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4 Free DIY Coding Tutorials for the Online Journalist

These days, proficiency in computer science and online coding is just as essential to a journalist’s education as writing, reporting and editing. As our world continues to blur platform lines, knowing programming languages is the easiest way to gain an edge to secure your dream job, take on more responsibilities and become an indispensable tool in the newsroom.

But, there’s one overarching problem when a journalist gets psyched up to code: tutorials and books are often filled with codes and jargon that natively go against the way a humanities mind works. Getting into the material can be difficult, and sticking with it until code mastery can be nearly impossible.

Luckily, in an effort to get people of all ages and backgrounds into online programming, many companies have put together smart, interactive tutorials that explain methods in clear and easy ways. Some of them rely on a story or concept to drive the knowledge across, while others use reward systems and badges to motivate users to sticking with it.

Here are four free, interactive tutorials that you can do at your own pace that will help you learn four coding languages that have rapidly become must-knows in the world of online production and development. All of these courses assume users are complete beginners, so jump in!

What coding knowledge do you think every journalist should have in his or her arsenal? Let us know in the comments.

1. HTML/CSS: Code Avengers

If you are entirely new to coding, then it’s very important that you begin with the first few languages that make the Internet what it is today. HTML and CSS are very easy to understand, and provide a solid foundation to go on to other, more exciting languages.

Code Avengers provides 30 hours of interactive tutorials for HTML and CSS in an interactive module with a superhero theme. The program starts from the absolute basics and works from there, providing a real-time onscreen visualizer so you always know how your code looks online. It also builds from each previous lesson, so there’s no code wasted. Code Avengers is a fun, easy way to get a handle on how to build a website from scratch, and get your feet wet in coding without diving headlong into a jargon-heavy book.

2. JavaScript: CodeAcademy

After learning HTML and CSS, JavaScript is the next logical step to achieving greater code mastery. Javascript is responsible for a lot of popular web applications and animations — including many of the New York Times’ popular interactive infographics (check out one outstanding one from the November election, 512 Paths to Victory, for an example). JavaScript is also a significantly more complicated language than HTML and CSS, so it can feel inaccessible to many.

Thankfully, it’s the target language of one of the most comprehensive interactive online programming tutorial websites around today: CodeAcademy. Rather than focusing on a particular theme or story, CodeAcademy is a conversational interactive learning tool that, much like Code Avengers, builds on each lesson incrementally. Each lesson is designed to feel like a real-time chat with a JavaScript tutor, proving concepts by practical application. Each successful program completion earns points for rewards and badges to proudly display your programming skills. And, when you’re done with JavaScript, it’s possible to move on to more complex and interesting languages.

3. Ruby: HacketyHack

So, you’re ready to learn object-oriented programming? Ruby is one of the most widely used object-oriented programming languages today, due to its open-source nature and Perl-like structure elements. The benefits of object-oriented programming are immense, as you can create nearly any action and apply it to a variety of functions — bypassing common language tools to build something that’s unique to your application or website. It also relies heavily on logic inputs and strings, so your code looks much more like an actual sentence than a series of action-linked verbs.

Although it’s catered to students as young as 10, HacketyHack is a fun tutorial that breaks down the concepts of Ruby and object-oriented programs with elegance. Through HacketyHack, which is unfortunately for Mac only, users can learn to develop their own animations and software programs from scratch — very similar to the way that app development occurs today. The result is a cache of usable techniques that marries code with the visual aspects of object-oriented programming, and it’s a great way to show the power coding has on visual representations on the web.

4. Ruby on Rails: Rails for Zombies

Twitter, Groupon, Hulu, Basecamp. These popular websites (and a host of others) were all developed with a framework for Ruby called Ruby on Rails. It continues to be a popular coding choice for startups, who praise the system for its flexbility and design control. Even better, it’s a go-to language for developing mobile applications, and it’s a must-know for those looking to get into the tablet production scene.

Most people learn Ruby on Rails by actually developing the framework for Twitter, but wouldn’t it be more fun if you wrote something for zombies instead? Rails for Zombies does just that, offering a combination of interactive coding platforms and video episodes that guide the user through developing “Twitter for Zombies.” The videos are concise and informative, the coding objectives are clear, and there’s an inherent fun factor to creating an application for the undead. Once you finish, you can head on over to Rails for Zombies 2, a premium intermediate course that will certainly impress your programmer friends.

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