But what exactly is Free Code Camp?

free code camp's logo

Last week, I intended to write the post you’re currently reading. But I realized that I couldn’t explain my experience with Free Code Camp without writing about the remarkable man behind it, Quincy Larson.

So here we go today. No digression allowed. What is Free Code Camp?

Free Code Camp is a website

…offering various curriculus to learn how to code. Here is their high-level map to go from complete newbie to full-stack developer:

FCC's courses

The first three certifications — Front End, Data Visualization and Back End — are independant. You can take any of it in the order you like. Many campers have gotten jobs as front-end or back-end developers simply by working through the material in these sections. However, in order to be able to work on the Full Stack certification — which consists of working on real-world projects for charities —, it is required to have obtained the first three (which makes sense, I don’t want any charity to have to cope with my dirty & buggy code!). As for the video challenges and the coding interview preparation, they are simply additional teaching material but are not required to get any certification.

Free Code Camp is free

Yes. “Free” like in “free hugs”. Forever. No strings attached.

free hugs

Free Code Camp is for anyone

The public aimed by this website is very large: anyone who wants to learn web development, from the stay-at-home mum or dad who is looking for a new career once the kids have grown, to people who are already software engineers but working in different fields or with different technologies.

At this point, you may be wondering whether anyone really means anyone. The answer is yes and no. Yes, because there are absolutely no prerequisites apart from the most basic skills like knowing how to read and write and using a web browser. No, because the amount of time, effort and commitment required to get these certificates is way higher than what most people are willing or able to give.

Free Code Camp requires time

It is estimated that the first three certifications require 400 hours of work each, which makes a total of 1,200 hours. And the Full Stack certification requires 800 hours of work, which makes a total of 2,000 hours. This corresponds to a whole year of 40-hour workweeks with 2 weeks vacation. It can seem like a lot but this is amazing news for self-starters and those with enough motivation to do the work. It means for instance that if you’re willing to dedicate 10 hours a week to learn how to code, you can become a strong professional in 4 years and start a new career. And believe me, those determined enough can find these 10 hours, even next to a full-time job and/or young kids at home.

Since this is free and completely self-paced, virtually anyone with enough courage and passion can do it. The web has truly opened doors for a new kind of meritocracy.

Free Code Camp is hard

But you also need to keep in mind that going through Free Code Camp is not only time-consuming. It is also incredibly hard and challenging. The core of its material is made of projects. If you’ve worked on interactive online tutorials to learn the basics of programming — like Code Academy’s introduction to Javascript —, know that FCC is not quite like it. Sure, at the beginning of each section, you have a few examples and step-by-step tutorials. But you’re soon thrown off the deep end and you need to find out how to build these projects by yourself.

And when you’re working on increasingly complex projects, you will be stuck, no matter where you’re starting at. And when you feel like having tried all possible Google search combinations — or when you don’t even know what to look for! — it can quickly get discouraging. Sometimes you may even want to bang your head against the wall. At this point, once the fun and excitation of novelty has worn off, many give up. But there are great rewards in store for those who push through the dip.

illustration of the dip concept

Free Code Camp is a community

It’s when you’re at the end of your rope that you can discover the magic of a strong and welcoming community. Online forums have a reputation of being places where jerks like to gather. If this is your experience, you’ll be surprised by Free Code Camp’s forum. You can basically ask any kind of question, whether technical or human/career related, and can expect thoughtful, useful and empathetic responses from members of the community — by newbies and experts alike. So when you’re stuck, don’t throw in the towel. Ask for help. Whine. Cry if you need. But get back on your feet and keep coding with a crowd cheering you: “You are not alone; you can do it!”

You can also chat live with tens of thousands of other campers on Gitter (Slack’s Open Source equivalent) in various chat rooms. You may even have the founder pop by to say hello and check on you (at least this was my experience).

Or if online communities are not your thing, you can join a campers‘ meetup, which have sprung up like mushrooms everywhere on the planet, from Kabul to Zhengzhou passing through Copenhagen. And if there’s not one in your city or village, just start one.

Free Code Camp is a media channel

Free Code Camp’s blog started out as a modest way to keep its campers informed of the latest relevant news in tech. It has since migrated to Medium and has become the largest tech channel with more than 200k followers.

Web development is known for being a field with incredibly rapid change. It’s hard — very hard — to keep up with its evolution. Just deciding which article to read on which blog is already tiring.

The good news is that simply reading the articles published and recommended on this channel is enough to keep up to date with the most important changes.

To sum it up

With all these ingredients, it’s no surprise that Free Code Camp quickly became one of the most popular ways to learn to code.

I know I sound uber-enthousiast. But this is just the way I feel about it. I haven’t received any goodies to evangelize for it.

In the coming weeks, I’m going to detail my experience with Free Code Camp, and how it prepared the way for me to get back into professional software development.

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