5 Best Programming and Coding Courses for 2023: Beginner's Guide
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, programmers can expect a median pay of $89,190 per year, or $42.88 per hour. And although 2020 statistics show most programmers have at least a Bachelor's degree, companies like Google and Apple hire many without four-year degrees.
During the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board meeting in 2019, Apple CEO Tim Cook said this:
With thousands of courses covering every industry and programming language, learning to code online has never been easier. If you're a complete beginner, you may feel overwhelmed with the sheer number of course options, so it's my goal with this article to help guide you towards the best possible course for your current level and interests.
To help advise you even further, I've included a learning guide at the end of the course list, which contains some useful tips I've discovered over the last decade of programming.
Which programming language should I learn?
The courses listed below teach a few different languages, and the one you choose depends mainly on what you want to do. For most people, I think the best starting language is Python for three main reasons:
- Python has a simple, straightforward syntax
- Python applies to almost any use case
- Python has a massive community
That said, Python isn't ideal for some situations, such as mobile and game development; you can technically do those things, but it's just trying to use a hammer on a screw. We'll talk more about choosing a language, use cases, and more in the learning guide at the end of the article.
Course selection criteria
Due to the quantity of coding courses on the Internet, I'm using some simple criteria to help filter down the possibilities to only those most promising before diving into each one. The following are the data points I used to perform the multi-step selection process for this course list:
- Third-party reviews
- Total students enrolled
- Class start date frequency
- Programming language(s) taught
- Course content organization, breadth, and depth
- Video and audio quality
- Instructor(s) demeanor
- Staff and student communication
The first few filters are usually easily applied to a website's search settings, whereas the last few were manually reviewed for each course, one by one.
Best Programming and Coding Courses for 2023
|1||Python for Everybody Specialization||Coursera||4.8||Beginner|
|2||Learn Python 3||Codecademy||4.8||Beginner|
|4||C# Programming for Unity Game Development Specialization||Coursera||4.6||Beginner|
|5||CS50's Introduction to Computer Science||edX||4.9||Beginner-Intermediate|
Python for Everybody Specialization – University of Michigan, Coursera
Anyone with zero programming experience
This Specialization from the University of Michigan has one of the best programming curriculums for total beginners. The course series covers a complete pipeline for performing one of the most common programming tasks: retrieving, parsing, and storing data from various sources.
The professor for this course is highly enthusiastic and engaging, and there are many optional resources, such as interviews with prominent figures, making for an entertaining learning experience. Additionally, since this course is so popular, you'll find a highly populated community forum where staff and students can work through programming problems.
Course 1: Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python)
- Installing and using Python on Windows and Mac
- Creating first program
- Intro to variables and expressions
- Conditional statements
- Making functions
- Looping and iteration
Course 2: Python Data Structure
- Working with strings
- Working with files
- Lists, dictionaries, tuples
- JSON format
Course 3: Using Python to Access Web Data
- Regular expressions (Regex) to extract data
- Intro to networks and sockets (HTTP and APIs)
- Retrieving and parsing web page data
- Parsing XML data
- How to parse JSON data from REST APIs
Course 4: Using Databases with Python
- Intro to Object-oriented Programming (OOP)
- Intro to relational databases and SQL
- Designing data models for databases
- Database table relationships
- Geocoding and visualizations
Course 5: Capstone: Retrieving, Processing, and Visualizing Data with Python
- Building a search engine with Python
- Spidering, modeling, and visualizing email data
At a leisurely pace, you can expect to complete this series in around eight months. If you can spare more than recommended three hours per week, you can get through the content faster, but becoming a proficient programmer will take a significant amount of time regardless.
Enroll in Python for Everybody Specialization
Learn Python 3 – Codecademy
Those that want to start programming as fast as possible
The Python 3 track from Codecademy was the top-scoring Python course in my data analysis. Codecademy is a browser-based, interactive platform, making it the easiest way to start programming as soon as possible since their platform lets you quickly learn the basics of Python without installing anything on your computer. Additionally, each section consists of several actionable projects that help reinforce each new programming concept.
From a curriculum standpoint, this course lets you learn the basics of Python without a specific theme, which can work well for learners who want the basics of Python and quickly move on to a more specific use-case, like web development or machine learning.
- Simple Hello World
- Control flow
- Python code challenges
- Using modules and libraries
- Working with text, CSV, and JSON files
- Classes (Object-oriented Programming)
- Code challenges part two
After working through each section's lesson and project, you should have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of programming in Python. From here, you could explore the more advanced areas in Codecademy, or you could look into one of the many incredible O'Reilly Python books.
Enroll in Learn Python 3
Complete beginners interested in web development
- Values and variables
- Data types
- Type conversion and coercion
- Logical operators
- Conditional and switch statements
- Array operations
- Objects (Object Oriented Programming)
- Iteration and loops
- HTML and CSS crash course
- Example projects
- Data structures: Arrays, Sets, and Maps
- Advanced functions
- Working with numbers, dates, and timers
- Building an example app
C# Programming for Unity Game Development Specialization – University of Colorado, Coursera
Beginners with no programming experience who want to jump into game development
Creating games can be an extremely fun way to learn how to program, even if you have no intention of working at a game company or creating your own title. Since Unity has a freemium model and fantastic cross-device support, it has become one of the most popular game engines. Programming for Unity is done through C#, a language also used for web development, mobile and desktop applications, and IoT.
