Season 6, Episode 2
February 1, 2020
episode-hero-page
Season 6, Episode 2
February 1, 2020

Half a million people per day use his website, working toward a computer programming certification. Find out why he’s offering it for free.

Half a million people per day use his website, working toward a computer programming certification. Find out why he’s offering it for free.

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About Quincy Larson: Free Code Champion

All generosity is important. Donating money or goods, giving knowledge or assistance, and offering kindness are ways that we help each other and, in turn, help ourselves. These acts are vital to humanity so we can connect and move forward as a society.

But there are some gifts of generosity that are so radical, so exceptional, that they set new definitions for selflessness and altruism. Quincy Larson’s work at freeCodeCamp.com is one example of that extraordinary generosity.

Free Code Coach

In 2014, Quincy, a teacher-turned-coder, founded this website to help others learn the art and skill of computer coding — and he made sure people virtually anywhere could use it for free. Today, it’s one of the top websites on earth and has the biggest programming channel on YouTube. Half a million people around the world use freeCodeCamp every day to learn a new ability, sharpen existing skills, or work toward a new job. 

Quincy could have easily monetized his website and been wildly successful. Instead, he registered it as a nonprofit and set a goal to maximize its reach. Because it’s data-light and costs nothing, it is just as accessible to Americans changing careers as it is to people in poor rural villages abroad seeking upward mobility. His mission to positively impact as many people as possible is truly one of the most humbling we have featured.

In this interview, you’ll find out:

  • Why Quincy still doesn’t feel entirely confident when coding
  • What he’s addicted to
  • How a middle-school teacher changed his life
  • The child he’s picturing when he helps others

Quincy Larson Interview

FRANK BLAKE: All right. Here’s my starting question. It’s really going to be a two-part question, but I want to get the first part in, which is, if you would describe a little bit, the effort of teaching yourself about coding and how you started to do that. It’s not like you grew up as a coder, and this is all just a natural evolution. This was something different and was actually really difficult.

QUINCY LARSON: Yes, yes. Well, I started out… Age 31, I was a school director. I was just helping run schools in the U.S. and in China and helping adults learn English so that they could go to graduate school. Most of my students were adult age. I just wanted to make the school a little bit more efficient. I was working with my teachers and just realized they were spending a huge amount of time at their desks doing paperwork and boring back-office processes that didn’t really help the students a whole lot. It just helped us administer the school. I mean, they were essential responsibilities.

I just said, “Let me see if I can figure out some way to maybe automate some of this.” I didn’t know anything about programming. I had been afraid of programming. I’m the kind of person who would ask his wife for help with setting up the wifi router whenever we moved because I just didn’t have the patience.

FRANK BLAKE: No, like an English major graduate.

QUINCY LARSON: Actually, I am an English major.

FRANK BLAKE: All right.

QUINCY LARSON: I basically learned enough just from Googling around to be able to automate parts of the school. It was such a profound thing because it really did make a difference. The students were all of a sudden very happy because they were spending much more time with their teachers. The teachers were happy. The entire morale of the school improved. I started to think, “Wow. If one random guy just learned some basic programming, was able to make this much of a difference, how amazing would it be if I could actually learn to code properly and then help other people learn to code so they could do this within their own organizations?” That was really the epiphany that set me down the path of ultimately trying to build a whole bunch of different projects around education technology, the successful one being freeCodeCamp that I eventually built.

FRANK BLAKE: How long did it take you to get comfortable with coding and feeling like, “Oh, this is a competency I can aspire to and get?”

QUINCY LARSON: Well, I’m not fully confident even today because I still feel like I’m in a giant ocean trying to stay afloat with all the new information and everything, but I do have pretty strong fundamental background. A lot of that is just because I read a lot of books. I use a lot of free online courses from universities. I just hung out with a whole lot of developers around San Francisco and absorbed as much as I could from them about their philosophy and their approaches to getting problem-solving. Really, that’s what programming is, is problem-solving.

