5 LA organizations that will teach you to code for free

Julianne Tveten
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal asserted that more and more people are finding web development work without a formal university education. According to the article, the ability to program¬– a skill once possessed fairly strictly by college graduates with degrees in computer science– is more attainable than ever, and can be acquired over the course of months or even weeks, without a college education.
This declaration follows a recent influx of free and low-cost instructional alternatives for programming aspirants. Self-taught developers around the world of course use such online services as Codeacademy, Udacity, and Coursera to boost their repertoire, but more than ever community-based educational options are providing a powerful resource for prospective developers too.
In Los Angeles this is no exception; in fact, the city has a number of independent web development study groups, workshops, and hack nights. To help navigate what the thriving community has to offer, we’ve compiled a list of free, local instructional resources for programming hopefuls of all backgrounds.

1. The Los Angeles Ruby/Rails Meetup Group

Focus: Ruby on Rails
Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced
Where: Multiple throughout LA
When: Second Thursday of the Month
This group was founded in 2006 to educate “anyone interested in learning or sharing experiences with” the programming language Ruby and its companion web application framework, Rails. The LA Ruby/Rails Meetup Group averages 50 to 60 attendees per month who engage in self-study, collaboration, and casual instruction. Each meetup features three to four guest speakers who address Ruby and Rails pertinent topics at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. 
Beginners, take heed: many students recommend Ruby as a first programming language. One such attendee said, “The Ruby on Rails community is known for being especially friendly to newcomers. I find that people really try to make an effort to make others feel included. If someone new comes to a group, people really like to take the time to bring them up to speed, even if it is explaining the very basics or helping them set up the correct environment on their laptops.”

2. Learn to Code With Us

Focus: Ruby, Python, HTML, CSS, JavaScript
Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced
Where: Culver City, Pasadena
When: Wednesday Nights
The Learn to Code With Us program embraces the full spectrum of software engineering experience levels. Seasoned developers attend to work on their own projects and assist others, students receive guidance on their homework and independent projects, and novices gain insight on how to begin. A “free-form” tone characterizes the series; its creators liken it to a relaxed, social version of professorial office hours. 
“Some people have a hard time grasping this concept initially, because it's so ingrained in us to go to a classroom setting, and sit and listen quietly to a lecturer. But that's not how LTCWU [Learn to Code With Us] operates,” said organizer Michelle Leonhart. “We're a community coding experience. We all come together once a week with our ideas, our half-baked projects, and our questions, and we work together, ask each other for help, and learn from each other.” 
The group meets at multiple locations throughout Southern California. Its most regular installments are held on Wednesdays at Culver City’s CrashSpace LA, a nonprofit dedicated to free education on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. 

3. RailsBridge – Los Angeles Women’s Ruby on Rails Group

Focus: Ruby on Rails
Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced
Where: Multiple throughout LA
When: Thursday Nights
RailsBridge is an apt alternative for those who thrive in more structured learning environments –especially women. The organization hosts two-day workshops in which students build a single Web app using Ruby on Rails (other technologies may be used as well) according to a pre-established curriculum. The first day is usually reserved for downloading, configuring, and navigating the requisite software on each participant’s laptop, while the second is dedicated to writing the code that will define and animate the app.
RailsBridge is represented locally by the Meetup group Los Angeles Women’s Ruby on Rails Group, which, unsurprisingly, was founded to support the programming endeavors of women in the area. However, men are welcome at these study groups, especially if they accompany interested women.
“I had been taking some Web development classes at Glendale Community College when I found out about the first RailsBridge workshop in Los Angeles. I went [and] had an intense and an amazing experience learning,” said Jen Diamond, an LA-based Ruby on Rails meetup organizer. “These workshops help people get excited about being able to make something and see a small app to fruition in only a day.”

4. Girl Develop It Los Angeles

Focus: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python
Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced
Where: South Pasadena, Multiple throughout LA
When: Periodic Classes
The local chapter of Girl Develop It, a national nonprofit with a mission to “provide affordable and accessible programs to women who want to learn Web and software development through mentorship and hands-on instruction,” this group hosts meetups once or twice a month. Students can attend free workshops (the most recent focused on GitHub training) or casual study groups. 
If you’re willing to pay, the organization also hosts classes, which have previously focused on HTML, CSS, and JQuery and run about $50. If you can’t afford the cost, scholarships are available upon request.  
Since the organization was founded specifically to foster women’s efforts to join the professional tech world, this option, obviously, isn’t for everyone. However, all interested women are encouraged to check it out.

5. Carbon Five LA

Focus: Multiple Programming Languages
Experience Level: Moderate to Advanced
Location: Santa Monica
When: Every Other Wednesday Night
Founded in 2000, Carbon Five, which has locations in Santa Monica and San Francisco, offers a casual, collaborative environment in which professional developers mutually strengthen each other’s ideas and skills. In addition to fostering an in-house team of engineers who develop software for startups, nonprofits, and enterprise companies, its Santa Monica location hosts hack nights every other Wednesday evening.  
Because attendees work together and independently on current projects, usually without the guidance of a mentor or instructor, Carbon Five’s hack nights are generally targeted at developers with at least a moderate experience level.  
Regardless of educational history, experience level, or financial capacity, there’s a study group, workshop, or hack night series that can have a tremendous impact on your professional career.
“I owe my entire career and my livelihood to community-based education,” said Leonhart. “[I] feel very passionate about promoting and fostering the kind of community that can enable people to benefit educationally from one another, without pushing them further into debt.”


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