People often have great ideas for startups but lack the skills to build them. If your startup centers around a web application, you can invest some time into learning web development and start building it yourself.

I’ve tried various online courses for learning web development, some more effective than others. I’ve not found anything with more bang-for-your-buck than Code School.

The structure of the courses means you can move really quickly (or slowly if you need to) and get up-to-speed with new technologies in very little time. When you start a course, you’ll watch a video that will teach you a concept. You’ll then be given an interactive exercise where you can practice the concept and get real-time feedback on whether you did it right.

Mark up headings interactive practice on Code School

In the above screenshot, you can see the first interactive exercise in the Front End Foundations course. On the left, you have the instructions and a list of tasks you should complete along with hints if you need them. On the top right, you have a code editor. This is where you’ll do the work to complete the tasks listed on the left. Just below that, you have a preview of the result of your changes. You can also switch this pane to view the slides that were in the video you watched before the exercise. This makes it easy to reference material if you can’t recall something you heard earlier.

Once you’re finished with the tasks and click Submit, your work will be immediately evaluated and you’ll either be passed on to the next video or failed with a description of what went wrong.

Code School incorrect submission

Code School uses badges and points to give you quick but shallow boosts of endorphins as you complete exercises and courses. It’s a fun layer on top of the core content of the site.

What Does It Do Well?

It’s Fast

Code School is exceptional at quickly delivering understanding and basic competency on various technologies web developers use. The feedback loop is so fast and satisfying, you can jump in for a couple of hours and be ready to build basic HTML pages. A couple more hours and you’ll be styling them with CSS. Before you know it, you’re writing Javascript to add interactivity. Once you’re comfortable with that, you can jump into back end development with one of several languages and frameworks including Node/Express, Rails, Python, or .NET. Once you’ve learned all that, you’ve got a whole lot of power to build almost anything you want.

It’s Economical

It gives you all this for $29/month which is an exceptional value as compared to in-person courses and even online bootcamps, each of which can cost thousands of dollars. That’s not to say these kinds of courses aren’t worth it, but you’ll get a ton of mileage out of Code School for a fraction of that money.

Where Is It Weak?

Getting Help

If you’re stuck and the hints aren’t helping, Code School’s answer is a community forum where you can address your questions to other users of the platform. For basic stuff, this can be useful, but sometimes the misunderstandings that lead to these problems can be difficult to unpack. It’s also quite common that beginners don’t know how to phrase a question so that others can easily answer them. This requires more effort on the part of the person answering the question than most casual forum users are willing to commit meaning you may never get the answer you need from a community forum. You can always turn to a larger resource like StackOverflow, but they are more interested in curating the knowledge available on the platform than in helping any one individual. (I’ll suppress the longer rant I would very much like to go on. 😉) It’s very likely you won’t get an answer there either.

If this problem is causing you a lot of pain, you might look toward a program that offers one-on-one mentorship. Those are the best for getting expert answers to your specific questions. Expect to pay for it though. It will give you a greater appreciation for Codeship’s pricing, but it’s often worth it. I’ll be reviewing one such course in a future review post.

Going Deep

The courses are great, but they’re very much on rails. You’re going to know enough to get started, and you’ll have the vocabulary to help you find the deeper answers you need on the internet at large. Code School courses are generally just mean to get you going. They have several levels of some courses, but, even in those cases, the format only lends itself to a depth shallower than others kinds of resources. If you need courses that go much deeper, you might look at Pluralsight (who, incidentally, bought Code School a while back). Their courses are much narrower, much longer, and go much deeper than those of Code School.

For going deep, though, nothing beats just learning independently what you need to know to complete your own project. Being able to build your own thing is motivation you won’t find from any other source.

A Great Place to Start

No learning resource can be everything to everyone, but, for the person with a startup idea and no money to hire a developer or an agency, Code School is a great jumping off point. Even if you decide web development isn’t for you, whatever progress you can make will deepen your understanding of this aspect of your business when you later partner with a cofounder or hire technnical help. If development does click for you, Code School will put you on the fast track to being able to build anything you can imagine!

UPDATE: If you like this post and used it to sign up for Code School, you might want to read The Code School Curriculum for Non-Technical Founders. It tells you exactly which courses to take to bootstrap your web development education.