Online learning resources for software and IT professionals

Sequoia Blog: Online Learning

There are lots of online resources for motivated individuals that wish to garner more software skills, but need an alternative to book learning, or taking some kind of traditional “class” at a community college or other facility.  The web is an ideal platform for picking up software skills because it can quickly adapt to a rapidly changing technology landscape and economies of scale make courses either free or practically so.

Also, unlike the college experience, there is essentially no penalty for ‘dropping out’ of a course that you may lose interest in.  This makes these platforms great for getting a quick overview of a technology when you may not need to get into the details.  For example, maybe you wish to better understand what your data scientist colleague does with R or Python -- just watch the videos or scan the slides of a data science course, and you’ll get a good sense for the technologies and applications.

Below I’ve listed most of the robust online learning sites. I’ve probably missed some and there are new companies popping up every so often. But this list should get you started!

Coursera

This is probably the best-known and most sophisticated online learning site at this time.  Coursera is for-profit but courses are free.  Courses range the entire academic gamut, from Psychology to Economics, but the quality of the software related courses is high.  I see this site as a kind of “university light” experience because courses are taught by university professors from many of the nation’s best schools, and they follow a multi-week schedule (but generally the courses at least half as long as a college course).  

One nice feature of Coursera is that you can, for a nominal fee, get a validated “credit” for passing a course. This credit will display on your LinkedIn page automatically if you configure LinkedIn to do this.  If I’m evaluating a job candidate, I’m going to take note of the fact that they’ve got any of these course credits because it shows the motivation to continue learning outside of work and school and the determination to finish the course.

edX

edX.org is a non-profit collaborate online learning site founded by MIT and Harvard.  All courses are free.  Courses including science and technology and the humanities.  It has over 450 courses currently.  Software courses range from Intro to Programming in JavaScript, to cloud computing on AWS, to advanced courses about algorithms.

Udacity

Udacity is a for-profit company with an emphasis on practical software development, e.g. web apps, front-end development, and data science courses.  Udacity offers “nanodegrees” that are officially recognized by various employers.  Udacity appears to be one of the leaders in attempting to creating a clear and practical pathway between motivated “students” and employers, while also targeting those that are happily employed but wish to increase their skills.

CodeAcademy

This for-profit site uses a browser based interactive shell to help teach coding skills.  There is an emphasis on popular languages and frameworks for building websites.

Lynda

Recently acquired by LinkedIn for over $1B, Lynda.com has been around for a long time and had its roots in online videos that taught people how to use tools like Photoshop and Illustrator, and multimedia authoring softwaree.  Over time Lynda started offering videos for learning HTML, JavaScript and other web technologies.  Lynda has a subscription model where you get access to their entire catalog for about $30 month.  I have used Lynda in the past and found it well crafted and a good way to get familiar with a particular technology.

Treehouse

Treehouse offers a wide variety of courses from mobile development to software to business.  Its pitch has an emphasis upon gaining or improving marketable skills, and targets both beginners and advanced users.

CodeSchool

CodeSchool is another programming skills site that emphasizes the use of a console in the browser for a very hands-on experience.  Courses range from mobile to Ruby and JavaScript.

Stanford Open Classroom

This site has less than a dozen courses (and may be dormant) but there are some good materials here covering machine learning, databases and algorithms.