Getting Schooled by Codecademy

Image for Getting Schooled by Codecademy

As a web developer, staying up-to-date and continually learning is a necessity. We tend to start off our careers with a base set of skills—either front-end or back-end centered—and years of experience that have really perfected those skills. The thing is, there are a lot of other languages out there for developers to learn that can strengthen our current skills, and possibly even make us care more about front-end or back-end development.

Quick Developer Background Check

For me, I’m primarily a front-end developer. I graduated from Philadelphia University, and was very good at HTML and CSS… but not so much JavaScript and jQuery. I would spend extra hours outside of my classes learning about HTML5 and responsive web development. My first three years here at Intuitive Company have allowed me to come across a ton of different situations where I got to really flex my front-end developer skills. My HTML and CSS have come a long way in terms of being more semantic and accessible. I’ve spent more time with JavaScript, primarily jQuery, and have been able to create some useful plugins and awesome user experiences on the web.

Identifying a Gap

However, I still always saw JavaScript as my Achilles heel, if you will. I could write some basic functions and rework them and improve them over time. I started to get better with variables, learning better naming conventions (trust me, this helps a lot), and breaking bigger functions into smaller ones. I wanted to continue learning and get better with this language in particular. Since I struggled with reading some of the JavaScript libraries we use, it was difficult to customize them or modify them to make them work the way I wanted them to.

I knew I would get better with this language over time, but I wanted to do something about it now.

Building an All-Star Squad

Our development directors are all about having a well-rounded team who can tackle any task thrown their way. Everyone knows that he or she can reach out and ask a fellow developer for help on something they have no clue about or might think can be improved. With that being said, we are also encouraged to seek out continued education to get better at a language, or even learn a completely new one, as long as it will benefit our development skills and, in return, the company in general.

I decided to investigate my options and found a free educational site for developers called Codecademy, where you can pick from a wide variety of languages to learn. They have JavaScript, HTML and CSS, Ruby, Angular, PHP, and more. I decided to go with the JavaScript lessons.

First Impressions

The site looks great and functions even better. It gives you an estimate of how long it will take you to complete the entire course and will save your progress so you can start and finish whenever you want.

So did I like it?

Very much.

I was able to complete all of the courses in about two weeks, knocking out lessons by coming into work early to get them done, or toward the end of the day when I wouldn’t have enough time to start a new task on a client project. Some lessons take longer than others, but in general they range from 10 minutes to 45 minutes.

In each exercise, you are given a problem to solve, and then the lesson explains what it wants you to do to figure out the answer.

For example, you might be given an object with some properties in it, and then are informed how you can update those properties in more ways than one. You build on this small code snippet and can create something larger by the end of the lesson.

There is also a “Hint” section on each exercise that you can view to maybe get a reminder on syntax or get a cleaner explanation of the answer the exercise is looking for.

The code editor and console are very good, and it didn’t feel buggy or sluggish. Code formatting and syntax highlighting was also all great to work with.

I looked forward to completing my lessons, and I knew I was getting better with each one. I also knew the code I was learning was going to have an immediate impact on the future code I would write for projects, and it did.

Takeaways

There were some lessons where I would have to seek out my fellow developers to maybe understand what the lesson wanted me to do, or how I could use what I was writing in a different manner, to better understand its purpose. I didn’t notice until I completed all the lessons that there is a Q&A section where questions can be answered, similar to what I was doing when seeking help from my teammates.

Conclusion

For me, improving my JavaScript skills makes me feel like a more complete developer. I can plan out my code better; write clean, reusable functions; and read Javascript better. I still have a long way to go until I feel as confident in my JavaScript skills as I do with my HTML and CSS, but with more exposure to it and these lessons under my belt, I know will get more comfortable with it.

Even after completing the lessons in Codecademy, I can go back and reference a specific lesson very easily with the lesson navigator. The site also has a great glossary for JavaScript syntax and usage that I still find very useful.

We always want to push the envelope and allow our designers to flex their creativity so we can really show off what we can do for the client. Continuing education is something that you need in this field of web development, and the experience will definitely make you better once you learn the basics. I highly recommend Codecademy for improving and learning any languages you may be interested in.

Illustration by Susie Briggs

About the Author

Image of Matt Lewis

Matt Lewis

UX Developer

As a developer with a background in design, Matt is another "double threat" on our team. More