I’ve signed up for something that I first saw when Fiona shared it on Facebook. CodeYear. Each week in 2012 you get an email from Codecademy with a link to a basic JavaScript coding lesson. It’s meant to introduce coding to the general public, and it’s completely free. Hundreds of thousands of people, including Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, have signed up to learn to code, and I suggest you do too.
I have learned some coding before (C, in an undergrad elective course) and I know html and php from years of tinkering with websites, so I found it really easy to keep up with. I even managed to complete the advanced courses, that are not part of CodeYear, and I have LOTS of badges now:

Codecademy rewards you with a virtual badge when you reach a particular goal. Completely useless, but it’s still motivational.
I’m sharing this now (instead of finishing the assignment toward my next badge) because at this point it’s still really easy to catch up with the basic assignments, and I thought some of you might be interested in learning a bit of JavaScript.
Although it’s meant for beginners, I noticed that it’s not always very “introductory”. My main qualm is that there is often no background given. Why am I supposed to learn how to make a function that calculates powers of four? What kind of real-world applications use this? I personally don’t mind – I just like going through the assignments and learning new things. Plus, maths doesn’t put me off. But since the intro courses are meant for everyone, I think there could be a bit more backstory.
For example, at the end of the second week’s assignment is a practical example – code a fare calculator for New York taxis – but until then it was mostly “coding for the sake of it”. and yes, I know that real taxis don’t use Javascript to calculate the fare, but it’s the kind of example that makes you realize “this is useful!” rather than “this is a fun puzzle!”.
It’s very clear that it’s made by coders – let me put it that way. It’s fun, it’s free, it’s creative, but at no point has anyone taken a big step back and asked “WHY do we want people to know all this?” and put things in context.
And that’s perhaps another good reason to sign up and take part in CodeYear. It not only teaches you how to code, but it shows you how coders think. They don’t, like biologists do, always feel the need to emphasize the practical applications. If you have computer-geeky friends, you will probably have heard them say things like “I wrote a programme that adds grocery items to an editable grocery list on my computer when I send a text message to myself starting with BUY.” and you’ll think “is that really worth it?”. It’s never worth it. It’s always just for fun.
I just made up the grocery list example. I am not the kind of person who would actually make things like this, but I do understand why people do.
Many biologists are not very computer-savvy at all, and have never taken a coding course. I recommend you do CodeYear, just so you understand coders a bit better. At some point you’re going to have to work with a bioinformatician or a web developer, and it’s easier if you understand how they think.

3 thoughts on “CodeYear”

  1. Bob O'Hara says:

    bq. I am not the kind of person who would actually make things like this, but I do understand why people do.
    Oh but you will be, when you get that as an assignment.

  2. Tine Janssens says:

    Just when I decided to study computer programming (autodidactic of course), I come in contact with all these fun, free opportunities (iTunesU, Khan academy). Thanks for the tip!

  3. Richard Williams says:

    Yeah, welcome to the geeky world of programming. I left the world of Biochemistry back in the late 90s and entered the world of IT as a programmer. Two years ago I re-entered academia for a Masters degree in Computational Biology to merge the two. I was lucky in that I already had a good working knowledge of how coders think as I’d become one, but must confess that my peers on the course were shell-shocked at just how programming is taught – techie type lecturers just put up rather abstract examples (as you rightly pointed out) and say get on with it. I guess the reasoning is similar to Med School – see one, do one, show one.
    It took a few months, but in the end pretty much everyone in my class could write extraction and analysis scripts using R or Python. A few were left behind when we started object-oriented type programming, but this was probably due to having to learn a new kind of thinking again – thinking in objects v sequential scripts.
    Good luck. I hope you have fun!

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