FreeCodeCampOKC Breaks Down Barriers for New Coders

After searching for the best entry point into the world of code, many find that one of the top resources is freeCodeCamp. This non-profit organization is dedicated to helping people learn to code for free. Online resources include a treasure-trove of videos, instructional articles, as well as interactive coding sessions. A local study group, freeCodeCampOKC is an extension of this education portal, connecting learners with experienced professionals that enhance the experience.

Meeting regularly in the Techlahoma event space at StarSpace46, freeCodeCampOKC shares the mission of the mothership organization, offering programs that teach HTML, CSS, JavaScript, NodeJS, and Angular at no cost whatsoever. Members meet every Sunday afternoon in person and on Twitch in order to supplement the online learning provided on freecodecamp.org with in-person guidance and instruction. These live meetups help coders stay up to date and moving forward in web and software development careers.

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The OKC branch of freeCodeCamp began in 2016 as a group that met at Starbucks on Northwest Expressway. As membership grew, coders moved to a twice-monthly meeting in a library study room. From the very beginning, the meetup was all about learning together and adding real-world insights to the training materials published on the main website.

Daniel Ashcraft was one of the early organizers, along with Jennifer Gladney and Jack Kinsey. Ashcraft said, “It was started as a way to supplement the online curriculum with region/local business specific information and needed skill sets. For instance, freeCodeCampOKC focuses on full stack JavaScript but SQL is still huge in this community so we had meetups/talks on SQL, etc. We also wanted to remove all barriers to entering the industry, like cost and meeting times.” Jennifer Gladney recalls how excited the community was when they started. “I think a lot of people don’t give Oklahoma enough credit when it comes to technology and our desire to learn and improve the landscape here. Our first meetup had 8 people I believe? It was great!”

Currently, the meetups are organized by Carson McKinstry and Kimberly Collins. McKinstry’s journey to becoming a developer started through freeCodeCamp. At the time, he was studying German Language and Literature but realized he didn’t want to be a teacher, tutor, or translator for the rest of his life. He still got the B.A., but six months after he began to learn code, he had a development internship with a non-profit. “I basically got paid to learn to code while maintaining a bunch of websites,” McKinstry explained. “I finally landed a full-time development position at WeGoLook in March of 2017. That's just shy of 9 months from no experience at all to a full-blown developer. It wasn't easy, and it was probably a full 8 hours a day on top of my normal job, but I did what had to be done.”

The presentations at freeCodeCampOKC focus on web development, but they also go over skills that many people forget or never learned in the first place. Thinks like networking, building presentations, and writing resumes are highly critical skills when trying to land that big coding job. The meetings typically stick closely to the online curriculum, but new speakers show up on a regular basis to expand on different unique topics. Co-organizer Kimberly Collins noted that “It takes a lot of work to keep the group going. We'd love to get more volunteers!”

By creating a network of both inexperienced and professional coders, both groups get to experience some big-picture, a-ha moments that you might not get on your own. McKinstry appreciates the way the group members shed light on the nature of development as a field.  “This is hard. Like, really hard. And there's no way around it. It's okay to make mistakes, everyone does, even pros. And that's okay. Anyone can learn to code, you just have to have the drive and discipline to keep at it. This doesn't just happen overnight or in just a single hour on Sunday. It takes hard work and dedication. It's a skill in and of itself to be comfortable in not knowing something; it's even tougher to admit it.”

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When Ashcraft thought back to the early days, he recalled how goal setting was an important component of the group’s success. “Whenever I took over I wanted to create a structured, start-to end-curriculum, to get people their first jobs in the industry. I would structure the curriculum in a way that taught the primary skill sets in a manner focused on small, extendable, projects instead of reading about technologies or just talking about technologies,” he remembered. “This was successful in producing members of our community capable of getting their first jobs, which makes me immensely proud. Carson and Kimberly were instrumental in the success of the meetup during my tenure.”

Gladney also pointed out how accessible the tech industry really is to people who are just starting out. “I think there are so many that want to better their lives and realize technology and IT are very real options to do so and having resources like FCC make it obtainable for so many people - especially with the rising costs of college and classes that don’t fit busy adult schedules,” she said.

McKinstry is largely motivated by a curiosity for analysis. “I just like puzzles and problem solving,” he said. “I've also always had a passion to learn pretty much anything and that translated really well into web development, because, well, there's so much to learn. So much so, that it's often daunting for beginners. I sincerely hope, that even if someone attends a meetup and has no idea what's going on, they at least now have an interesting new word or a cool technology they want to go look up when they get home.”

For more details about freeCodeCampOKC, you can join their Facebook group, follow them on Twitter, or take a look at member content published on Medium.