Unlike many C# Unity courses on the Internet, this one from Coursera teaches C# programming in-depth and Unity, whereas others usually focus primarily on Unity. Since there are many lessons focused on Unity, it may not be a good fit for those who aren't interested in creating games whatsoever.
Course 1: Introduction to C# Programming and Unity
- Writing first C# console application
- Writing first C# Unity script
- C# data types, variables, and constants
- Classes and objects
- Unity 2D basics
Course 2: More C# Programming and Unity
- C# control and switch statements
- Spawning objects in Unity
- Experimenting with Unity systems
- Handling mouse and keyboard input
- Loops, iteration
- Arrays and lists
Course 3: C# Class Development
- Class methods
- String operations
- Managing audio in Unity
Course 4: Intermediate Object-Oriented Programming for Unity Games
- Exception handling
- Working with file data
- Polymorphism and inheritance
- Event handling
- Creating menus
- Improving a basic game from the previous week
After learning C# and Unity and having created a few example games, you should feel very comfortable with the C# language. At the end of this course, there're many paths you can take, such as continuing with game development or even branching out into web development or desktop apps.
Enroll in C# Programming for Unity Game Development Specialization
CS50's Introduction to Computer Science – Harvard, edX
All new programmers
This is an ambitious course for complete beginners since it has weekly problem sets on concepts you aren't explicitly taught in video lectures. Despite that, this is an excellent course for getting a well-rounded introduction to computer science, data structures, algorithms, and programming languages.
This is definitely a course that all beginner to intermediate programmers should take, even those that have already learned a programming language, because it helps solidify your mental network of computer science concepts.
- Programming fundamentals
- Data types
- Conditional statements
- Variables and scope
- Command-line arguments
- Searching and sorting algorithms
- Linear search
- Binary search
- Selection sort
- Merge sort
- Intermediate programming concepts
- Defining custom types
- Dynamic memory allocation
- Call stacks
- File pointers
- Data structures
- Singly-linked lists
- Hash tables
- Web and Networking fundamentals
- Internet primer
- HTML and CSS
- Flask (Python)
If you're entirely new to programming, you might find it easier to pair this course with Codecademy, since you'll be able to learn much of the programming syntax there that this course skips.
Enroll in CS50's Introduction to Computer Science
In my opinion, there are a few fundamental branches of knowledge to achieving programming competency. If you think of your expertise as a tree, a singular programming language is more like a twig on that tree. The major branches include:
- General knowledge of how computers work - how processors, GPUs, and RAM work, heap vs. stack, computational complexity, operating system features
- Programming language syntax - how languages express for-loops, if-else statements, variable declaration, etc.
- Data structures and algorithms - language-agnostic paradigms that determine how you store and manipulate data in your programs
- Software engineering - how to create clean, organized, and well-documented code and launch it into production. Source control, working with multiple people, and using tools like IDEs and Git effectively.
You can be a very effective programmer by simply knowing the language, but it's important to keep learning fundamental computer science skills to be more efficient and productive.
How to learn to program
Python is one of the simplest languages to learn, but many Python programs will never be as fast or efficient as if they were written in C. That's why I think it's a good idea to learn and become proficient with Python first, and then go down to a lower-level language like C/C++ or Rust once you need or want to learn it.
That said, the following paragraphs contain a few approaches to learning how to program that have helped me tremendously over the years.
Focus on projects
The most important thing is to learn programming to achieve some interesting result. You may be a complete beginner, perhaps changing careers from a non-tech field, and you don't know what you can even do with programming. In that case, your main focus should be on completing the guided projects from the courses listed above. Those projects will give you the momentum you need to branch off into other projects of your own interest. If you need more guided projects, check out Coursera's guided project section.
Once you've successfully worked on a few guided projects, start thinking of a category that's personally interesting to you. This could be anything from automation, to machine learning, to web/app development, to robotics. If you decide on something that seems entirely out of reach, figure out how to take the smallest possible first step, a core tenet in programming and problem-solving.
Once you start researching, trying code, and looking up questions and answers, you'll begin to amass a knowledge base and a toolset to tackle the big problem slowly. One of the most common project ideas that drives new programmers is automated trading and stock/crypto prediction, an arduous endeavor. But if the big problem is fascinating, you shouldn't need the motivation to keep learning and coding; the desire to keep progressing should be irresistible.
Learn from multiple sources
I've found the best way to learn programming languages and concepts is to
- Read a book on the topic (usually through O'Reilly online)
- Start programming something simple, such as a command-line script or web scraper
- Reference courses and videos for alternate teaching styles for confusing concepts
Essentially, you should focus on taking in as many different learning and teaching styles as possible for the same thing. The more written, spoken and visualized viewpoints you use, the better and faster you'll understand the subject.
Don't get discouraged
Often a single course is not enough input to learn how to program from the beginning. Many people think you are born with a brain that can code, but everyone starts out knowing nothing. You'll see people your age and younger, whether in school, at work, or online, that just seem to get it faster than you, but the truth is usually that they just learned it earlier. That's it.
Programming takes consistent persistence, so as long as you work on getting at least 1% better every day, you'll be a proficient coder in no time.