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Students learn to code for free while donating skills to nonprofits

By Robynn Garfield, KSL.com Contributor   |  Posted Apr 26th, 2016 @ 11:59am


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SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to learning to code, many people are looking to quick, boot-camp style coding camps in order to hit the job market as soon as possible.

A year and a half ago, one man set out to change the way would-be coders learned to build and design websites, combining the rush of a coding camp with the goal of making the world a better place — one coder at a time.

The field of computer coding and programming can be a lucrative one. A software engineer, for example, makes $80,000 a year on average in the United States. Many people are rushing to gain certifications and skills in certain areas of coding in order to beef up their resumes and compete in a tech-heavy job market.

Quincy Larson decided he wanted to utilize the interest he saw from people who wanted to learn code to make a difference. He founded Free Code Camp, an online coding certification program aimed at helping build apps and websites for nonprofits in need.

"We have a single, focused curriculum that all of our students work through together," Larson said. "Along the way, you earn certifications in front-end development, back-end development, and data visualization. Each of these certifications involves building 10 projects and takes about 400 hours."

Larson said he founded Free Code Camp with the goal of helping both novice coders and nonprofits. The coding camp is completely free and students work under the tutelage of experienced developers to build much-needed software for nonprofits.

Image: Free Code Camp

"In the 18 months since we launched, more than 300,000 people have signed up," Larson said. "Many of these students have jobs and kids, and are trying to change careers. Already, hundreds of our students have already learned enough to go out and get software developer jobs."

Since the beginning of Free Code Camp, student-developers have donated over $850,000 in free coding to nonprofits. After completing a series of online courses and certifications, students are paired with nonprofits who are looking for help online.

"Our students built a full logistics system for a Toronto-based food bank," Larson said. "The application handles signing up new families to receive groceries, manifests for individual delivery trucks and all the scheduling and inventory management in between. Instead of spending a lot of time and money administering these things, the food bank can now focus their resources on their core mission."

Students are expected to finish a project once they’ve committed the hours to a nonprofit. Larson said coders must sign a pledge to finish a particular project within the expectations set. If a coder walks away from a project before it’s been completed, he or she will be ineligible to be assigned to another project.

Free Code Camp is just that — free. Larson said it functions on the volunteer work of dedicated individuals.

"Free Code Camp is mostly run by volunteers who improve our open source codebase and answer questions in our help chatrooms," he said. "We cover our costs by selling T-shirts and other merchandise."

Larson, a former teacher, said he hopes to see Free Code Camp used in classrooms in the future to help teach a new generation of programmers.

"A lot of teachers are using Free Code Camp in their classrooms and have asked for us to build a teacher mode to better manage their programming classes, so we're building that," Larson said.


Robynn Garfield

About the Author: Robynn Garfield

Robynn Garfield worked as a staff writer for KSL.com before relocating to the Bay Area with her husband and three young sons. She currently works as a freelance writer and digital media consultant. Robynn started her career in journalism as a radio news anchor. In her spare time Robynn can be found sewing, hiking, or playing at the beach with her family. Contact her at robynn.garfield@gmail.com or visit her website.

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