Community3 Unexpected Things I Learned as a Treehouse Student

Jim Withington
writes on June 29, 2015

I started as a student at Treehouse out of necessity. I’d lost my job in support at a SaaS company and I knew a couple of things:

  • Smart developers seem to make a great living doing work that they enjoy
  • I wanted to learn something that I could lean on as a primary income as well as a side income, just to add some financial security to my life.

Since I live in Oregon, I signed up for Treehouse through Code Oregon. I picked the Rails track because it seemed like a good skill for a Portlander to learn and dove in.

Eventually, I met some folks at Treehouse through some serendipity, and now I work on the Groups Team! Before that though, I learned some unexpected things about being a student at Treehouse:

  1. Community is incredibly important
  2. Coding is hard – but not that hard
  3. Combined learning styles (auditory, visual, kinesthetic) make learning easier and more efficient

Community. Whoa, community!

I probably would never have participated in the forums had I not been determined to keep my support skills sharp while also going through the Treehouse Careers program. At this point, I’ve had a number of conversations that sound something like this:

Me: How’s Treehouse going?
Friend: Oh, well. I got stuck on something and I just felt like it was too hard and I sort of lost track of things….
M: Have you asked for help on the forums?
F (blank stare): Nooooooo…..
M: YOU HAVE TO ASK FOR HELP ON THE FORUMS.

Seriously! It feels like a kind of Best Kept Secret, and I’m here to tell you that more than once the forum folks have saved my bacon. The forum has taught me the amazingness of sharing code through Github, the nature of learning by teaching others, and the absolute mind-blowing power of posting my coding mistakes at night and waking up to an answer.

Not using the Treehouse forum is like using your computer with a broken mouse – you can do it, and some folks thrive without it, but you’re really missing out on a great tool.

Coding: I can dooooo it

Have you ever:

  • Struggled to write the final line that would make a poem just right, and had to keep at it, keep at it, keep at it until you went crosseyed?
  • Tried (and tried again) to just make it through this level on a Mario game?
  • Cleaned something (a room, your stove, your car) as thoroughly as possible, so much so that it took far, far longer than a typical cleaning job – and then realized how much you’d accomplished along the way?

I’ve done all of those things, and now that I’ve completed a track at Treehouse, I can appreciate how there’s much more to learning to code than “having a coding mindset” or “being a computer nerd.”

Much can be said about online learning, but one thing is clear: persistence and determination defines successful online students. One of the best things about my journey through Treehouse is that I’ve gotten a taste of the sorts of mistakes that I imagine most new developers make (how many times have I absolutely wracked my brain only to think “duh, read the error, you made a typo”?). I know this because I redid every quiz until I got it 100% correct. I know this because I hand-typed every possible thing in every lesson (even when Jason or another teacher was telling me to “go ahead and copy and paste this”). I was determined to immerse myself in this stuff, and I did.

And it worked!

I don’t have a math degree and physics was the toughest course I ever took in high school. It doesn’t matter, though – coding involves other skills, too – the kinds of skills that come from sweating the details, keeping at it until something is finished, and thoroughly completing something. And when you’ve got great instructors that teach and motivate you, you can learn. Which leads me to my third point . . .

Treehouse’s Approach to Online Learning Works for Me

I spent a long time coaching online students and teaching online, and I’ve seen various levels of teaching quality (and cost!) during that time. Now that I’ve completed almost 8000 points on Treehouse, I can conclusively say that Treehouse’s high-quality videos combined with intermittent quizzes and code challenges work well for me. These courses directly address multiple learning styles, and not just the most obvious ones (reading/writing and visual). I’m primarily an auditory learner, so the ability to speed up, slow down, and back up 10 seconds really appeals to me. I also fully believe that typing along while watching instruction hits the kinesthetic and tactile learning angle. Comprehensively addressing all of these learning styles is tough for any instructor, but particularly notable in the online space.

And then there’s points. Oh, there are points. There’s something amazing about watching your points creep up, and seeing those badges get completed. I liken it to reading a book that has long chapters that are broken up into sections – it creates a mentality of “okay, just one more!” that really drives me to complete something. Now that I’m at Treehouse, I can look up any of our coworkers in Hipchat and see how many badges they have, and you better believe that it’s important to me to boost my score so I can catch up our leading scorers. 🙂


I knew when I started to learn to code at Treehouse that I’d learn a lot, but I never realized how much the community and the structure of Treehouse would lead me to believe that coding was something I could do, and do well. If you’ve been on the fence about learning to code with Treehouse, I hope my experience can get you fired up! Please feel free to send me a tweet or ask any questions you have about becoming a student at Treehouse below!

5 Responses to “3 Unexpected Things I Learned as a Treehouse Student”

  1. This was really helpful. I always feel strange about asking for help anywhere, like I’ll be yelled at or something. Some communities ARE like that and it’s scared me off of all of them.

    I have a question: you say you have no math degree and physics was the hardest class you took. I never took physics and the highest level of math I’ve completed is Algebra. This concerns me going forward. Do you think I will be able to still do this? Do I need anything higher? I plan/hope to be a front-end developer and learn JavaScript well enough to also use it on the back-end, but my lack of math education really concerns me.

    • Dalton on July 3, 2015 at 8:04 pm said:

      I wouldn’t worry about your lack of proficiency in math. I can’t remember how to do long division and I work as a full-stack developer. Software development is about solving problems. Even when those solutions involve complex math, you can usually look up the formula and apply it to your code.

      This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get a little better at math but don’t think advanced math is a must-have to write great code. Definitely don’t let it stop you from learning to code!

      One skill I have found helpful is learning to see my code as something I can relate to in real life. Bugs are a lot easier to wrap your head around if you can see your code as something tangible. Whether or not your code is related to math problems, learning to understand how your code might make things easier for a user or help transform some data in a way that’s more useful will always be a valuable skill.

    • Jim Withington on July 6, 2015 at 9:24 am said:

      Hi Lu,

      I’d second what Dalton said: I wouldn’t worry about it! I took Physics and Calc in high school but there’s no way I could do Calculus now. Asking questions, finding the information you’re missing, and learning the basics of coding are all within reach, regardless of your math background.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Andrew on July 2, 2015 at 11:39 pm said:

    Great read!
    Haven’t gotten to the point where I have to participate in the community yet (I’ve only completed the html course), but when the time comes, I’ll be sure to use it!

    Cheers,

    • Jim Withington on July 6, 2015 at 9:21 am said:

      Glad to hear it, Andrew! Any boost I can give when it comes to folks trusting the forum is a good boost, in my opinion!

      (and if you stick with it long enough you’ll probably run into some of my posts) 🙂

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