FRANK BLAKE: You delve into this. You spend, I assume, months. What you’re describing is not a… It’s not a few-hour exercise, right?

QUINCY LARSON: Yes, it was several years before-

FRANK BLAKE: Okay, tell me.

QUINCY LARSON: I left teaching and school directorship. Then about two and a half years later is when I actually got freeCodeCamp started. It was a long process. I worked as a software engineer for a while at a few different places and did a bunch of freelancing. That was kind of how I actually applied my skills and solidified my knowledge, actually doing it, where there’s an end user and making sure that they have what they needed.

FRANK BLAKE: At what point in this process do you go, “I’m going to set up something that’s free. I have learned all this. I have got this skill. Now I’ve got to figure out how to make it free to everyone.”

QUINCY LARSON: Well, I always wanted it to be free. It was just a question of how I was going to make it sustainable. Ultimately, the simple way to make something that’s free sustainable is just to ask for donations. Incorporate is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. That’s what we did. We’re a public charity, and tax exempt, and everything. We just have thousands of people who donate to us.

It was not clear that that was going to work. There were some pretty harrowing years. I put about $150,000 of my own savings that I was going to put into buying a house in California, which wouldn’t have been a big house, but it would’ve maybe been a down payment. I took that money and basically just used that to pay for servers and keep us afloat for the first few years. Then we got tax exempt status. People started donating. We just got better and better about figuring out ways to get people to donate and support us.

FRANK BLAKE: Well, you make it almost like a throwaway. Well, I always wanted to make this free. Why? Why did you always want to make it free instead of, hey, this is a way for me to make big bucks, get that nice house in California, do a startup, et cetera, et cetera?

QUINCY LARSON: Yes. Well, I’m a pretty privileged person. I grew up here in the United States. I’m white. I’m a man. I’m native English speaker. I have all of these privileges. For me, even with those privileges, it’s been a pretty rough struggle. I had to work really hard. I’ve had lots of setbacks. I can only imagine what it’s like if you grow up without those privileges.

The thing I like to think about every day is about two-thirds of all people on earth live off less than $10 a day. Those people should not be spending money on coding courses, in my humble opinion. They should be spending money on food, and clothing, and electricity, and basic things that they need to be able to survive and have a comfortable life. I really do believe that education should be free in many intents and purpose.

Obviously, teachers should get paid and all that. How can we create kind of a baseline of education that doesn’t require a teacher and therefore doesn’t have a high variable cost associated with it? If you can drive down the marginal cost of everything through technology, you can make it free or close enough to free that you can support the entire operation off of a few thousand people giving $5 a month, which is what we’ve managed to do.

FRANK BLAKE: You were always going to do something that was charitably focused, and it happened to be coding, or as you got into coding, that sort of sparked a, this needs to be free to anyone? Or a combination of the two.

QUINCY LARSON: Yes. I mean, if I weren’t running freeCodeCamp, I’d probably be running a free English-related school online or something like that because English is like the area, English education-

FRANK BLAKE: Right.

QUINCY LARSON: Adult English is where I had my domain expertise prior for the past 10 years before I got into coding. Coding just… It was clear that with coding, you could go out, and you could learn those skills. You could go get a really good job and transform your family’s lifestyle. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to make it free.

FRANK BLAKE: And are there parts of coding, in addition to, obviously, I got a job at the end of it, are there skillsets that it provides to people, something that you see that’s really vital for people to connect with?

QUINCY LARSON: Yes. Well, I’ve worked a lot of rope jobs. I worked at Taco Bell for a few years. I worked at grocery stores, bagging people’s groceries, and mopping the floor, and stuff. Those jobs weren’t very actualizing. I didn’t feel excited to get there every day. I didn’t feel like I was applying my creativity. One of the great things about coding is it is a creative process. It does use both kind of the analytical and the creative aspects of your personality and your mind. I think it’s a very fulfilling job. I would argue that it’s one of the more fulfilling kind of knowledge-worker type roles that you can get. Coding is not only a great way to make a living, but it’s also a very fun profession if you can kind of build up a passion for that.

