What is Programming? Start Learning Today (Free Course Guide)

Jessica-Earley-300x300Jessica Early is the director of  Part-Time Education at Hackbright Academy in San Francisco. Prior to working at Hackbright, she spent a decade working with nonprofits with at-risk youth in disadvantaged areas. She received her BA in Sociology and Education: Applied Psychology from UCSB. At home, Jessica loves to spend time with loved ones, her pets and
collecting strawberry knick knacks. 


You Don’t have to Be a Rocket Scientist to Code. 

Programming or coding isn’t just for hoodie-wearing, Doritos-eating math prodigies. People who write code come from all different backgrounds. You don’t even need a CS degree. In fact, 59.8% of software engineers, programmers or computer scientist titles do not carry a CS degree, according to Tech Crunch. So if you don’t have a Computer Science Degree and you’re interested in learning to code, you’re in luck!

Step 1: Watch this video

‘What is programming, exactly?’ you ask. We’ve got answers in this quick video on what programming is and how it relates to the computer. Video by Austin Olney.

Step 2: Spend 60 minutes with Python


Sign up for free at Codecademy, which hosts a free hands-on Python course that takes an estimated 13 hours to complete. (Look for the link to the course catalog to find the Python course, and to see the many paths a coding career can take. You don’t need to upgrade to the paid Pro membership.)

Why Python? Because it’s one of the most in-demand languages today in many areas of computing, from recreational websites to serious data science. That’s why it’s also the highest-paying language to know for new engineers. Once you’ve learned one programming language, learning others is much easier. So you might as well start with the one that currently maximizes your opportunities.

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, start with just one hour of the tutorial. You’ll get an overview of concepts, and you’ll write and run your first simple Python program. That will give you a basic idea of how code works, and what a software development environment looks like.

Slow and steady learning will get you where you want to be. You’ll be spending a lot more time playing with Python — a lot, because coding is addictive rather than a chore. But before you do, there are some people you should meet.

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Step 3: Follow Online Classroom Resources

Online resources like Youtube have thousands of videos searchable, from every programming lesson possible. From beginner to advance, help ease yourself into the world of programming with instructors and teaching styles of our choice.

Start with Jessica McKellar, an amazing Python developer who has a great class you can follow right along. Free courses like our 10-Day Crash Course are also a great start to the world of coding.

Congrats, you’re coding!

That’s it! You’ve taken your first steps into a new life, and already have new friends with whom to make the journey. You’ll also find them — and others — online. Stack Overflow is where you can talk about coding. GitHub is the go-to place to peruse and share working Python (and every other language) examples with other programmers. Both are also places where managers looking to hire new engineers look for promising candidates.

Bookmark our list 7 Online Coding Resources For Beginners for more tutorial and help sites.

As you progress, you may want some classroom education. Hackbright offers a part-time Intro to Programming night course in San Francisco that runs five hours per week, for 12 weeks. You may find similar courses in your area.

Whatever you do, keep coding, whenever you have even a few minutes. Once you get rolling, it’s as addictive as Facebook. The more time you spend editing, running and debugging algorithms on your screen, the better — and better — you’ll get. Welcome to the club!

And lastly, apply for Hackbright Academy.

If you’re ready to change your career and become a coder or programmer, but don’t have the experience to get accepted into a bootcamp, apply for the Hackbright Prep by March 24. You’ll learn the foundations of programming, how to use necessary tools, and ultimately tackle the bootcamp application process. You’ll work with a one-on-one advisor to track your progress, create your own personal project, and expand your network in our community of like-minded women.


  • Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners is offering $1,000 scholarships | Apply here!
  • In honor of International Women’s Day this month, every student will receive a $500 scholarship for our Part-Time April courses!

Hackbright Academy is the leading engineering school for women in San Francisco dedicated to closing the gender gap in the tech industry offering 12-week software engineering programs and night courses for women. 

From Mom to Engineer Extraordinaire: Meet Hackbright Academy Grad Wendy Zenone

 Wendy Zenone is an associate application security engineer at Lending Club, who graduated from Hackbright Academy’s boot camp. Before Hackbright, she worked in the ad department at Facebook, helping customers customize ads. After a leap of faith, she decided to forgo a salary for three months to learn how to code at Hackbright. Here’s her story. Visit Course Report to read the interview in its entirety.

Working as an aesthetician at MAC Cosmetics, Wendy Zenone was underwhelmed and underpaid. Living in Silicon Valley with a son to raise, Wendy wanted to improve her life.

