📚 Two Inspiring Technology Companies 💻
My Learning Muses
6 min read
No other online platforms have had as big an impact in my life as Khan Academy && freeCodeCamp. I'm forever grateful to the wealth of knowledge they provide, and their missions:
Our mission is to provide a free, world‑class education for anyone, anywhere.
freeCodeCamp's mission is to help people learn to code for free.
Khan Academy is an online learning platform offering practice exercises, videos and more. It is primarily for K-14 material as well as free tools for parents and instructors.
It's staggering to me the amount of material present on the platform, and the quality with which it's presented.
Khan Academy was founded by Sal Khan after he began tutoring family members online. He started posting his videos on YouTube in 2006, and incorporated as a non-profit in 2008.
The pre-funding early days of Khan Academy ran parallel to my return to college in the late 00's. Shortly after significant grant money began to bolster the platform, I began to use it extensively.
I took my first Calculus course in the spring of 2012, and it was a system-shock experience. I quickly realized I'd have to relearn substantial chunks of trigonometry in tandem with the Calculus work to keep up with our professor.
Dr. Shive, like many college professors at the time, recommended Khan Academy to any (all) of us who were struggling to keep pace with his instruction.
I spent many hours on Khan Academy relearning the trig and reinforcing the Calculus that semester.
And you know what happened?
- I fell in love with both subjects
- I fell in love with learning, in general
- I realized the potential for educational content online
🏫 New School
I'd had some wonderful professors through the years. Having returned for my first degree at age 25, I was more receptive to subjects and instruction than before.
Profs. Bishop, Switzer, Kelly, Prenshaw, Fiser, Culpepper, Brister and Parakkal were a few standouts that had life-long impacts on my education and my career afterward.
Add Sal Khan to the list. Particularly because of his early instructional videos in mathematics and physics. I was so impressed with the quality of content he was producing even before the videos themselves became as polished as they are today.
As a result of my experiences that final semester during my business undergraduate degree, my love of learning was renewed. And my love for math and science was birthed.
I went back through two years of an engineering degree two years after graduating, and my love of web development and technology today stems from those formative years.
Khan Academy inspires me to
- Continue learning
- Help others in their journey
- Leverage the power of the internet to do good
Not long after my experiences with Khan Academy, freeCodeCamp was founded in 2014. This was right when I returned to college in an engineering program.
freeCodeCamp is a free online coding bootcamp with challenges, projects and verified certifications. In addition to the curriculum, there are hundreds of tutorials and videos available on their news blog and YouTube channel.
I dabbled in Python and Java over the course of two years. I found freeCodeCamp myself in 2016 after my first son was born and I chose to exit formal university in favor of self-study.
I also used Codecademy and edX a bit, but was always drawn to freeCodeCamp because of its crystal clear mission.
The for-profit market is very crowded, especially as bootcamps have become a mainstream, albeit expensive, route to learn many specific skills. They can be a useful tool, but I couldn't help but feel that the value proposition was skewed.
Through a combination of listening to Quincy's personal story and motivations for beginning freeCodeCamp and my own experience working through a bit of the curriculum, I could tell that it was a special platform.
The impetus for growth is placed on the individual. And all the certifications are project-based. I was able to go through the tutorial sections just like I have come to expect from any number of sites.
But rather than getting stuck in tutorial hell, the projects are just difficult enough to force you to go beyond the lessons into external documentation to solve.
Being pushed outside my comfort zone is a healthy thing. I've recently completed the Relational Database certification, and it was very challenging at times.
It is still in beta as of this writing (08/2022), and was available either as a VSCode + Docker experience or in a web-based course delivered via integration with CodeAlly.
This caused all kinds of problems.
But you know what?
It was incredibly impactful. The problems I encountered deepened my learning when I was able to set frustrations aside and come to grips with the fact that web development and computer programming is wrought with bugs and problem solving.
It was fantastic practice in finding solutions rather than having them handed to me.
This continues to be my experience with freeCodeCamp as a whole. It inspires me to
- Not give up in the face of seemingly impossible problems
- Pay it forward as a contributor to the news blog
- Be mission-based in my online ventures
It's no secret that it's easy to start an online course, and it's often even easier to quit one.
My own start-stop relationship with both of these platforms is testament to that. But, I've kept coming back.
I've "wanted to learn how to code" since about 2013 when I first wrote some custom Google Apps Scripts for a spreadsheet at work.
But it wasn't until about 2019 that I got really serious and began to make progress past the introduction-level.
Don't give up.
Even when you give up!
Here's a screenshot of my first GitHub commit. It was in December 2012. My next commit was in July of 2019!
That's right, years went by. I'm pretty sure I started Harvard's CS50 like 5 times.
I did some coding in there, sure, but I largely was focused on my career, my family and traditional education.
But I never shut the door. And I'm so glad I didn't. These resources were there waiting for me when I came back.
Services like Khan Academy and freeCodeCamp always have open doors to free learning for anyone, anywhere!
Seeing how two people leveraged their own unique skillsets through technology to make the world a better place and to help millions of learners continues to inspire me.
I hope that I can pass on what has been freely given to me. It's one of the reasons that I've begun writing about my journey as a developer this year. I want to be able to help others along this journey by sharing my own experiences.
And I hope, whatever my future holds, that I can contribute to and build impactful tools and resources that serve others well!
Thanks for reading.
Come say hey 👋 over on Twitter: twitter.com/EamonnCottrell
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