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FreeCodeCamp founder Quincy Larson

Can a free coding course actually land you a SWEet career?

(Also how coding is like driving in the 1920s)

In this edition of YouTube Learning’s Skilling series, we are spotlighting FreeCodeCamp is a nonprofit coding community that has built a loyal and large following on YouTube. Through hours-long courses and a robust learning platform boasting over 7,000 tutorials, freeCodeCamp has helped tens of thousands of busy adults from around the world launch careers in computer science. 

Founder Quincy Larson shared his thoughts on the future of coding and his mission to make learning it free.  

The freeCodeCamp NYC group back in 2016. "Before the pandemic, we had more than 2,000 study groups around the world, and we’re going to build back."

The freeCodeCamp NYC group back in 2016. "Before the pandemic, we had more than 2,000 study groups around the world, and we’re going to build back." 

What was the impetus that started freeCodeCamp, your nonprofit?

I learned how to code in my 30s. And at the time, most of the resources were either expensive or designed for students – not for busy adults. 

After I managed to cobble together online courses with books from the library, I was eventually able to learn enough to get a job as a software developer. But I felt the experience was unnecessarily ambiguous and discouraging. So I set out to create a community where busy adults could help one another learn these skills together.

From the beginning, I knew it needed to be free, so that learners everywhere could build up these skills, get developer jobs, and provide for their families – regardless of their ability to pay.

It turns out I wasn’t alone. A lot of people were having trouble learning to code and joined freeCodeCamp. More than 40,000 of those people have now gotten jobs as developers, and thousands of them have contributed back to our open source codebase, or created tutorials or YouTube courses to share with the community.

Some members of the freeCodeCamp team (from left to right): Miya, Mrugesh, Quincy, Kris, Ahmad.

Some members of the freeCodeCamp team (from left to right): Miya, Mrugesh, Quincy, Kris, Ahmad.

You and your team built a robust coding platform - what role does YouTube play?

YouTube is a powerful way for our nonprofit to share courses. Not only does YouTube provide a solid streaming experience for learners, it also has built-in ways so people can stay up-to-date with the courses we publish through subscribing and notifications.

One of the first things I did after setting up our nonprofit back in 2014 was to start a YouTube channel so we could publish video courses. Today, the freeCodeCamp community has shared more than 600 full-length courses on YouTube on a broad range of programming and technology topics.

We saw value in starting a coding YouTube channel for developers at any stage in their careers. You don’t have to be an expert to start teaching coding – the process of learning a topic and then making a video teaching the topic turns student developers into experts. freeCodeCamp teacher Beau Carnes created this advice video for budding technology YouTube creators.

A few years ago, there was a growing chorus of voices declaring that coding is the new literacy - do you believe this is true today? Even if someone doesn't want to pursue a career as a programmer, what are the benefits of learning coding regardless?

Learning to code in the 2020s is akin to learning to drive in the 1920s. It opens up a whole range of new careers and business opportunities. 

Just like you could make it through the 1920s without learning to drive, you can probably make it  through life without learning to really use computers and technology. But if you put in the time and energy, you will be handsomely rewarded – regardless of what field you ultimately work in. 

Coding is a broad skill. It’s like being able to pull tools off the shelf and use them for whatever it is you need done. I would just start with learning more about the tools you already use every day, whether that’s spreadsheets or databases. Just dig a bit deeper, and before long you’ll encounter HTML, JavaScript, Python, and other ubiquitous tools. And you can just search for questions as they come to mind and make baby steps toward becoming technical.

Don’t let yourself be intimidated by programming and technology. There are some excellent courses out there for absolute beginners.

Study group in Seoul

Study group in Seoul

You often mention the economy of abundance - can you tell us more about this? Where does this come from and why is it relevant to those learning to code?

Yes – an abundance mindset allows you to focus on cooperating with other people to accomplish a goal, rather than viewing everything through the lense of competition (a scarcity mindset). 

Wikipedia is a big inspiration of mine. Thousands of people spending millions of hours sharing their expertise with one another – and ultimately building a massive learning resource in the process.

I saw what Wikipedia did for facts and thought perhaps we could do that for technology skills. It was a long shot, but it turns out that a lot of people are interested in helping for the sake of helping. And the wonderful thing is that teaching is one of the best ways of solidifying your own knowledge. You learn a new skill and you turn around and apply that skill by teaching it to other people.

Do you have a favorite student success story?

People contact me each week telling me stories about how they got their first developer job thanks to our resources. For example, this recent comment on our Python in 4 hours course: “I had to come here - 8 months after I watched your video. I studied economics…nothing to do with coding whatsoever. Then I watched this video. Now I’m 9 months into python and Django. Just got my first paid software developer job. You have completely changed the course of my life and I’m thankful for that. First time in my life I like my job.” 

We’ve heard this story many times and we don’t plan to stop anytime soon. 

In light of the popularity of skilling pieces, the Learning Series will continue to feature such posts in the future. More to come soon!