A New Name, A New Beginning : freeCodeCamp Hyderabad is now Coderplex
For the past sixteen months, I’ve been building up freeCodeCamp Hyderabad — a local developer community that started off just trying to bring together freeCodeCamp members from the city to learn web development, but slowly turned into more of a general developer hub focusing of various modern technologies and trying to address the poor developer culture prevalent here. This is the story of how we've evolved over the months, our new philosophy and mission, and our decision to re-brand the community as a new independent non-profit organization, called Coderplex.
We have hosted some 100+ local meetups in this period. I’ve learnt quite a lot about the state of tech in our city, and naturally our country, through organizing these meetups. Our goal has always been to enable people to build genuine expertise in modern technologies, help them learn the fundamentals, so that they are prepared for whatever direction the tech landscape might take in the future.
Very early on we realized that doing pure session based meetups wouldn’t help us in reaching our goal, they were not generating any real value. No one can really learn anything from one single meetup, and it was hard for us to do consecutive meetups on a single topic weeks apart, when we wanted to cover multiple domains. We started to wonder why people were not learning these topics themselves, through the Internet, just like we did. The answer was that, the Education system of our country had conditioned them to learn with spoon feeding. We realized that the idea of self-learning was alien to most of the people here.
Bottom line is, without a proper learning culture, frequent meetups are of no use. And that was the core problem, majority of people who came down to our meetups were looking for class-room type Education. They were not certain what exactly they were looking for, just an exposure, an interaction perhaps that could lead to some opportunity. There was barely any desire to learn, but a deep hunger to get a job as soon as possible. We understood that we needed to encourage more people to self-learn, instead of relying on others to teach them.
Problems with Self-learning
I truly believe that the Internet is the greatest invention by our species in our entire existence on this planet. More than just connecting people far apart, it has drastically cut down the costs of creating and distributing content to a wide audience. It has enabled someone like Sal Khan from Khan Academy to create a few YouTube videos and teach thousands and thousands of people around the world the fundamentals of Mathematics. There is so much quality information available online today, then why aren't more people making use of it? Why aren't more people building their careers through self-learning, when we know for a fact that it’s far cheaper and actually works?
- Lack of Structure : Self-learning means to define your own learning path, to pick the topics as well as the resources you want to go through. This usually requires listening to a lot of advice from a lot of people, getting confused, constantly moving between topics and resources. This results in a lot of unnecessary trial and error. In the regular class-room environment, the structure is predefined for you.
- Lack of Self-discipline : In a class room environment, you are put within some external boundaries defined by others. Your learning schedule is defined by others, and when you fail at following it, there is some negative consequence. There is no such thing available when self-learning. It’s always easier to follow instructions by others than figuring out and following your own.
- Lack of Curiosity and Motivation : We all are born as curious creatures, we want to know, explore and understand everything that excites our sensors. But overtime, this curiosity and drive to learn is conditioned away through restrictions that discourage asking questions and exploration. This results in many adults loosing any curiosity or motivation they might have had to learn on their own.
- Lack of Perseverance : Because self-learning involves a lot of trial and error, it demands you to have perseverance to strive through even if you’re frustrated and failing to grasp something. It’s easier to give up and move on, than to stay amidst that frustration and fight through it.
- Lack of Awareness : Not everyone uses the Internet like we do. In fact, most people only use it for social media. Meaning that, most people are not even aware how much they can learn for free from quality resources that are just a click away. Lack of Awareness about resources is another reason why more people are not self-learning.
- Lack of Support and Feedback : Self-learning, as mentioned above, requires a lot of persistence. Not everyone has high levels of grit to keep fighting through all the frustration, they need help from experts and peers. In a class room environment, you have that available to you by default, while in self-learning, you are mostly left alone.
The solution to a lot of these problems is pretty simple, self-learning can be made easier through being part of a community, where the learners can find peers, experts, motivation, interactions and exposure to different perspectives, collaborations and more.
That is what we’re striving to build, a community of developers with a culture of self-learning and peer-learning, which helps more and more people build genuine mastery in modern technologies, connects them with mentors who can guide them, makes them job ready and connects them with companies who would hire them based on their skill, and not their certification.
But just having a community is not sufficient. You need to design smart solutions around that community, that accelerates the learning and value creation. Keep reading to know more about other initiatives we are working on right now to do this.
