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Free Coding Schools Didn’t Work for Me

When it’s worth it to pay for coding classes.

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I was working a soul crushing job as an editorial assistant at a publishing company when I first decided to learn to code. I was barely making $14/hour, and while I was grateful to have a job, my most useful skills were sitting on the back burner. (I spent most of my time scanning my manager’s receipts for reimbursement and slicing bagels for morning meetings.) It wasn’t the “foot-in-the-door” type of experience I had anticipated. In fact, it looked like I would be stuck in the same doorway for years to come.

As I sat in my cubicle and watched my emails come in each mundane day, I realized I was in desperate need of a creative outlet. So I started a blog.

It didn’t take long before I began to notice the lack of pizzazz on my website. I followed several lifestyle blogs and realized just how much could be done to make a website look more exciting, and it became clear that the internet was full of. . . secrets. It sounds so silly now, but I never even realized how much went into designing everything I used online. I just took it for granted.

So I did what any curious human does: I Googled. These secrets weren’t that secret afterall—I could unlock some of them with HTML and CSS. I read articles, watched videos, scoured forums, and slowly picked up the basics of HTML, and eventually learned how to hack my blog’s stylesheet and edit the CSS.

I had accidentally found a new hobby that would end up changing my life, and I wanted to do more. As I dug deeper, I found dozens of organizations whose sole purpose were to educate people on how to do all the internet things.

Free Coding Classes Didn’t Cut It

But I ran into a problem. These educational programs were either in-person tech bootcamps with tuitions ranging between $12,000-$15,000, or completely online and free—but with no access to an instructor.

The in-person bootcamps were out of reach, but the free option was incredibly frustrating and discouraging—and a shiny object at best. I started with basic HTML and CSS, and instructions were typically vague and unhelpful. While the code challenges did reveal the answer eventually, there was no one to turn to if you were confused about syntax or just had a simple question. Whenever I hit snags, I had to figure them out elsewhere.

When I finally decided to hop into the Javascript track…the horror. I was back in math class, being laughed at because my answers were always wrong. And this is where the lack of an instructor really hit: There was no one to encourage me that A) I didn’t have to be good at math to nail Javascript to the floor, and B) this wasn’t the right learning tool for me. Free classes and tutorials are maybe a nice way to dip your toe in the water, but to get a complete set of skills and a solid foundation, you will need your wallet.

When It’s Worth It to Pay for Coding Classes

After coming across the Skillcrush Twitter account, I thought for sure it was absolutely too good to be true. It ticked all the boxes for me: affordable, self-paced online learning, beautiful interface, a hugely supportive community, and even instructors who held regular office hours. The learning curve was suddenly a friendly wave instead of a vertical axis of doom (especially when they confirmed my biggest lingering fear: You DON’T have to be good at math to learn how to code).

It didn’t take long for me to sign up for my first Blueprint. I won’t lie and say it was the easiest thing I have ever done, because it is hard work. But after I completed the Web Designer Blueprint, I posted a Facebook status offering my free services to build up a portfolio and I received dozens of messages. And then I instantly regretted it. Imposter syndrome set in as I wondered why anyone would trust me with their site. I wasn’t an expert, and I distinctly remember referencing my class notes once or twice.

But as my portfolio grew, so did my confidence. When I landed my first paid freelance gig, I was embarrassed to charge them for it—but I did. I received $300 for my first website design.

Still, I felt guilty because I didn’t feel like a “real” developer.

The Coding Community

This is why the Skillcrush community is so huge; they are there to remind you that you are worth the money. You CAN learn the skills to land the job of your dreams. If I didn’t have the community to fall back (including the blog posts and even their inspiring Tweets!), I know I wouldn’t have had the confidence to continue to increase my prices, or continue to freelance at all.

I can honestly say that my career would look entirely different if it hadn’t been for those coding classes that I broke down and bought. Without it, I wouldn’t have had the courage to push myself into such an unknown territory and invest in my future. I have now worked in the technology field for over four years, both freelance and full-time, and it is the single best decision I have ever made.

woman in glasses with hand on face, thinking

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You Will Learn: If a career in tech is right for you What tech careers fit your strengths What skills you need to reach your goals

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