First Fridays: Zach Sims, Co-Founder of Codeacademy
A Q+A with the Gen Y whiz behind one of the web’s hottest new startups
Tech / 2 Mar 2012

In this month’s edition of First Fridays, we introduce you to Zach Sims, the 21-year-old co-founder of Codeacademy. An indisputable leader of the current alternative education trend, Codeacademy is a site that seeks to democratize the learning of programming through an interactive web-based curriculum designed to have users writing code almost immediately. The platform’s Code Year program, through which subscribers receive a weekly programming lesson, received 100,000 signups within just 48 hours of being announced, and now boasts over 400,000 users. Read on for Zach’s insights on the company, the role of programming in the future, and more.

If you had to choose one word or phrase to describe Codecademy, what would it be?

Easiest way to learn how to code.

How do you define success for your enterprise?

More people realizing the value of coding as the literacy for the 21st century, and then using our site to become competent at programming. We hope to educate a future generation of programmers. Even if not all our users become professional software developers, more and more jobs will require some level of programming ability. For example, we've had great feedback from librarians who have found great use for our site. We've been told a lot of their cataloging and search work can make use of coding and we're really pleased to help with this.

What is the one thing you wish you knew before you founded Codeacademy?

Hiring and finding great people is incredibly difficult and the hardest part of running a company. My co-founder and I were able to start a company. But for us to achieve our vision, the cliché is true. We have to build a great team. We're really proud of our current staff, having looked all over the United States and the world to get them. Our lead designer is from Ohio and is extremely talented and experienced. Our front-end developer is Jordanian and just got invited to meet the King of Jordan because of his technical skills. And our data scientist is an Australian Rhodes Scholar who used to work at Teach For America. To achieve our goals, we need to continue to find great talent like this.

What is the one thing you never want to hear (or, most want to hear) from a customer/user/client?

"I'm frustrated with my learning experience." It is our job to make the user experience rewarding and engaging. If users are frustrated with their learning experience, that's our fault. Learning new things is difficult. But we hope that our interactive approach, our course structure, and the general support features all lead to a happy user experience.

What is the next big thing?

Online education and programming - we think programming will be the literacy of the 21st century. We've already seen how automation has replaced many manufacturing jobs. The [next] phase of automation is in decision-making. Instead of relying on humans to manually search or test for new approaches, programming has huge potential to efficiently achieve the same ends.


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