March 8th, 2019
Note: This is a slightly revised version of a post published on the previous iteration of my blog, with the addition of LevelUpTuts and other minor changes.
May 11, 2019 Edit: Added Frontend Masters entry
Welcome back to the Self-Taught Developer’s Survival Guide! I’m very excited about this week’s entry because it addresses one of the key concerns facing aspiring web developers: Where is the best place for me to learn? There are a lot of options out there on the web, from blogs to full courses to ebooks, and as the biggest problem facing someone learning a new skill for the first time is that they don’t know what they don’t know, I’m going to simplify things for you by presenting an overview of what I think are the best places on the web to learn development! The resources listed here perform particularly well in three areas:
Price: They’re free, or relatively inexpensive.
Current Knowledge: Web Development moves faster than more other professions, and these resources have proven that they can keep up at least reasonably well.
High-Quality: The material is explained well with the appropriate level of detail on these sites. To cite an example, when I finally got around to reading classic software books like Robert C. Martin’s Clean Code or Steve McConnell’s Code Complete, there were a lot of best practices that I had already internalized because that was the style employed by teachers on Treehouse, for example.
Before we get started: I’m making a distinction here between sources that actively teach development, and resources to utilize as a reference to while you are learning and actively working as a developer, which I’ll be discussing in a later post.
Strengths: There is an embarrassment of riches in terms of learning material after a recent site upgrade, hundreds of coding challenges, plus certifications mark learning milestones. freeCodeCamp also has a highly supportive community on its official forum and on Twitter. If you’re new and don’t know where to start, freeCodeCamp has the most organized path of progression out of all the resources sources listed here.
How much does it cost?: It’s free! If you’re so inclined, you can make a monthly donation to help keep the lights on.
How essential is it?: Don’t let the length of the weakness section here fool you: freeCodeCamp is one of the most integral learning resources for newer developers.
What’s their deal?: Pluralsight is a subscription site with hundreds of comprehensive video courses on a vast array of tech subjects.
How much does it cost?: At the time of this writing, a Pluralsight membership is $35 dollars a month, or $299 for an annual membership.
Strengths?: Pluralsight has an impressively broad curriculum of topics ranging from design to development to many other IT subspecialties. There quite a few subjects that aren’t discussed on any other resource on this entry except for Pluralsight. There are lots of courses by high-profile teachers such as Douglas Crockford, Deborah Kurata, and John Papa. There are quizzes to test your knowledge of a particular technology or retention of a certain course section’s material.
Weaknesses?: Pluralsight currently lags behind the other resources I talk about here to keep up to date, particularly on it’s learning paths. The “Skill IQ” feature that tests your knowledge of a technology can be quite arbitrary since it’s just a multiple-choice test that you can get extremely lucky or unlucky on.
How essential is it?: This is very situational. If there’s something that you need a deep dive on that isn’t covered in depth somewhere else, Pluralsight has you covered. But Pluralsight, as good as it is, has some limitations that force me to mention it with the aforementioned caveats.
Strengths?: Wes is an excellent teacher and a deeply experienced self-taught developer. His courses are comprehensive projects that will give you a solid grounding in the technologies they teach if you take notes and really pay attention to what he’s teaching. Wes explains concepts on a very accessible level.
Weaknesses?: Only that there’s only so much material, but come on, he’s one guy! Some of the courses (Sublime, Redux, Command Line) are pretty dated, but that’s not the norm; Wes is very good about keeping material current.
What’s their deal?: LevelUp Tutorials is an excellent tutorial series by Scott Tolinski, the other half of the Syntax.fm team. Scott's platform is a lot like Wes's, but with shorter, more frequent content.
How much does it cost?: $19.99 for a monthly Pro subscription, slightly less when an annual subscription is purchased. There's a fair amount of free content on YouTube as well.
Strengths?: Scott is an excellent teacher, and the level of quality of his videos is extremely high. You'll definitely benefit from his proficiency as a teacher when wrestling tricky concepts like Redux for the first time. Pro subscribers can also download videos for learning on the go when you're dealing with inconsistent wifi!
