currently has four multi-part courses available -- a "coding 101" class and three JavaScript trainers -- but it hopes to ramp up quickly. Launched in June, the New York-based site has already attracted $2.5 million in a funding round led by Union Square Ventures and is a graduate of Y Combinator, one of Silicon Valley's most closely watched incubators.

Sims says his lack of experience as a programmer helped in Codecademy's creation: "When we would try a new product out, I was the one we would try it out on, so it was almost like having your customer build it."

Miriam Browning-Nance, a strategic communications student at Columbia University, has been using the service to teach herself basic programming skills.

She moved to New York to pursue a career as an opera singer, but quickly found that even an arts career requires some tech savvy. After starting an opera company, Browning-Nance had a partner show her how to get into the company website's code to handle basic updates and changes.

She hopes coding skills will boost her resume as she enters an increasingly competitive job market in the communications field.

"I don't plan to become the next great developer," she says. "I just want to be able to know a little bit -- enough to keep communications platforms up-to-date and add that little extra something that maybe in a job interview they say, 'Oh, this person has that extra skill.'"

How is Codecademy going to make money off a service that's currently free? Like many tech startups, it's focusing on building first, money later.

"We're not planning to charge for courses," Sims says. "We're not really talking much about monetization at the moment."

Right now, the company's main struggle is the same problem they're aiming to fix: Finding developers.

"Hiring is really hard," Sims says. "Our biggest problem right now is finding incredibly talented developers and designers to work with. That's sort of why we're doing this right now - to create more engineers not just for us, but for all the other tech companies out there that are hiring and will be hiring in the future." To top of page

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