Code Academy – is it for seasoned programmers?

Can an old timer learn a new programming language via Code Academy?

About a decade ago I swore off learning new languages.

I was a C++ fan, knew enough Java to get by and had tired of the usual treadmill that involved buying an O’Reilly book reading it and working through the exercises.

Don’t get me wrong – O’Reilly books work, are very well written and can pretty much guarantee I finish the book with a sound knowledge of the subject matter.

However after learning c, c++, turbo c, SQL, English enquiries, Java, j++, Quickbasic, Turbo Basic, Turbo Vision, Visual basic & VBA, PCL, HPGL, postscript, JavaScript and Fortran 77 I wanted a break.

Life doesn’t always let you sit on your laurels though and recently I needed to learn Pearl and Python.

Pearl was addressed by taking an on-line LAMP stack course from my then employers MindLeaders – now SkillSoft. The course was good, allowed me to work at my own pace and took me through the elements I needed to know to put together a web enquiry system for an MySQL based MI database.
Moreover always a fan of e-learning, now I was hooked.

Since leaving SkillSoft I found that I had a need to learn Python.

Why learn Python when you know c++?

Python is the language of choice (lingua franca so to speak) for many academic tutorials and it is easy to find examples of SNA projects written in Python. It also has a great set of libraries and the advantage that applications written in Python are relatively straight forward to port to web based applications.

Python has the advantage that code is easy to read – the white space matters concept means that code HAS to be properly laid out to run. If it isn’t it won’t run. Of course that also makes it seem very picky for those of use raised on “whitespace/case doesn’t matter” languages. It also has some quirky features that I will no doubt find endearing (eventually!) – No switch statement!

So with plentiful code examples in an easy to read format and even a course by Udacity on SNA I had to leap in.

Code Academy to the rescue!

As Code Academy is free and has been getting good reviews of late I decided to try it’s Python track. I wasn’t convinced that it would suit an old dog like me, but then again what did I have to lose?

As it turns out I am impressed at the approach taken by these courses – heavy on the exercises, with a separate scratchpad to try your code in before you put it in the answer frame.

The courses build on previous knowledge and regularly re-enforce techniques you learnt earlier.

They aren’t perfect – but then again I don’t know a system that is and if you factor in how much you are saving against a traditional course (which can be very hit and miss level wise for a seasoned pro) it’s a small point.

Code Academy keeps track of your achievements and how long you took (211 exercises to date) and sends you emails of encouragement to “keep the streak alive” as well as awarding you “achievements” when you tackle a particularly challenging task.

Overall – for me – It’s a WIN!

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