FRANK BLAKE: Can you kind of take a step back and explain a little bit, what your website is and how it works?

QUINCY LARSON: Absolutely, yes. The main thing that people think of when they think of freeCodeCamp is the 3,000-hour curriculum, which is a whole lot of interactive learning. You’re basically in a code editor. You’re trying to get different tests to pass, and you’re learning different concepts in kind of a progressively difficult and progressively byzantine way. As you progress through the curriculum, you get positive feedback. You can ask for help on the forum. We have a big forum where thousands of people ask questions, and answer questions, and give feedback on different projects.

The big thing about the freeCodeCamp curriculum is you’re building a ton of projects. You’re not just solving short little coding challenges. You very quickly progress to, okay, let’s build a tribute page to your favorite author or your favorite humanitarian, or let’s build an interactive dungeon crawler where you’ve got a role-playing game. You’re actually taking what you’ve learned, and you’re applying it to build different projects. You’re being able to inject your personal creativity into those projects as well.

FRANK BLAKE: If I were trying to get an equivalent degree at a university, it would be, what? $40,000, $50,000, something like that?

QUINCY LARSON: I mean, it depends on if you go to an in-state university here in the U.S., yes, it’d probably be $40, $50,000. If you’re an international student who’s trying to come to the U.S. to get a degree, you’re going to pay international tuition, and you’re also going to deal with visa, and housing, and all that. Obviously, it’s going to cost a lot of money. It’s going to be prohibitive for a lot of families. A lot of families save up their entire lives for this. Now freeCodeCamp is no replacement for a university. I want to emphasize that. Anybody who says, “Oh, you probably don’t need to go to university,” I would be willing to bet that that person also went to university, right?

FRANK BLAKE: Right, right.

QUINCY LARSON: Be skeptical of people who think they can wholesale replace university. I will say that people who’ve already gone to university and gotten an English major like I did or studied some other field that they feel like they’re kind of maxing out what they can do with it, freeCodeCamp is a supplemental learning resource that you can use to not have to go back to university or not have to go to graduate school. That’s kind of where we’d like to go, is reducing the total number of people who feel like they have to go to graduate school to gain new skills because if you’ve got kids, if you’ve got a job, going back to school is… It’s very time intensive. FreeCodeCamp is completely self-paced and in the browser, so you can just go and use it whenever you have time after the kids are asleep.

FRANK BLAKE: You start this. You start freeCodeCamp six years ago. It’s now just this enormous success. If you were rewinding the tape, what pieces of advice would you give to your self of six years ago?

QUINCY LARSON: Well, I would just say once you find even a little bit of traction, even a little bit of success, just totally focus on that. Just tune out everything else. You’ve probably heard the expression, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” I would argue a bird in the hand is worth tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands in a bush. I feel extremely lucky that something I did actually stuck and that people actually cared because I toiled in obscurity for years, building education tools that nobody cared to use. Then freeCodeCamp is just the one… Once that really started to take off, I was like, “Oh, this is amazing.”

Of course, I always felt like, “Oh, I could also help with this. I could do this as well.” I’ve applied my self-discipline and just stayed completely focused on freeCodeCamp. There’s not going to be a second act for Quincy Larson. This is it. I’m going to continue to focus on this specific project because the mission is impacting. More than 40,000 people that we know of, just from looking at the LinkedIn alumni network, have gotten a job as a software engineer after having gone through freeCodeCamp. Before, they were in a different field. Now they’re in software engineering. It’s in part because they used freeCodeCamp as a learning resource. That kind of impact… I’d be hard-pressed to be able to create something else that has-

FRANK BLAKE: Right.

QUINCY LARSON: That level of impact. I just count myself extremely fortunate. My advice would just be, focus very hard. See if you can get traction. See if you can get people who genuinely appreciate what you’re doing. That’s a sign that you’re heading in the right direction and keep heading in that direction.

