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Learn to Code for Free (for Real)

I can imagine the type of person served by an expensive, intensive programming bootcamp – someone with money (or, at least, good credit) and several weeks of free time. That has never described me in my life. The last time I had six weeks free was in the summer after tenth grade, before I started working full-time and at age 14, I had neither money nor credit.

It doesn’t require a pile of money and uninterrupted summer’s worth of time to keep up or catch up on technology. If you fall behind, you have no one to blame but yourself.

My whole life, I have been interested in learning more about everything. (Well, except about literary and film criticism because, well, it sucks. Just try reading any of it and you’ll see I am right.) That’s included lots of graduate coursework. For years, I took one class a year – in something – microbiology, matrix algebra – just to learn something new. Now, I try to teach a course a year. Last year it was biostatistics. This year,  I think I will teach both biostatistics and data mining.  I always learn something new when trying to come up with good examples and activities for classes, I have to keep up on the latest software and operating systems. It isn’t just free, but they pay me – not a lot, which is why I only teach once or twice a year.

Someone recently tweeted,

I hope to never learn the meaning of the word “webinar”.

Webinars aren’t all bad (just most of them!). However, I was on one this morning Yakov Fain did on building HTML5 applications, hosted by O’Reilly Media that was definitely worth an hour of my time. It was free, by the way. Now, I’m sure it was just a way for them to sell books – which worked, since I bought one – but it is also a way to get a lecture by experts on a topic. I probably get 80 invitations to webinars for each one I attend. It’s not the most exciting format so I don’t recommend signing up unless it’s a subject you are really interested in learning.

Virtual conference – this is  a first for me to attend, so I will tell you how it works out. I signed up for one on health analytics sponsored by SAS. It looked interesting and it was free. There was a virtual conference I was interested in a while back, on javascript, but it was several hundred dollars for what appeared to me the equivalent of watching youtube videos. Maybe I missed out on something amazing. I’ll never know.


Youtube – You are mistaken if you’ve only thought of it as videos for cute kittens and teenage rock star wanna-bes. (Are they actually called rock stars any more? Are they all rap star wanna-bes?) I actually watch youtube videos on jQuery and javascript on the TV while riding the exercise bike. This habit has caused The Perfect Jennifer to wonder aloud more than once
Exactly how is that you people don’t die of boredom around here?
Sadly, the public library hasn’t been a very good resource for me for programming resources. The books they have tend to be far out of date. It makes me sad because I love libraries and have cards for both the Santa Monica and Los Angeles libraries as well as a couple of university ones.

If your university or company offers you an account on the Safari library, I would jump on that because you get unlimited access to all of their books, videos and courses. The individual price for $43 a month seems a little much to me. If I didn’t have a free license, I’d just buy the ebooks I needed. We already have a LOT of technical books, though. If you don’t, maybe it’s worth it.

Just for questions, answers and randomly poking around stackoverflow.com is awesome.

It reminds me of when I was first learning SAS over 25 years ago. I was on the SAS-L mailing list and would just read every day what the really smart people were talking about.

I have to get back to work but there are lots more resources out there, both that I didn’t have time to list and others that I’m sure I don’t know about. Have a favorite?  Please share in the comments. I’m always looking for new places to learn cool stuff.

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  1. Thanks for the link to the conference! Funny that I wasn’t on their mailing list already. I might even wake up early enough for the first breakout session.

    I’ve been watching videos on Coursera (et al.) instead of YouTube – I sign up for anything that looks interesting and usually just watch a small subset of the lectures. Being able to put them on 1.5x speed is great, usually I get bored easily with videos but if people talk fast they hold my attention better.

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