Over my 10-year internet marketing career, my biggest personal competitive advantage was having an electrical engineering degree and being comfortable doing coding.
Nowadays, you don't have to go back to college (and take on the huge loan or remortgage your house) to get up to speed.
The ability to code (and to participate in conversations around programming) is indispensable; it's not a skill reserved for the uber-geeky. It allows business professionals to identify and quickly resolve issues like a string of wonky HTML in a content management system, to more effectively optimize landing pages, or leverage powerful new AdWords Scripts.
It also gives you a unique new perspective in content development, when you understand the inner workings of your systems and can play around in it and get creative. If you want to learn to code, check out these free places to get started:
1. Try Codecademy for Hands-On Basic Coding Experience
Codecademy is on a lofty mission to fix education, which they say is broken (whether or not you agree, there's merit in their statement).
Featured in Wired, Bloomberg, The Guardian and dozens of other major publications, it's one of the more popular free coding options.
If you're looking for theory, this probably isn't the best place to start. Codecademy's style is to throw you straight into the deep end of the coding pool with interactive lessons designed to build hands-on experience.
Here, you'll learn how to code, but you won't gain a deep understanding into why you're doing anything you're doing. There are other resources for that, but if you're a marketer or you're using and HTML-based CMS In your work, hands-on experience is just what you need.
2. For Theory, Head to MIT Open Courseware
If you really want to dig into the theory behind coding and better understand the "why," MIT offers a number of programming courses. Their Open Courseware site features material from 2,150 MIT courses - all open and available to the world.
Beginners should start out with the Introduction to Computer Science and Programming course, which requires a commitment of three hours per week. Students communicate with one another using the OpenStudy platform and forums and the course includes video lectures, text resources and an exam.
3. Coding Lessons Gamified with Khan Academy
One of the first online resources to offer free coding lessons, Khan Academy has a unique teaching approach that often provides education through gaming elements.
4. Udemy Offers Video-Based Learning
If you learn best through a combination of watching, listening and practicing on your own, Udemy is a great place to get started with coding. Instructors can be anyone from educational institutions to professionals in the field - and they set their own course prices. There are dozens of free programming courses available at Udemy.
Students can leave reviews on each course, so you can see what others thought of it before deciding which one to take. There are also a ton of options if you're looking to learn a specific language or program, as well.
5. Udacity Offers World-Class Lessons Free of Charge
Udacity is the brainchild of Stanford Research Professor and Google Fellow Sebastien Thrun, inventor of the driverless car. He had a vision to democratize education by making courses available free to students online, all over the world.
Their Intro to Computer Science program takes about 3 months to complete at 6 hours per week. By the time you're done, you'll have built your own search engine and social network! You can browse the course materials free of charge, or take a full course with coaching for a fee.
6. Coursera Opens the Door to International University Courses
Think of Coursera as a doorway to free courses from universities the world over. Their free introductory coding courses come from reputable institutions like the University of Toronto, the University of Edinburgh, and Stanford. Many courses are also available in different languages.
You can participate in Coursera courses free of charge or, where available, pay a course fee to earn a verified certificate.
7. Just Try an Hour of Code
Code.org is a non-profit dedicated to expanding participation in computer science by making it more available. They just launched in 2013 and already, 59 million students around the world have tried an hour of code in classrooms, at hosted events and at home or work on their own computers.
Learning to Code Just Might Make You a Better Marketer
Basic coding skills can certainly help you understand the issues facing others on your team and involved in your projects, but you may even learn to make edits and build sites or apps yourself.
Who knows - you might even love it!
Do you have a favorite free coding resource? Share yours for others in the comments