Coding for beginners - the best apps and websites

There’s never been a better time to start coding. This is your chance to take up a new hobby, challenge yourself and perhaps start your dream career…

What’s coding?

Writing instructions for computers and devices. That’s coding. When you can speak their language, you can give commands, telling them what to do and how to do it, or you can give machines the intelligence to make logical decisions on their own. As you’re a beginner, it’ll be a little while before you’re doing the more complicated coding, but with patience and practice, you’ll get there. In fact, sooner than you’d think.

You can create your own website from scratch or bring your ideas for computer games to life, coding will open up a world of opportunities. And let’s not forget the benefits of adding a new skill to your CV. It’s often free and surprisingly easy to pick up coding's fundamental principles in your own time, and you're about to find out how.

What are the basics of coding?

Let’s start you at the beginning and cover the three main categories of coders who are bound to get a mention in your online course for beginners:

  • Front-end developers build websites. You write hundreds of lines of code to bring the design to life with HTML, CSS and JavaScript. You’d create the layout, as well as how the webpage looks and works, including all the interactions – adding animations and hyperlinking buttons. Plus, you’d try to make pages load faster and be more responsive so your visitors have the best experience.
  • Back-end developers, in higher demand, build the web apps that the website runs on. With your JavaScript and PHP coding skills, you’d make it possible for those of us with accounts to sign in and out of your website or build a profile page (think Twitter or Facebook). Meanwhile, you’d create interactive apps that can be embedded on the website, like Google Maps on your Contact Us page, for example.
  • Mobile app developers created your Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram – all the apps on your Android or iPhone. And there’s huge demand for you coders who know your way around iOS and Android operating systems.

And these three are just for starters. When you’ve mastered the common coding concepts, you could specialise and become a system engineer, an AI programmer, a video games developer, more – you’re not short of options.

How to teach yourself to code

Complete beginners, you could learn fast enough to have your own simple program in weeks. You’d be surprised how quickly you can pick up coding, so boot up your computer and get online (with our M500 broadband, if you’re lucky). Here’s what it takes…

Best websites to learn coding

If you’re self-motivated and determined, here’s how to teach yourself and reach your potential as a coder on your Mac or PC…

1. Dash.GeneralAssemb.ly

Want to make websites? By the end of the course, you’ll have the skills and confidence to create everything from a balanced layout and animations to your first fully styled landing page. Dash covers HTML, CSS, JavaScript and how the three work together. All in this free program.

For complete beginners with zero coding experience, this is your chance to learn step-by-step without being lectured. General Assembly will set you a series of projects for imaginary clients. You’ll code at your own pace. The text editor will check and correct you as you type. And you'll leave with a solid portfolio of websites. Publish these in the real world or share them with recruiters or potential clients, if you like, after the free online course.

2. freeCodeCamp.org

freeCodeCamp’s YouTube channel is a gold mine of tutorials. But if you’ve time to spare (up to 300 hours for a course), their website is a great place to be as a beginner. With six certifications for you to try in any order, you’re not short on interesting topics, spanning everything from basic HTML, JavaScript and CSS to product landing pages and survey forms. Coding’s taught clearly with a mix of straight-forward videos and articles, and a few challenges thrown in to test you.

The best bit? freeCodeCamp's forum will help you network and start to build your reputation. Their chatrooms are full of members, happy to answer your questions or tackle coding challenges with you, and you can join meet-up groups to arrange a gathering in real life. Having a passionate community around you will keep you motivated to learn coding, so you’ll pick it up fast.

Best coding apps

Prefer to learn on your mobile? Want more guidance and structure than a YouTube tutorial can give you? Download and give these apps a try, perfect for a beginner…

1. SoloLearn

Imagine having your pick of the world’s biggest choice of free computer programming courses. That’s SoloLearn. With no adverts interrupting you on your iPhone, iPad or Android device, you can set daily learning goals and get clued up on JavaScript, data science, algorithms and more for the first time. Get a certificate for each course you complete on the app. Or brush up on your skills, using the code editor to practice writing, running and sharing real code.

And that’s not all. Got a competitive streak? Try over 2,000 quizzes and tackle Code Coach challenges or go head to head with the community by challenging folks to coding battles.

2. Codecademy Go

Alternatively, keep up your learning streak with Codecademy Go on your Android mobile or iPhone. If you’re brand new to coding, you’ll appreciate the handholding the free app offers beginners, as all the important topics are broken down for you in friendly, bitesize chunks. Data and computer sciences. HTML and CSS. SQL and JavaScript. Plus more. And with fresh flashcards for you to skim every day, you should have no trouble remembering what you've covered or tracking your progress.

Help and advice, if you need it, is also available from experts who're top in the industry. Take notes. And if you’re hooked, remember you can upgrade to Codecademy Pro for further study that could lead to or enhance your career.

Best coding apps for kids

Want to give them a real head start in life? Start preparing the kids for a brighter future by introducing coding skills today that’ll help them when they’re older in the world of tomorrow…

1. Kodable

Playing games is how young coders learn best. So for kids age 4 to 10, discovering computer science, JavaScript and more for the first time, coding doesn’t get more fun than this award-winning app for your iPhone or iPad. Simply choose your colourful fuzzFamily character and your Kodable adventure can begin.

From Smeeborg and Asteroidia to Bug World, you’ll navigate mazes in out of this world places and solve problems that get steadily trickier, such as by dragging and dropping code or instructions. Adults, why not sign in for stats and see how they’re getting on?

2. codeSpark Academy

With this education app on your family’s Android device, iPhone or iPad, you can learn basic computer programming and coding skills from puzzles and problems, drag and drop games and projects with step by step guides. All without having to read.

In fact, codeSpark Academy say theirs is the most used app for 5 to 9 year olds, which goes to show how much fun coding can be with characters like The Foos. It’s a great way to introduce real programming skills that you can explore together, everything from Boolean logic, stacks and queues to variables and inequalities. Smart.

Choosing your coding language

Special commands, abbreviations, ways of arranging a text – each computer language is unique and in just a few months, you could go from beginner to fluent. Some you need for web development, others for creating desktop software or mobile apps. But which should you start with?

Let’s look at the main languages and spot the difference...

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