The State of Development in India
When I say, “The State of Development,” I’m simply talking about the general state of tech in our country, which includes everything from Education to gender ratio in tech. When someone from India wants to learn any modern technology, where do they go? How do they learn? Their colleges mostly fail them, and most external coaching centers just suck out money for no value in return.
Most of our problems in this country begin from the economy. We are poor, most of our people live in scarcity, and so it’s ignorant of us to say that people here are not driven by curiosity or pure motivation to learn. They don’t, because they cannot afford to. They need to make a living first to survive, they need to put some food on the table. And so our entire Education system is designed to put the focus on earning, and not on learning.
This gives rise to bigger problems, like our system not producing quality developers that add value to the companies they join. I’m closely involved with the startup ecosystem of Hyderabad, and very familiar with how much the companies are struggling to hire good candidates.
While on the other hand, thousands and thousands of our engineering students are struggling to get hired at all. And how will they? Most of them barely learnt anything in their four years of college, they did not receive any value and now are unable to offer any value to these companies.
Another major problem is with the companies themselves. Indian IT companies and the developers working for them are not really known for offering quality, they are known for providing cheap outsourcing labor. India is not at the forefront of any technology, why is that? In a country that produces millions of engineers through its system per year, why are we failing to solve our own problems?
The Obvious Solution
So here’s the deal, if we want to solve this massive problem, we need to figure out how we can immediately start producing more skilled candidates who are genuinely qualified and can bring a lot of value to the table.
How do we do that? By designing a better learning environment that encourages them to practice, build and solve problems. An environment that let’s them learn dynamically, at their own pace, and cultivates a passion towards learning, an intuitive self-driven motivation.
Online and Offline Learning
The Internet has definitely changed Education, but it has yet to lead us to a better one, one that works for the masses. One of our strong believes is that information, when expected to not just be understood but learnt, should be shared dynamically. By dynamic, we mean to let the consumers absorb the information at their own pace, rather than at the pace of the source.
We can do this using the Internet. People can already access and absorb information at their own pace using the web, but that’s not the entire solution. Learning is more than just absorbing information, it’s also learning how to use this information to do things, and that happens through interactions with other people, and problem solving or creation.
That is where peer-learning and mentorship comes into the picture. Now, the Internet also allows us to connect with people remotely, but there are two reasons why we shouldn't fully rely on it for this.
- Humans are designed to be physical creatures. Physical interactions are just far more stimulating, spontaneous and lively. We cannot replace that with tech, at least not in the near future.
- Most people do not use the Internet this way, i.e. to connect and learn with others. They use it to consume more exciting information, they use it for entertainment.
And so the ideal intersection would be a fusion of online and offline learning. That is what we are working on at Coderplex. Our two main initiatives right now are,
Creating Open Source Learning Guides — which are basically crowd-sourced recommendations of free online resources to learn and master every concept of every modern technology available out there. These guides’s put the structure in self-learning, they take you from theory, to practice and encourage you to build projects, collaborate with others and contribute to open source. You can check these guides on our GitHub, we’re in fact looking for more contributors!
Building Offline Co-learning Spaces— which basically are modern libraries, where people can take membership to come down, engage in self-learning, peer-learning and collaboration. These are dedicated physical spaces, with a dynamic learning environment where everyone learns at their own pace and compliments each other. They also have some weekly group activities like Open Source Evenings and some casual competitions.
We believe that there are five stages to mastering a topic, Theory, Practice, Creation, Collaboration and Teaching. Our goal is to build a solution that fuses online and offline learning together to take you through these five stages and master a topic.
Other than the above two, we’re also doing frequent online and offline events, building a jobs board on our website, and are planning for more initiates that can impact various aspects of this entire problem.
For the immediate future, we’re trying to figure out how we can build this self-learning and peer-learning culture within every college in Hyderabad. If you have any ideas around this, or any feedback to give us, you can write to us at email@example.com.
What about freeCodeCamp Hyderabad?
The freeCodeCamp Hyderabad community will still be alive and active, but it’s sole focus will be on the campers from the city who are going through the curriculum and want to pair up with other campers to learn web development together. Everything else we do will now come under Coderplex.
On Free Software and Open Source
Other than trying to build the self-learning and peer-learning culture, and improving the state of tech across India, we also strongly believe in FOSS — Free and Open Source software, and want to encourage more people to switch to and build more FOSS. We want to make it easier for people to get into open source and contribute.
P.S. We’re looking for React and Django developers who can contribute to our website, which is as you would expect open source and on our GitHub. If interested, join our online chatroom on Discord, and we can discuss how you can contribute.