Startup Smackdown: Treehouse vs. Codecademy

By November 16, 2011

Because programming skills are in such high demand, a plethora of companies are popping up, wanting to teach you how to program. There is a lot of money in this space because people typically pay a lot for their programming education, and employers are eager to hire (and pay for access to) vetted programmers. Two such startups are Treehouse and Codecademy — the competitors in today’s Startup Smackdown.

Treehouse focuses on delivering education in 3 areas: web design, web development, and iOS development. Its site delivers content using videos and quizzes. It also has blue-chip funding from angel investor Kevin Rose, and investment funds Greylock (Reid Hoffman) and GRP (Mark Suster).
Codecademy, on the other hand, allows you to start programming immediately right in the browser. The site has a series of lessons to complete by creating programs that get progressively more complex. These guys also have some big backers, particularly Union Square Ventures, Yuri Milner, SV Angel, and the CrunchFund.

May the best site win!

Round 1 — Accessibility

Overview: In this round I judge how easily new programmers can relate to a site’s content.

Treehouse: I started my first HTML video at Treehouse expecting a pretty basic introduction, but what I got was mind-numbingly worse than that. At one point, the expert, Nick Pettit, said “If you have Windows, the browser that came with your computer is called Internet Explorer.” I know that this is supposed to be an introduction, but it has to assume the people navigating to its website know what browser they used to do it. But hey, maybe people don’t know what browser they use. Then we are in more trouble than I thought. Fortunately, as the videos go on, it does get more informative. In particular, Hyper Text and the Web does a good job at describing the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web. Some of the the videos are pretty cheesy however, and some are only available behind a pay wall.

Codecademy: Over at Codecademy, the site starts off by asking you to type your name with quotes around it. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. The site continues to hold your hand as you progress to different stages of programming, giving you encouraging nudges along the way.

Winner: Treehouse. Although Codecademy is easy to use, I think that Treehouse does a better job of presenting content in accessible format. It lays a foundation of knowledge so that you not only understand what you are doing, but why you are doing it.

Round 2 — Hands-On Experience

Overview: In this round I judge which site lets a new programmer get his or her hands dirty the fastest.

Treehouse: With Treehouse, there is no hands-on experience unless you pay $25/month for access to the Video Course Library and Quizzes or $49/month for access to even more comprehensive videos. I would sign up for an account, but this unpaid blogger’s gotta eat!

Codecademy: As I’ve mentioned before, Codecademy lets you write code right in the browser, so you begin working with variables and expressions and conditionals (oh my!) right away.

Winner: Codecademy. The best way to start something is to just dive in, and Codecademy does a great job of that.

Round 3 — Breadth of Content

Overview: In this round I judge which start up has the most content for a new programmer to digest.

Treehouse: Although Treehouse has a pay wall blocking some of its content, there are over 30 videos that can give a user introductions to its three core areas of knowledge. After reviewing some of these lessons, I can attest that it does a good job of covering the basics.

Codecademy: It has 21 lessons and over 100 exercises, but it only covers Javascript. The site’s method is a great way to learn programming, but unfortunately there just isn’t enough content there.

Winner: Treehouse. Both services are in early stages, and I expect both to add a lot more lessons in the future. But for now, Treehouse wins this one by a mile.

Final Count: Treehouse 2. Codecademy 1.

I started this Smackdown expecting Codecademy to win. But as I analyzed each startup’s strengths and weaknesses, I found that quality content beat out the “cool” factor of being able to program in the browser. The Treehouse videos can be corny, but they cover the topics needed to become a good web developer. I sincerely hope that both of these startups are successful, because a world that knows how to code is a world that can use software to solve its problems.

Congrats Treehouse on your win!