“I had gone back to school late in life, doing an online Bachelor’s in Communications at the University of Massachusetts, but education was expensive, and I calculated it would take me six years to graduate at $1,500 a class. So, I started looking at internships where I could get experience without having graduated.”

Wendy took her first internship at a public relations firm that represented small Silicon Valley tech startups, where she learned tech terminology and began to open her eyes to possibilities in the field.  After that, she took a job at Facebook in the ads department, creating a tool that helps customers customize ads. Although the role wasn’t technical, per say, she worked with a team of engineers and her curiosity for learning grew. So, she began her Hackbright application.

“As I talked to my husband, we had some concerns. Hackbright was in San Francisco; it cost money and it would mean three months without a salary. But ultimately, his opinion was that coding is the future, and it’s something that we needed to make happen.”

To many’s surprise: Wendy didn’t get the position after her first interview.

“When I got that rejection email, my heart just dropped,” she said. “It hurt regardless of how old you are, but I was in my late thirties, and I knew I didn’t have another four months to get started.”

So, she wrote the interviewer an email, asking for another interview.

“I wrote that I was very nervous and I did not feel that my interview properly conveyed who I was and my interest in Hackbright, so I asked for another chance.”

That was the first time Hackbright had given someone a second interview after being declined (and they’ve since changed their policy). Low and behold, Wendy got accepted after her second try.

The Application Process

The application itself is a series of essays and then a small coding challenge.

“When I applied, they said the coding challenge was ‘optional.’ But here’s a tip: it’s not! If you skipped the coding test, it showed you weren’t up for the challenge. Since then, the coding challenge is now mandatory.”

When it came to Hackbright being entirely female, Wendy felt more comfortable. “I actually didn’t look at any other coding boot camps, but I thought back to P.E. class in high school and thought about how there were certain activities that I felt intimidated doing in front of men. I knew I would be more comfortable in an environment learning with women. Hackbright was better for me.”

Now working as the associate application security engineer at Lending Club, Wendy was only the third person out of the Hackbright Academy history to go into security. Now, it’s becoming more prominent: Hackbright now has a small Security Study Group.

When it comes to getting your name out there on the field, Wendy says it’s all about who you know.


“Ignore the self doubt. I had a lot of self-doubt, but every time I felt that doubt, I would replace it with, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ Try everything you can – from applying to jobs to internships, all they can say is no.”

“One very important thing in tech is who you know,” says Wendy. “Graduates need to not only initially rely on sending in resumes, but also to network and meet people in the industry. Go to Meetups and events that are focused on what you want to do. Those connections will greatly improve the trajectory of your career going forward. My job was found by networking and not solely relying on the partner company network of Hackbright.”

“I never thought I would be a security engineer, and I am here. I still feel like I’m Jon Snow and I know nothing (laughs). But I am still here!” On the application security team at Lending Club, Wendy works with everyone who creates the Lending Club website and the platform – engineers, developers, and the QA team. They look at internal and external applications to ensure that they are secure. “We make sure the code is secure and that there aren’t any holes in the applications that could allow our data to be compromised. Basically, my job is to keep the hackers out.”

To other women who want to change careers, Wendy says to ignore the self-doubt. “I had a lot of self-doubt, but every time I felt that doubt, I would replace it with, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ Just trying everything you can – from applying to jobs to internships – all they can say is no. Every day that you stay on this new path in your life is one step closet to becoming a senior developer or a senior security engineer. I never thought I would finish my final project at Hackbright because I felt like I would never know enough. But here I am!”

Hackbright Academy is the leading engineering school for women in San Francisco dedicated to closing the gender gap in the tech industry.  Learn more about Hackbright’s 12-week software engineering program Wendy completed.

Hackbright Alumnae: Teaching and Reaching Together

Emma FergusonEmma Ferguson is a software engineer at Eventbrite, which claims to be the world’s largest self-ticketing platform. She graduated from Hackbright in March of 2016. Before Hackbright, she worked as a data analyst for four years. When not coding, Emma skis, bakes, walks shelter dogs, and loves to hang out around museums!

In 2016, Emma volunteered as a Hackbright mentor. This year, she serves as one of Hackbright’s first ever alumnae Ambassadors.

I didn’t know I wanted to be a software engineer until I was well into another career. I had been working as a data analyst at a startup for nearly two years. That mostly meant working in Excel all day, every day. There were maybe 40 people, and I was the only analyst, so I was doing work for just about everyone else — everything from business and financial reporting to customer use analysis for our products.

