While coding bootcamps get much of the internet’s attention, coding courses can offer a more customizable, inexpensive, and time-efficient alternative, especially for those with other commitments like a job or a family. Find out all you need to know below, plus get our picks of the best coding courses, paid and free.
What you need to know
- Online coding courses are more customizable, affordable, and offer more variation in curriculum and format than coding bootcamps.
- Both coding bootcamps and online coding courses are great ways to make a career change, but coding courses might work better for those just looking to add one or two discrete skills.
- While there are some great paide coding courses out there, many awesome coding courses are completely free.
Why should you take an online coding course?
Why take an online coding course? Why not?! Even with the recent rounds of layoffs in the tech industry, coding skills will surely be in demand for the foreseeable future. According to consultancy McKinsey, the US tech unemployment rate in March 2023 was even lower, at 2.2%, than the incredibly low 3.5% across the labor market as a whole, with over 300,000 unfilled jobs in the industry. Fellow consultancy Korn Ferry suggests that worldwide the shortage of skilled tech workers will grow to 85 million by 2030.
This demand translates into high salaries: the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) pegs the median software developer salary at just over $120,000 annually, nearly triple what the average American takes home each year. According to levels.fyi, an industry blog with its finger on the pulse of tech salaries, the median software engineer improves on this, making $167,000 in total compensation.
These salaries are enough to encourage many to leverage online coding courses for a career change, but even if you’re not looking to become a software developer, software engineer, or web developer, coding skills can be a crucial asset for professionals working in industries that are increasingly employing data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence solutions — especially if they’ve never had any experience with computer science or computer programming. And if you’re looking to be an influencer, start your own business, or just level up your side-hustle, web development chops are assuredly a value-add.
The bottom line: for those looking to future-proof their career path or unlock higher earning potential, an online coding course can be a great way to do so.
What does a coding course teach?
While a coding course’s curriculum will vary depending on the featured topic and difficulty level, common areas covered include:
Programming Basics: Behind each programming language are fundamental tasks, procedures, and concepts that every programmer should know, including syntax, variables, data types, troubleshooting, debugging, functions, loops, and conditionals.
Databases: Especially for data-heavy applications like data science, online coding courses will cover the basics of working with databases, including how to write SQL scripts to efficiently access, modify, and store data.
Software Development Practices: Especially when it comes time to work on independent projects, online coding courses will introduce key software development practices and tools like version control with Git, testing, troubleshooting, debugging, and how to write maintainable and easily understood code.
Special Topics in Development: Some online coding courses cover special topics in software development like mobile app development for iOS and Android, game development, API development, or Amazon Web Services (AWS).
What’s the Difference Between a Coding Course and a Coding Bootcamp?
A coding bootcamp is an integrated, intensive program aimed at helping participants land an entry-level coding job. They generally last around 3-6 months of full-time or part-time study and cost between $10,000 and $15,000. Usually included are a suite of career services that, together with bootcamps’ other features, have led to some considering online coding bootcamps a viable alternative to a computer science degree program for those looking to break into tech.
So how do coding courses differ?
If a coding bootcamp is a tasting menu, where you pay a set price for whatever dishes the chef wants to serve up, think of coding courses as à la carte: whether you’re choosing just one course or assembling an entire meal for yourself, you’re in control of your education.
Online coding courses generally cost less than a part-time coding bootcamp — many are free! — and so are seen as a more affordable option, especially if you are just curious about coding or want to pick it up as a hobby.
While there are certainly some differences between coding bootcamp curricula, look at enough and you’ll start to see some pretty strong patterns. Because coding courses are generally shorter and not integrated into a larger program, you’ll see far more variation, whether that means focusing on just one programming language, one particular application of coding skills, or one industry.
While coding bootcamps usually feature live online (if not in-person) instruction, coding courses more frequently offer asynchronous instruction through an online learning platform. While this allows for lots of flexibility when studying, it does come at the expense of human interaction.
If you’re interested in learning more about coding bootcamps, check out our guides on choosing the best full stack bootcamp and how to pick the best software engineering bootcamps for our latest advice. If instead you think that a coding course will better help you meet your goals, read on to learn our thoughts on the best online coding courses out there.
Best Paid Online Coding Courses
To determine our picks for the best online coding courses overall, we focused on value, strength of curriculum, efficacy of learning format, and, where possible, feedback from students who had taken the course.
Price: Tiered (Free, $18/mo, $30/mo)
- Large selection of single courses, skill paths, and career paths
- Mobile app for practicing
- Dedicated forums and Discord servers
- No live instruction
- High level of self-discipline required
- Basic tier more restricted than some competitors (e.g. Coursera)
Codecademy offers a massive catalog of courses in areas like Python, C#, Cyber Security, and Web Development, as well as skill and career paths that can help you skill up to interview for full-stack engineer, iOS developer, and data scientist jobs. A mobile app lets you practice your new skills on the go, and Pro-level subscribers can even access technical interview prep materials and personalized job postings. In all, prices are quite low, with users able to access everything on the site for just $30/month, but to succeed at Codecademy, you’ll need to be self-motivated: with no live instruction to support you, you’ll need discipline and a willingness to participate in the dedicated forums and Discord servers to get the most out of the material.
