Just Took My First Job: @Codecademy

So my officemate (or more accurately, office donor) Ian Alexander was perusing the net a few months ago, and then shouted across the room to me, “these guys are doing what you’ve been saying.”

He was talking about Codecademy, a website built by two Columbia University students (well, former students) who realized that computer coding was becoming an essential skill for participants in an increasingly digital culture and workplace. They set on an experiment: Could they create a command line interface so compelling, so easy-to-use, that it quite literally taught people how to code?

The result, a work-in-progress of online courses for Javascript, html, and more, realized that dream and more. I was intrigued and inspired by their approach of offering free programming skills to anyone who has the time and energy to learn. Instead of making students bear the cost of their education, these guys want to transfer the cost to future employers, who will eventually pay Codecademy for access to programmers looking for work – whose skill levels and achievements have been documented by the courses.

Thrilled to have found people actualizing the agenda I espoused in my book Program or Be Programmed, I wrote about Codecademy in one of my CNN columns. I wrote so enthusiastically about these courses that the “standards and practices” people at CNN called to make sure I wasn’t an investor or business partner. I wasn’t, but they were onto something: if I was already talking like a partner in this enterprise, maybe I should be.

So I went and met the founders in real life. They were very familiar with my work – as inspired by what I had written as I was about what they were doing. They wondered whether there might be a role for me at Codecademy a bit like, say, Vint Cerf’s role as “Net Evangelist” for Google. So did I. Besides, there must be something better to do with my freshly minted PhD in New Media and Digital Culture than go for tenure at a college, right? Couldn’t I participate in higher education without putting my students into lifelong debt?

Thus, my first real job since serving as a tennis attendant one summer at the public courts in Westchester. I’m now a member of Codecademy, dedicated to promoting code literacy and digital education.

What will that mean? We shall see. I’m not about promoting one website’s solution to the problem of digital literacy as much I am about promoting the culture of knowing the code. This is bigger than just computers. We live in a programmatic world – “code literacy” in business or economics means something different than it does in religion or politics. But coming to grips with the underlying languages of digital landscapes we inhabit is a great and accessible first step toward seeing the languages and agendas embedded in pretty much every other landscape on which we interact.

They are all operating systems, and they are all fungible by those who bother to learn how they are put together. That’s what I’ll be writing and speaking about a lot in the coming months. I am also planning to develop some courses for the site concerned a bit more with the “why’s” than the “how.” Maybe a new radio show about this as well. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll be taking the courses at Codecademy starting today. If you want to go through the experience at the same time or to be in my peer group, come on over.