FRANK BLAKE: Was there a moment during the development of this where you were really wondering, “Oh gosh. I had no idea whether this is going to stick, but I’m going to keep at it,” or was it pretty clear from the start that this was going to work well?

QUINCY LARSON: Once people started using it, the main concern was, okay, this is great, but this is a free tool that we’re scaling to… Quickly, millions of people were using it. How are we going to make this sustainable? That was where I had to convince my wife, “Okay, this is going to work out. We’re going to be all right if we just take this money that we’ve been saving up our entire careers and put this in freeCodeCamp,” right? Yes, it was really touch and go from the sustainability point. I was very fortunate to never have an issue with people caring about the project and contributing. That’s the other thing that I obviously need to mention here, is that freeCodeCamp would be a shadow of itself without all the volunteer contributors around the world.

FRANK BLAKE: Right.

QUINCY LARSON: Who’ve kind of taken up the cause and have put in lots of time and energy into the code base, into asking and answering questions on the forum, into writing articles and creating videos for the YouTube. I’m a very small piece of this puzzle. Most of the work within the freeCodeCamp community is done by volunteers at this point. I don’t think we could work if everything was done by me or by some other paid team member.

FRANK BLAKE: No, your idea has connected with tens of thousands of other people. I mean, it’s really extraordinary. I also think, and I’ll say this again, I think you’re being way too modest in terms of your own generosity. I mean, there are many people with your same privileges who don’t internalize those as privileges and figure out, how do I monetize this? As far as I can tell, you’re not making any effort to do that. This remains very focused on, as I said at the start, a very radical act of generosity.

QUINCY LARSON: I mean, I have what I need. My kids are healthy. We moved to Dallas recently. We’re in Plano, we found a public school district that had really good schools. We just want to hunker down and focus on our kids. I’m not wanting for much. I’ve got my Toyota van that gets us where we need to go. I’m paying off our mortgage and everything, so I’m happy. I just want to be able to focus on my work.

FRANK BLAKE: If you reflect on the success of freeCodeCamp and the people who are contributing voluntarily, as you say, their learnings, their advice, what have you learned about generosity? Whether your own generosity, the generosity of others, what do you think prompts it? Are you surprised at the level of it or disappointed that there isn’t more of it? Or how do you think about that?

QUINCY LARSON: Well, I can tell you that generosity… You kind of get addicted to that feeling of helping other people, not just having people to say, “Oh, this is great. This has really helped me. This changed my life.” In some cases, I get emails like that. That’s always really profound, and you want to kind of stop what you’re doing and just reflect on that for a few minutes. Just the notion that you’re helping, that sensation, like I know I’m helping. I know when I push this article live, a lot of people are going to use it, and they’re going to benefit from it. 

Just putting artifacts out there, basically putting things out there on the web that people can discover and can help them get unstuck… It gets addictive because you want to see, how far can I go? I’ve got maybe 40 years left on earth. How many people can I help? How much net positive can I be to society? You’re not really comparing yourself to anybody else. You’re just comparing yourself to the best possible world’s version of you who’s the most virtuous, and the most deliberate, and the most effective in terms of just sitting down and getting things done. It’s kind of like I’m chasing that ideal. That’s a huge part.

I think if people can think of it in terms of that, instead of comparing yourself to other people, just think about, okay, if I had my needs met and if I was able to figure out a way where I could sustain myself, and sustain my family, and really be able to block out time to focus on doing something good. Maybe you want to continue to work full-time, but you just want to do this part-time. How can I help the maximum number of people with my scarce time here? If you start thinking in those terms, then I think it becomes a lot easier to get up out of bed and to put in the time even when you’re tired because you can justify it because maybe you have a vision of a specific person that you want to help. Maybe it’s just you when you were a kid. Maybe it’s more abstract where it’s a kid you met when you were overseas, and you’re just, “Oh, I wish I can help this kid.” Well, you can help that kid. Just see if you can think about how.

