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Lane Wagner for

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at

Why is Not Completely Free

original story on

A few days ago I received an email regarding where the sender said:

I am ideologically opposed to charging people for online education

I mean fair enough right? All of the information in the world exists online for free (often on Wikipedia), why would you charge for something that anyone can access, and that people are willing to create without being paid? Well, let me explain why all the features on aren't free - though all of the content is.

The lifeblood of any project is ongoing development

I started to try to build the most effective path to a career in backend development. Some of the pain points I wanted to alleviate include:

  • No "what should I learn next"? Or "tutorial hell" traps. A simple, linear, curriculum.
  • No skipping CS fundamentals. You're going to spend time learning algorithms, data structures, and different programming paradigms.
  • You'll write real code, and a lot of it.
  • The whole experience should be as fun and engaging as possible. Achievements, XP, levels, all the fun stuff.
  • The content will be extremely up to date. We won't have you learning Python 2 in 2022, using the var keyword in JavaScript, or GOPATH in Go.

I can't accomplish these goals by spending a few months of my spare time writing content, then putting it out for free while I get back to work at a full-time job. The content wouldn't remain up to date, the game mechanics would be lackluster or nonexistent, and I simply wouldn't have the time be able to write all the content that I want to. I want this thing to be as thorough as a CS degree (but more streamlined) oncce it reaches its full splendor.

This project, if it's going to accomplish its goals requires that myself and the rest of the team are able to continuously work on this thing full-time.

Right out of the gate, I'm bound by the constraint that I need to be able to earn a living wage for myself (and now a full team) as long as this thing is live.

So what is's business model anyways?

At the moment we have a simple way to fund ongoing development: memberships. I'll get into the why in a second, but first let me explain what a membership is.

Reading and watching all of the content on is free for everyone. Additionally, all of the progress tracking, interactive code editors, game mechanics, and other features are free for the first few chapters of each course.

After the first several chapters of any individual course, all of that extra interactive stuff shuts off, and to continue using it you'd need to become a member. To reiterate, you can still read and watch all of the content for free, you just lost interactivity.

Why memberships?

Memberships are subscriptions that are billed monthly or yearly. We also offer gift subscriptions that are billed once, don't renew, and expire after a certain amount of time.

Memberships work well for a few reasons:

  • Up front costs to students are low. Students can try out our teaching style and content for free, and only pay if they like it.
  • There's no weird loans, financing, or immense back-pay upon landing a job. You can cancel your membership at any time, and you'll never owe us anything.
  • We have ongoing costs (especially now with our AI tutor, Boots) so recurring revenue is a must on our end.

I think "pay once" courses work best for non-interactive content like books and downloadables, but memberships seem to be best for a living platform like ours where new features and content updates are released almost daily.

I think the idea of "paying back" for a live bootcamp (or even University) isn't a bad idea. Nothing feels worse than dropping $10k on a bootcamp, then not landing a job. That said, it's also a bit like a bet against yourself, in the same way insurance is. That's not to say you shouldn't do it, it provides some peace of mind, but the folks who do land jobs are effectively subsidizing the folks who don't.

Top comments (2)

erikwhiting88 profile image
Erik • Edited

I'm the sender in question and what Lane forgot to mention was this email was in response to him asking me to provide him with free labor to make his for-profit site better. I have a blog that is free to read, has no ads, and doesn't require a login to visit. I'm also active in the OSS community helping make free software better for no reason other than i want to help. so your assumption that I'm not "giving anything back" is incredibly insulting to the work I put in for free to help the community.

wagslane profile image
Lane Wagner

I mean this as sincerely as possible, because sometimes things come out wrong over text: I genuinely appreciate your email.

That said, I never asked for what I would consider to be "free labor". I asked if you could provide feedback on You said you didn't want to because you consider that to be free labor, and that's totally cool! I really don't mind. I've provided tons of for-profit and non-profit companies feedback and don't consider it to be "free labor" if it's just a quick look.

Anyhow, no worries at all, wish you the best Erik!