I get this question all the time:

Hey man, how can I learn to do what you do?  -Random citizen

And I can probably guess why they are asking it too.

Being a web developer is one of the few career paths where you can thrive as an independent contractor – providing you with a ton of freedom and really good money.

And if you are a great web developer, you will have no shortage on business. Instead, you will have a line at your door.

But most of the time the person asking me this question has a career in a non-tech related field. They don’t have a clue where to begin and they don’t have any idea if they’d even be good at it.

Why I always have the same answer: Go join Treehouse.

OK now before I go any further, I just want to point out that I am in no way trying to earn affiliate commissions with Treehouse or something. Other than my friends Matt and Zac who work there, and having an account myself, I have no affiliations with them.

Cool? OK great, we’ve got that out of the way.

So what is Treehouse? It’s an online school for web-related subjects like development in PHP, Ruby and Python. They even have courses for UX design and starting your own business.

My experience

I use Treehouse to supplement my learning appetite. It’s a great way for me to get up-to-speed quickly on a subject that may be unfamiliar to me.

For instance, when Apple released their new Swift language for iOS it only took Treehouse a few weeks to have a complete course on how to build a basic app.

I took it, and really enjoyed learning how Swift works and why there are so many advantages to using it over Objective-C. I have done the same for Python and Ruby.

Not only is the production value of what Treehouse is doing very high quality, the raw material itself is just as good.

So what are the alternatives?

  1. Scour the web for the subject you want to learn in piecemeal.
  2. Enroll in a university or local tech school to learn an outdated curriculum while going thousands of dollars into debt.
  3. Join a free learning site, like Codecademy.

Scouring the web to learn

While you will undoubtedly need to read through documentation throughout most of your development career this isn’t exactly the best way to learn something from scratch.

And free online communities such as StackOverflow or Google Groups are excellent for referencing very specific problems, but they aren’t a training ground for diving into a subject. The scope is too narrow.

And let’s be honest, getting methodical instruction from an actual teacher who knows how to communicate and cares about you learning the material is a lot more valuable than watching a screencast on YouTube from a high school freshman who codes.

Enrolling in a university or tech school

The old adage “you get what you pay for” no longer applies to university study in most cases.

The university system in the United States is a total sham.

The founder of Treehouse, Ryan Carson, said it best:

I’ll admit, I’m a little biased towards this subject since I dropped out of university after one semester.

I’m not challenged to learn through a lecture on 20th century poets. I am challenged to learn by being faced with difficult problems.

Being a web developer isn’t about a piece of paper, it’s about skill, experience and portfolio.

In this industry you can tell fairly quickly whether or not someone has “the chops” – as opposed to biochemistry or something.

In the end, a piece of paper wasn’t worth the money.

Joining a free learning site

Now I can’t really give my opinion about these kinds of sites because I’ve never actually used them.

But what I have seen, are the results.

I have friends that have been active on Codecademy for over a year, and other friends who have been active on Treehouse for over a year – the difference in results is obvious.

My best friend Adam was one such person who asked me this question a year and a half ago. He had worked in sales almost his entire adult life. He was actually really good at it. But he wanted freedom. He wanted a way out.

My answer? Go join Treehouse.

He did. And every week he would come over to my house and we would talk about code, what he was learning and how the industry works. It was awesome. And actually, it’s still awesome because we still hang out every Friday.

So, what is Adam doing today? I’m glad you asked.

He is an incredible web developer who works remotely from his apartment with talented designer Rachael Strode as her lead WordPress developer for new client projects.

No office hours. No commute. No school debt.

This is only possible because he had a deeply-rooted desire to change his career path, and he used the learning tools Treehouse provided as the means to the end he was seeking.

He took his time on each course and took meticulous notes on paper to retain the knowledge.

He got involved in the community forums there and talked with his instructors and fellow students.

He wasn’t afraid of something he didn’t know.

For 25 bucks a month – what excuse do you really have to not give web development a try?