FRANK BLAKE: That is such a perfect statement. It leads me to want to ask, do you have that specific person, or was it more generic, more general?

QUINCY LARSON: Yes. I lived in China for six years. When I was over there, I met my wife in grad school. I went with her back to her village. It was just basically a bunch of concrete. Because China is so populous, people think of village, they think of maybe huts and things like… This was concrete buildings, and bare brick, and just a lot of chickens running through the streets and stuff like that. Everybody there was very nice. They were clearly making do with what they had. I did see the kids there just playing and hanging out. I thought, “I wonder if they have access to the internet. I wonder if they’re able to get online and learn things outside of what is available at their local school and all that.”

That was one of the big revelations. Hey, I may be able to actually help, I might be able to play a part in making sure that these kids get access to good information about something at some point. I was making sure that their English is really good. At the time, I was thinking in terms of English. Often, I think back to that village. I go back there every time I go to China because we do still have family over there. I think about them a lot and how I can help them. Then I think, “Okay. This is one village out of hundreds of thousands of villages probably around Asia.” Then you kind of zoom out. You realize, “Well, if by catering to these kids that are kind of hanging out and helping their parents do chores around the village, I’m potentially catering to kids in every village that are like this, and as an indirect benefit, helping kids back from Oklahoma City where I grew up.” Just kind of stepping back and looking at the scale of which you can potentially address something is a huge motivational factor as well.

FRANK BLAKE: Well, what a phenomenal expression. That’s generosity in action. 

 

Quincy, are there people who have been through freeCodeCamp who send you great stories? Is that part of the fuel that keeps you going, that said, “Boy, if it hadn’t been for freeCodeCamp… I was sleeping in my car, and then I got to do this.” I mean, do you get those stories and that reinforcement?

QUINCY LARSON: Yes, absolutely. A lot of them come from here in the U.S. I have plenty of stories of people who are essentially homeless or are just kind of couch-surfing, and trying to figure out what to do going forward who sat down, and were able to eventually get a contract with a local hospital, or school, or someplace to build some projects for them, and were able to kind of gradually bootstrap a career from that.

If you go overseas, there are a lot of people who grow up in the middle of a village that barely had internet connection or didn’t have an internet connection and they were able to learn freeCodeCamp because they were able to get a cousin to download it. FreeCodeCamp can run on anything, basically. It’s extremely data light. It’s open-sourced, which means that anybody can go and download the source code.

A lot of people will just install it in a local library, and use the library computer in their village, and would use that to level up their skills, and then eventually apply for a job, and get a job at a multinational company that happened to… They were able to move to the big city in some cases.

FRANK BLAKE: Right.

QUINCY LARSON: That happens all the time in India, Nigeria.

FRANK BLAKE: How many people visit the website, or how do you kind of track?

QUINCY LARSON: About half a million people a day use freeCodeCamp.

FRANK BLAKE: A day?

QUINCY LARSON: Yes, yes. That’s based on just our tracking tools. That’s how many people use it. Now a lot of people are hitting the tutorials. We have tutorials outside of the core curriculum. We’ve got about 7,000 full-length tutorials or books that we published on programming. A lot of people use those. Then a lot of people use the core curriculum. Then also, YouTube is separate. It’s not counted in the half a million. People spend about 1.2 million hours a month watching freeCodeCamp courses on YouTube.

FRANK BLAKE: Wow.

QUINCY LARSON: It adds up. I actually just did the calculation. We did 1.3 billion minutes of usage, just in the past year, in 2020. That’s the equivalent of 2,500 years worth of people sitting on their computers using freeCodeCamp in one year.

FRANK BLAKE: Wow. That’s crazy.

QUINCY LARSON: Give you an idea, if you think about it in that terms, about 2,500 people are probably using freeCodeCamp right now while you and I talk.

