A decade of learning with our CEO, Zach Sims

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A decade of learning with our CEO, Zach Sims

It’s August 18th, 2011. I’m glued to my computer, exhausted yet full of nervous energy. My cofounder, Ryan, is sitting next to me, like he has been since we started in my dorm room at Columbia University. We double check to make sure the app works, then finally push a button, and Codecademy.com has officially launched.

A few days and over 200,000 signups later, Codecademy.com has officially crashed (thankfully, for only a few minutes).

Today marks 10 long, exhilarating, terrifying, utterly incredible years since our launch. A lot has happened since then. We started out with just 3 short lessons in JavaScript. Now we have nearly 1,000 lessons across 130 courses in 15 languages. We’ve raised 4 rounds of funding. The White House partnered with us. At one point, I was 95% certain we were about to go bankrupt. Yet here we are, 50 million learners and a decade of experience stronger.

It’s fun to think that all of this started with a very simple problem. I was a college student struggling to learn the basic coding skills I needed to implement a project I was working on. My university’s classes weren’t helping. Textbooks were even worse. And at the time, there were no online solutions to speak of. It was crazy to me that the act of learning how to harness the power of technology was not itself utilizing the power of technology.

If someone studying at an Ivy League university couldn’t effectively learn how to code, how could we ever expect people in far less privileged positions to learn? How could we expect the tech industry to become more diverse, more innovative, and more fair if technology itself wasn’t accessible?

Since Codecademy’s inception, that idea has been the driving force behind everything we do: Give everyone access to the power of technology. Over the past 10 years, the online education industry has seen waves of massive changes — from when we pioneered the space, to the bootcamp frenzy, to a movement against learning to code. Through all that change, what’s remained consistent has been our focus on you, the learners.

Lessons from our learners

In a lot of ways, my personal journey with Codecademy is the same as any one of our learners. I’ve hit walls, gotten frustrated, and questioned whether I could succeed. Like many of you,  I’ve also had amazing moments of triumph that have pushed me to keep going. Your stories of success and resilience have not only inspired me personally, but helped us learn some important lessons that are core to Codecademy’s future.

Learning is a lifelong journey. We don’t just help young people learn enough to land their first tech job. More and more, our learners are taking the next step in their existing career journey — no matter where they are. They’re re-entering the workforce in their 40s and 50s, adding a new skill to their repertoire after a layoff, and taking on more responsibilities and ownership in their current roles. We launched Codecademy for Business to bring that experience to a whole new level by helping entire teams and companies learn and evolve on the job. For us, a big part of making technology education accessible is making it work for all ages in every stage of their careers.

Community is the key. Through the ups and downs of the past decade, I’ve learned first-hand the importance of relying on a community of peers to get through the rough patches. The Codecademy community is an inspiring example of that idea. Perhaps the most rewarding experience of working at Codecademy has been the countless posts I’ve read or stories I’ve heard of people from around the world helping total strangers solve a coding problem for the simple joy of helping. Whether it’s our vibrant network of community-run chapters, the Codecademy forum, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram — our learners have each others’ backs. That’s something special.

Opportunities are everywhere. 10 years ago, there was a strong perception that “coders” were dorky, young, mostly white men in Silicon Valley. Thankfully, that perception has started to change. But it’s still way behind the reality of the world that I’m lucky enough to see every day. We’ve met learners like Martha from Nairobi who started her own coding school for women using Codecademy’s curriculum. Kate from San Francisco who re-entered the workforce as a full-stack engineer after being a stay-at-home parent for over 15 years. And Aabhusan from Nepal who launched a COVID-19 tracking app for his remote community. Today, tech careers are not in any one place or for any one type of person. 10 years from now, the perception will hopefully have caught up to that reality.

It’s not just about coding. Having technical skills and literacy extends far beyond knowing how to code. Our learners are incredibly driven and curious, which is why we’ve launched courses in new domains like data science and analytics, user experience, cybersecurity and more. We also hear from thousands of learners who may not be coding in their day-to-day roles, but are introducing technical skills to their teams across marketing, finance, and other tech-adjacent fields. Learning how to code is just one of many ways our learners can transform their careers with technology, and we’ll continue expanding our catalog to reflect that.

The future I see

We’re past the cliché that “coding is the future” or that “technology will change the world.” That’s not the goal anymore — at least not for Codecademy. In fact, our goal has flipped.

Instead of creating a world that technology can change, we’re creating a world that can change technology. We’re creating a world where the single most powerful and paradigm-shifting invention in the history of humanity is owned and created by everyone. A world where all people from every walk of life have the opportunity to wield the immense power of technology to shape not only their own future, but that of the people around them.

So far, Codecademy has had more than 50 million people join our mission to make the power of coding accessible to everyone. They’re already making an impact on their lives and the world. That alone has been worth every second of the past 10 years. I hope that, 10 years from now, Codecademy will be a footnote in your incredible life’s story, too.

Happy coding,

Zach