David Smooke

@DavidSmooke

3 Questions With freeCodeCamp Founder & Teacher Quincy Larson

Quincy Larson is the teacher and ‘guy who started it’ at freeCodeCamp, where people learn to code and help nonprofits. He’s worked as a software engineer at various companies and a teacher at various schools, but is more known for his approachable technical videos and well written essays on the state of tech. Half a million people use freeCodeCamp every month to learn to code. To date, their community has donated more than $1,400,000 in coding services to nonprofits.

photo credit, McBilly Sy.

1.It’s a cool time to be in digital publishing. We’ve both been growing with Medium, becoming two of the faster growing tech publications across the internet. I’ve read many great posts on freeCodeCamp. I liked how Medium cleared a lot noise from the reading and publishing experiences. Most pages on the internet are just too busy. What I’m getting at, there’s a lot of tech that goes into how a blog functions and evolves. To develop and grow digital publications, what future technology — or ways of applying existing technology — are you excited about?

First of all, the feeling is mutual. I’ve read a lot of excellent technical blog posts in Hacker Noon and frequently share your articles with our community.
Medium is an awesome platform for a small nonprofit like freeCodeCamp, because it’s ad-free, doesn’t require authentication to view articles, has great social features like tweeting quotes, and has pleasantly neutral design sensibilities. They also make it easy for writers to syndicate their work through various publications like freeCodeCamp and Hacker Noon.
As far as technologies for growth, It may sound strange, but I’m most excited about email right now.
There are all these platforms where you have to essentially advertise in order to reach your own users. When we post something on freeCodeCamp’s Facebook page, for example, who knows how many campers will ever see it? It’s a black box. We could get it in front of all of our followers, but we’d have to pay money to do that. And a small nonprofit like ours doesn’t have the resources to pay such a toll.
But with email, we can communicate directly with campers, and there’s no intermediary getting in our way and trying to charge us.
For the past 6 months, we’ve been building an open source email campaign tool called Mail for Good. Think Mailchimp, but at a small fraction of the cost. Nonprofits and small businesses can deploy this tool to their own servers, then use it to communicate directly with their donors and customers, without worrying about intermediaries.

2. How did you get the idea to invite nonprofits to submit projects for learners to code on — and how central has that idea become to your business? I must say, it’s a creative way to connect free education and students adding value to world.

The best way to learn to code is by coding. I’m a firm believer in the value of experiential learning — not just building projects from scratch, but diving into other people’s projects and extending them. Legacy code.
And the best projects are real-world projects where people will actually use the code you’re writing. This makes you accountable to them. You have to listen to their needs and build features accordingly.
I have a lot of friends who run nonprofits, and they frequently face a choice: spend their scarce money on their mission today, or spend their money on enterprise software that will help them carry out their mission tomorrow, but in a marginally more effective way. And my thought is — let’s build and maintain the software they need pro bono, so that they can spend 100% of their money on their mission — not on software.
Most of the campers who work through freeCodeCamp’s 1,200-hour curriculum want to help nonprofits at the end of it. They would much rather contribute to a nonprofit than build a personal project that most likely few people would end up using. So it’s really a win-win. The camper gets the real-world experience, the nonprofit gets the software, and the people the nonprofit helps are ultimately better served.

3. So you’ve seen me around the internet but we’ve never met in person. You see some of what I’m working on, really focused on growing a network of blogs & publications, AMI. For me or someone else out there who’s interested in scaling a media company, what advice do you have?

I don’t know much about scaling a media company, so wouldn’t feel qualified to give you any advice on that. Clearly you are doing a good job because your publications are growing rapidly.
freeCodeCamp does produce a lot of media content, like Medium articles and YouTube videos, but at our core, we’re a community. We’re a million people who are teaching ourselves to code, together. We’re building tools to help us do that more efficiently, like freeCodeCamp’s open source web development curriculum.
One thing that’s helped me personally as the editor of freeCodeCamp is writing as much as possible myself. This seems to make authors more receptive to my edits. They know that I’m out there in the proverbial arena with them, doing my best to lead by example by writing useful technical articles. So they are more likely to trust my judgement when I say an article needs more work, or when I propose an alternate headline or other edits.

Join a community of more than 1 million people who are learning to code, helping nonprofits, and landing jobs as developers at freeCodeCamp.com.

Follow Quincy on Twitter and Medium.

3QuestionsWith.Us is an original series by AMI Publications, profiling those who push commerce, technology, and art forward.

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