Eric Allam on Code School

.net: What's the idea behind Code School?
Eric Allan: Most people know how to open up their browser and type into a text field. We think learning to program should be that easy. Most programmers think it's a right of passage to learn the command line and the underlying architecture of computing before ever writing a lick of code – but we don't agree. We believe that coding is fun and installing crap from source isn't. That's why we put coding in the browser, and we developed good content around progressively challenging lessons.

.net: Why did you decide to include gamification elements in the concept?
EA: To introduce positive reinforcement that will motivate people to continue learning. We've found it's not hard to get someone to try coding. What is hard is to get people to try coding again and again. That is why we use gamification. It's just another nudge, a little person on your shoulder whispering "keep going". There has been a lot of backlash against "gamification"; and we think it's mainly against social game developers, who've taken advantage of user psychology to keep their users farming gold or whatever it is they do. We aren't shy about using the same techniques to keep our students learning. The trick is to make sure that we use gamification as a means to an end, and not an end to itself.

.net: Who are the tutors and are you inviting guest tutors, too?
EA: More like instructors. We don't do one-on-one tutoring. Right now, our best instructor is Gregg Pollack, the founder of Envy Labs. If you've ever been to a Ruby or Rails conference, you've probably seen Gregg speak. Most of the people at Code School are programmers, and most fit the typical programmer stereotype of being not very good in front of the camera. Gregg is a freak in that he's got the programming chops and can also communicate concepts well in front of hundreds of people.

For our courses, we are mainly in-house instructors. But for our Code TV screencasts, we welcome submissions from the community (and of course we pay). So if anyone is interested in creating a five to 10 minute screencast, you can check out our Screencasting Framework.

.net: How do you design and build your courses, and what's under the hood?
EA: Each course is a standalone Rails 3.1 app that runs on the Heroku platform. We run code on separate machines using a variety of technologies, depending on the course. For example, for our latest CoffeeScript course we use node.js to run code in an isolated sandbox. We've recently used the really cool phantomjs project to test for HTML and CSS on an upcoming course. Why not just execute JS/HTML/CSS code in the browser, you might ask. Because we want to ensure that regardless of the browser used by the students, they will have the same experience.

Code School has recently covered CoffeeScript, jQuery, Rails and Ruby as well as functional HTML and CSS

Code School has recently covered CoffeeScript, jQuery, Rails and Ruby as well as functional HTML and CSS

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