“I like everything - the videos, the quizzes, the projects. Also, the Learning Facilitators seem very enthusiastic and engaged.” - Participant
Length: 4 months, 35-45 hours per week Price: $9,500
- Demonstrations and instruction from MIT faculty
- Live chat with industry professionals
- Course results in portfolio to be used during recruitment
- Little live interaction for the price
- Requires almost as much time as a full bootcamp
- No personalized career services
MIT xPRO’s Professional Certificate in Coding, presented in collaboration with Emeritus, gives students the opportunity to learn from a real MIT faculty member and earn a certificate from MIT that they can proudly display on their resume. Along the way, students can drop into office hours with industry professionals and communicate with each other through a message board feature. But given the other resources out there, including free courses offered by universities (see below), the $9,500 price-tag seems steep, especially for the amount of interaction students receive with actual instructors. For some the MIT brand might be worth the premium, but for the money and time (four months of full-time instruction), many might instead opt for a bootcamp.
"To be able to take courses at my own pace and rhythm has been an amazing experience. I can learn whenever it fits my schedule and mood." - Coursera User
Length: 2 months, 10 hours per week Price: Free, or $60/month for a certificate with Coursera Plus
- Students learn to apply their skills
- With Coursera Plus, students can also take other courses simultaneously
- Potentially inefficient for more motivated learners
- For complete beginners, might not provide enough programming basics
- No oversight for capstone project
If you’re a coding n00b looking to learn Python for data science, machine learning, or just as a hobby on your own time without breaking the bank, look no further than the University of Michigan’s Python for Everybody Specialization, available on Coursera. Students can audit the course for free or subscribe to Coursera to be eligible to earn a certificate (for this specialization and thousands of other courses). While the low barrier of entry and short duration makes this course perfect for coding samplers, hard-core aspiring coders looking to make a career transition might want to opt for something substantial that offers more in the way of programming basics that can be used across languages.
“This course is quite comprehensive when compared with other courses available on this platform that is why I bought it. It is packed full with amazing content and like the description, it did make me a full stack web developer.” - Participant
Length: 66+ hours Price: $17/month (Udemy subscription) or $125
- Tried and tested path to becoming a web developer
- Comprehensive curriculum
- Low price
- No instructor oversight
- Low name recognition
- Video-heavy formal
Best Free Online Coding Courses
The open secret about coding? There are so many free resources out there that offer plausible paths to a programming career, whether they’re community-maintained, open-source university courses, or non-profit. In assembling our list of best free online coding courses, we’ve sought out those that are most active, authoritative, comprehensive and have helped real people land coding jobs.
Length: 11 weeks, 10-20 hours per week Price: Free
- Comprehensive overview of computer science
- Produced by leading authority
- Frequently cited on Reddit as go-to resource
- Low-touch user experience
- Less emphasis on practical application than other courses
- Potentially more difficult than other courses
The gold-standard of free computer science MOOCs, Harvard’s CS50 has long been the self-taught programmer’s first stop when starting out. The in-person version is Harvard’s largest, and through edX, aspiring coders from around the world can learn the basics of computer programming from Harvard faculty for free. Of course, this comes at a price: while other courses offer extensive independent real-world projects, CS50 focuses on problem sets, meaning that to start really applying their skills, students will have to pair CS50 with online coding challenges and projects. It should also be noted that — unsurprisingly since it’s from Harvard — CS50 is considered hard by some.
“Before I started the Odin Project I had literally ZERO programming experience. After almost exactly a year of working through the program, I was offered a job as a front end web developer. Odin taught me all the most crucial skills in webdev and gave me an incredibly strong foundation for branching out and learning other pieces of the web-dev puzzle along the way.” - Participant
- Community-maintained, so curriculum remains current
- Includes professional development module
- Considered difficult by some
- Only for web development; not for software dev
- Low name recognition outside of coding circles
Length: Varies Price: Free
- Expansive library of courses
- Browser-friendly integrated coding environment
- Forum, Discord, and YouTube channel with loads of coding tutorials
- No student:instructor interaction
- Amount of content can be overwhelming for beginning coders
freeCodeCamp is a great option if you’re looking to branch out past web development: they have a tutorial for just about any coding task you can think of. Click on one and you’ll open up an integrated coding environment right in your browser. Need help, and you can ask someone in the forum or on the Discord channel. For students who don’t need much guidance, this is a dream, but if you are new to the coding world and need more direction, you might find freeCodeCamp difficult to use, at least at first.
Above, we dove into what exactly to expect from a coding course, how they differ from coding bootcamps, and what some great options are (free and paid) if you’re looking to build the skills to land a coding job or venture out on your own.
Still looking for some more guidance and thinking a coding bootcamp might be for you? Get matched today.