Weaknesses?: Again, like Wes, there's only so much content, which is to be expected from a one man operation.
How essential is it?: If you're learning React and it's related technologies, LevelUp Tutorials is a strong option to get up to speed more quickly.
What’s their deal?: Founded by Ryan Carson in 2011, Treehouse is an online learning platform with a mission to make learning affordable and accessible. They have a wide array of courses comprised of video lectures, quizzes, and coding exercises. The curriculum covers topics related to web development but also dips into business, design, and other related topics.
How much does it cost?: $25 a month, at the time of this writing.
Weaknesses?: As of the time of this writing, there is next to nothing on algorithms that will help newer developers prepare for the dreaded white-board interview. This is a minor point, but it makes Treehouse less effective than other sources on this list for interview preparedness. Treehouse is also expensive than most other sources, particularly for the Techdegree.
How essential is it?: Treehouse can be extremely useful, especially if you’re very new to tech and will benefit from the deep, detailed explanation of the web development ecosystem that exists on Treehouse.
What’s their deal?: Udemy is a site with video courses on various subjects. It’s not limited to tech or development, but their range of development courses is impressive.
How much does it cost?: Prices vary, but sales are frequent, so you should never pay more than $9.99 or so per course.
Strengths?: You have quite a bit to choose from here, in terms of material and instructors. Curriculum on Udemy is generally updated more quickly than on the other resources, and that is key with rapidly changing technologies like React or Angular. There are some very strong instructors on Udemy with project-based courses that will boost your development abilities, such as Maximillian Schwarzmuller, Stephen Grider, Andrei Neagoie, and Andrew Mead. If you choose the right courses, you can’t get a better return on your tech education investment than Udemy.
Weaknesses?: You have quite a bit to choose from here, and not all of it is created equal. Fortunately, poor quality courses can be pretty easy to avoid. I would recommend only choosing from courses rated 4.5 stars or higher, if at all possible. Tags like “Best Selling” and “Highest Rated” also help you to make informed decisions about what courses to invest in. I believe that you can get more out of Udemy than any other source, but you HAVE to go in with a pretty good idea of what you need to learn and be ready to curate the experience. Having said that, there will be a future entry in the blog coming soon that lays out a path of the best web development courses on Udemy.
How essential is it?: Udemy is my current favorite learning resource, and I believe a new developer with the right roadmap can get up to speed skill-wise quicker with Udemy courses than any other resource. I'll be drawing out that roadmap in my next entry of this blog series!
What’s their deal?: Frontend Masters is a Minneapolis based workshop series on a variety of front-end topics.
How much does it cost?: A subscription to the site costs $39 a month.
Strengths?: Frontend Masters is second to none when it comes to high quality and the "minimum effective dose" of information. I think of many of the options in this blog entry as being like undergraduate-level studies, with Frontend Masters serving as graduate-level curriculum. The workshop teachers are all deeply adept in what they're teaching. Of note is-level studies. The fact that there is a more diverse lineup of teachers (read: more people of color and women), and I think that that gives you a different perspective from the (mostly) white guys on Udemy. There are paths to help organize what and when to learn, and gamifying your progress. There are both live workshops and archived/organized versions of those workshops. I would especially urge you to check out the courses by Will Sentance, Sarah Drasner, Scott Moss, Jem Young, and Shirley Wu.
Weaknesses?: If you happen to be stuck on something, getting help isn't as easy as it is with other sources listed here. I ran into this issue trying to SSH into a server in Jem Young's Full Stack for Front-Ends's course, I had to turn to a sysadmin friend of mine to help me troubleshoot the issue. It is also obviously one of the most expensive options, but I would argue you're getting a much better value for your money in comparison to the similarly-priced Pluralsight.
I hope this list simplifies things for you and points you towards a learning experience that helps you to succeed! Next time on the Self-Taught Developer's Survival Guide: Getting the most out of Udemy!