The market for Web sites, night classes, online lectures and games that offer crash courses in programming and Web site construction is booming. Those jumping on board say they are preparing for a future in which the Internet is the foundation for entertainment, education and nearly everything else. Knowing how the digital pieces fit together, they say, will be crucial to ensuring that they are not left in the dark ages.
Some in this crowd foster secret hopes of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg. But most have no plans to quit their day jobs — it’s just that those jobs now require being able to customize a blog’s design, or handle the care and feeding of an online database.
“Inasmuch as you need to know how to read English, you need to have some understanding of the code that builds the Web,” said Sarah Henry, 39, an investment manager who lives in Wayne, Pa. “It is fundamental to the way the world is organized and the way people think about things these days.”
Ms. Henry took several classes, including some in HTML, the basic language of the Web, and WordPress, a blogging service, through Girl Develop It, a New York-based organization she heard about online that offers lessons aimed at women in a number of cities. She paid around $200 and saw it as an investment in her future.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that I can crank out a site today, but I can look at basic code and understand it,” Ms. Henry said. “I understand how these languages function within the Internet.”
Some see money to be made in the programming trend. After two free computer science classes that Stanford University offered online attracted more than 100,000 students, one of the instructors started a company called Udacity to offer similar free lessons. Treehouse, a site that promises to teach Web design, picked up financing from Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, and other notable early-stage investors.
General Assembly, which offers a working space for entrepreneurs in New York, is adding seven classrooms in an effort to keep up with demand for programming classes, on top of the two classrooms and two seminar rooms it had already. The company recently raised money from the personal investment fund of the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and DST Global, which has backed Facebook.
Codecademy got a big break in January when Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, made a public New Year’s resolution to use the site to learn how to code. The site is free, and its creators hope to make money in part by connecting newly hatched programmers with recruiters and start-ups.
“People have a genuine desire to understand the world we now live in,” said Zach Sims, one of the founders of Codecademy. “They don’t just want to use the Web; they want to understand how it works.”
The blooming interest in programming is part of a national trend of more people gravitating toward technical fields. According to the Computing Research Association, the number of students that enrolled in computer science degree programs rose 10 percent in 2010. Peter Harsha, director of government affairs at the association, said that the figure had been steadily climbing for the last three years — after a six-year decline in the aftermath of the dot-com bust.
Mr. Harsha said that interest in computer science was cyclical, but that the current excitement around the field seemed like more than a blip, and was not limited to people who want to be engineers. “To be successful in the modern world, regardless of your occupation, requires a fluency in computers,” he said. “It is more than knowing how to use Word or Excel, but how to use a computer to solve problems.”
That is what pushed Rebecca Goldman, 26, who is a librarian at Drexel University in Philadelphia, to sign up for some courses. She said she found herself needing basic Web development skills so she could build and maintain a Web site for the special collections department she oversees.