Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Codecademy review

Now that I have also reviewed CodeAvengers, let's just not waste your time: If you're looking at HTML / CSS / JavaScript training, go there right away, and maybe come back to Codecademy afterwards.

In order for you to understand this review, let me simply remind that prior to trying Codecademy, I was an expert in PHP, and good enough in HTML/CSS/JS to write a web GUI framework that would destroy sencha and google's libs (disclaimer: I do have more important stuff to do)

I took two days to do all the language paths on Codecademy and a few API ones (somehow, most of the APIs are from services that I never heard about) to really understand the potential value of their approach (I love education and code).

About those paths:

  • PHP : Don't do this. this path is utter trash. It's wrong in many ways, covers mostly nothing, and ends with basic OO crap instead of learning how to code
  • HTML : It may be used for a first contact with HTML. It's very shallow (even much shallower than HTML itself) and is full of unrealistic and useless examples. 
  • CSS : Basically it's a good start, but really incomplete.  Shallow as well, but it ain't half bad, focused on retarded design approaches though, nothing about responsive or how em,%, absolutes can be your friends
  • JavaScript : A good first introduction as long as you know where they went wrong, otherwise it's potentially dangerous. this one is a bit better, very shallow as well, but since this is programming, they've added a bit of bad practice to it, in order to keep things fresh. 
  • Python : A nice first introduction, long focus on irrelevant things (who the fuck drops half of the items from their array unless you want to go threading?) but nice anyway. Unfortunately, lots and lots of bad coding practice, bad examples, no user input handling, etc.
  • Ruby : like Python, but better. Still some bad coding practice and no input handling, but the topics covered are a bit more relevant.
  • APIs: this part is murder: there's the twitter API, that requires you to log in (that's bad), the Youtube API, that doesn't and is infinitely simple, and then a bunch of useless APIs that noone is ever going to use in their whole programming life, and literally NOTHING about the facebook or linkedin APIs, which are the most likely to be used.

This was fun, I learned a lot, and the process was somewhat efficient, even though probably not as much as me rushing for two days in one direction (although that would be specialization and not introduction, and I've had major successes in self-teaching without any platforms).


  • way too much OO (I know the noskills are going to disagree, but OO is a philosophy and shouldn't be part of teaching code, surely not when teaching innocent noobs who couldn't possibly know better)
  • no serious languages (C,lisp,Fortran,ASM,C++)
  • it is obvious that most of the examples are written by people who code far worse than I do and don't have great teaching skills either
  • the only refactoring topic actually brought a perfectly readable piece of code to ok-ish length, and then went in the one-liner territory for no reason. (if you do prefer code density, just use APL, at least it doesn't have an alternative long syntax)
  • many courses have way too many steps, some of which are full of nothing, and there's no shortcut or hotkey to skip a useless step
  • most of those steps have very bad unit tests that allow either wrong answers OR far worse, refuse much better answers
  • most steps are really about hand-holding, and that's without checking the tips, which I'm sure do the rest of the work for you. That makes the progress much easier but really irrelevant, as nobody stores information they didn't have to search for (i.e. instead of talking about puts all the time, they should say it once, and make you remember it, telling you to "write" to the console, rather than print or puts or echo all the time)
  • I almost forgot, but their js crashes, often, and you'll have to f5 that tab in order to get out of it. I even got a blue screen (i normally never do) using windows 7, chrome and Codecademy - WTF.
  • Some of the obscure services API (especially gilt) have HORRIBLE horrible disgusting crappy tutorials, once more hitting the nail on the head about user-generated crap
  • Let's face it, if I could do the whole thing in two days, it probably lacks depth and value

In conclusion

It seems Codecademy (and their API tutorial page shows this, with lots of unknown services APIs using that page as ad space) is waiting for user-generated content, but I can't see that working - users are (everyone is) mostly average, but ideally you'll want tutoring material to be written by the best shrinks based on the content provided by the best coders.

I agree that would be far above university standards, mostly because of the better psychology, but then that's a vision that's worth shooting for.

At their stage and with their funding, the low quality of the courses, both in terms of code quality and educational quality, it feels as if they invested everything in marketing, and that's just sad. I think it's time for them to upgrade their tutorials, and expand far beyond their limited scope and quality.

Right now, I would recommend Codecademy only for people who will never really have to code but have to have an idea of how it can work.

If you intend to be a programmer, you're far better off without any tutorial, just asking questions and questioning the answers while you achieve real-world goals.

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