My data scientist coworkers sometimes pointed out that if I knew Python, I could automate my work. When I began my second year, I realized just how much duplicate work I was doing, and decided to take their advice. I went into this weeklong Python course, but found myself in over my head. I jumped back, and took Codecademy’s online Python course. It was a good course, but I already had 40 to 60 hours a week of work to do before even looking at it.

So I looked at different options. It seemed the evening classes I found wouldn’t teach me much I couldn’t learn on my own. Yet as I taught myself more about Python, the data scientists I worked with told me I was over-engineering my projects, coding up more automation and features than I needed to. But’s it’s fun! I protested. They responded: Maybe you should just be an engineer.

We’re in this together

Emma FergusonTo do that, I needed a more formal education — not years of college, but months of full-time focused training. Hackbright taught Python, and had a good reputation for alumnae among my friends in tech. I did not pick Hackbright because it was all women. In fact, didn’t see the benefit of that until the pending students in my cohort began emailing one another to get to know each other before classes began. It was intimidating at first — so many of my cohort were, like, “I have a masters in bioengineering, after completing my undergrad in theoretical math.” I was a theater major!

But then we all met in person at the start of the semester. Normally, when I’m in a room with lots of people I don’t know, I get nervous. But for once, it was so easy! We were all women who wanted to switch careers into software engineering, so we had a lot of the same dreams and the same worries. We talked about how we were all a bit nervous to be there. It felt great. The alumnae network wasn’t just a selling point. It was obvious from day one that everyone was willing to support each other and teach each other as we learned.

Value your past

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Women who want to be pro coders often worry they’ve spent their time learning other skills and experiences that won’t help at all. Not true! Look at me: I don’t have any academic background — I was a set design major. I did professional scenic design during and after college. Being an up-and-coming scenic designer, you’re used to working with little or no budget, so you constantly have to make something out of nothing. Software engineering can be a lot like that. You have an idea and a blank screen. Now make it real!

Also, as a set designer you must be super-responsible that what you do is not only good in itself, but fits in with the rest of the production. It’s the same for software engineering. If your APIs don’t connect to the right functions, or if you yourself aren’t really part of the team, your work will fail.

If you’ve worked in the real world, you already know that you can love a job that’s incredibly hard, if you believe you can win at it. At Hackbright, I was exhausted for 12 weeks straight. But every time I was ready to give up, I found that after I went for a walk to cool off, I started thinking about how to approach a coding roadblock differently. I found myself heading right back to my keyboard to make it work.

Alumnae – The Extra-Curricular Teachers

Hackbright also introduced me to mentors from the happening part of the local tech scene — different people with different jobs and backgrounds. In fact, my original alumna interviewer for Hackbright was a data engineer. I knew that I wanted to keep working with data, just not with spreadsheets. My interviewer explained how data engineering was different from back end, front end, or full stack engineering roles. This, I realized, was the thing I wanted to do after graduating. I just hadn’t known what it was called.

My interviewer kept in touch with me through my twelve weeks, advising me on how to approach my project (Called NextBook, it’s a good example of how code runs the world now. The interface is a basic mix of JavaScript, CSS, & HTML, but behind the scenes is a Python machine learning app feeding you personalized book recommendations, based on your reading history and associated book data pulled in from a bunch of APIs.) My assigned mentors helped me prepare for the tech industry, giving me space to discuss how our in-class concepts function in the wild, or providing one-on-one coaching for interview skills.

Just as important, they opened up about their own career journeys, some of which involved way more hopscotch than mine. I learned from them that becoming a software engineer doesn’t mean you get a badge. All it means is you are constantly coding. The job title doesn’t make you good at it — you just have to keep coding until you are. My mentors let me see their own work wasn’t perfect — they made what they do seem accessible to me, rather than beyond my reach.

Now it’s my turn!

emma ferguson 3When it was time to interview with companies, I was ready: Eventbrite, one of the Hackbright partner companies who came by to meet graduating engineers, was a company at which I’d interviewed for an analyst job, but had turned down their offer to go to bootcamp instead. I let them know how much I’d love to join their fabulous team — as a data engineer.

While Hackbright’s classes and curriculum are undoubtedly excellent and launched me into this profession, the network of alumnae and mentors is what will continue to push me to advance my skills and career. As my cohort-mates showed me from our first day, the Hackbright community is made up of people committed to improving each other and our profession, not just learning for ourselves. My mentors opened doors for me by opening my eyes to what’s possible in the world of software engineering. I look forward to doing the same for other women, showing more aspiring programmers that there’s no magic moment when you “Become An Engineer” — if you want to code every day, and you’re willing to work hard, you already belong here.