FRANK BLAKE: Wow. Congratulations. That’s amazing. In terms of doing for others and doing something like this, do you look back and you say, “Boy, here’s someone in my life who was incredibly generous or did something for me at an important moment?”

QUINCY LARSON: Yes, yes. I can tell you. I had this science teacher, Mr. Krieger. I’ve tried to find out information about him, but I haven’t been able to find him. It was kind of a low point in my life. I’ve been kicked out of school. I got moved to a pretty rough school.

FRANK BLAKE: Is this high school, not college.

QUINCY LARSON: This is seventh grade, I think.

FRANK BLAKE: Seventh grade, wow.

QUINCY LARSON: Eighth grade, eighth grade. He would be really patient with me. He’d give me books to read. He’d be like, “Hey, read this. Read this. Read this,” outside of the curriculum. I was like, “Oh, this guy is so cool. What is he doing at this school? He’s so patient and so thoughtful compared to a lot of the other students and admin and teachers that I’ve been interacting with.”

I think seeing that at that low point in my life where I was getting bullied every day and just having a pretty miserable time… I wasn’t sleeping well. It was just a rough time, puberty and everything.

Just having this person in my life who believed in me and thought, “Oh, this kid… He might benefit from reading some extra books outside of the class, and I might be able to help him.” Just that gesture, I think, really woke me up to, “Wow. There are so many people who don’t have a Mr. Krieger in their life.” What’s the next best thing? Well, if you don’t have a mentor, a community of really kind people is the best substitute, in my opinion. That’s what we’ve been trying to do with freeCodeCamp.

FRANK BLAKE: You do. You have a massive community. Describe that a little bit. I mean, you’ve kind of talked about it around the edges, the massive community that’s involved in freeCodeCamp.

QUINCY LARSON: Yes. We have just a whole lot of people who contribute on the forum, answering questions. It’s just a really friendly place. There are no dumb questions. Everybody who asks a question, we do our best to answer it. They can ask programming questions. They could say, “Hey, here’s my project that I built. Can somebody test it out and give me some feedback on it?” Or we have this section called You Can Do This, where people who are like, “Oh, I can’t do this… ” Programming is hard. Anybody who tells you programming isn’t hard is trying to sell you something.

It is very intellectually challenging, and it’s also just kind of grindy because you’re going to keep getting error messages. You’re going to have to look things up constantly. You’re going to feel like not a very smart person for most of your day. One of the uniquely challenging parts of programming is you’re always working on something you’ve never worked on before because if you had already figured out how to solve something, you’ve just used old code.

FRANK BLAKE: Right, exactly.

QUINCY LARSON: You’re always kind of in that frustrating point of-

FRANK BLAKE: That’s brilliant.

QUINCY LARSON: Because you can infinitely reproduce fast solutions, right?

FRANK BLAKE: Right, right.

QUINCY LARSON: The community is just a bunch of really kind people, all ages. We’ve had people from the military that have come, and hung out, and helped out. Just, we’ve had people from overseas. A lot of our top contributors are in Nigeria, for example, which is a country that has a whole lot of really ambitious people who are learning to program, a lot of people in Bangladesh, India, places like that that are overseas. We just launched a Spanish edition, so we’ve got a whole lot of people from Venezuela, and Colombia, and places like that that are helping with the big localization effort into Spanish.

That’s kind of the community. It’s just a whole bunch of mostly adults. The average age of a person in our community is 30. They’re mostly just there because they are getting a lot out of freeCodeCamp. They want to make sure their friends, and neighbors, and everybody else gets value out of freeCodeCamp as well. It’s very much just, this helped me, and I can actually help myself by helping other people.

One of the things I often point out to people is the best way to solidify your own learning is to teach. You have this great opportunity to just go onto the freeCodeCamp forum or to write a tutorial that teaches exactly what you’ve just learned, and that will help you further solidify it while also helping other people.

FRANK BLAKE: What you say is so interesting because one of the things that struck me in reading about you and reading about freeCodeCamp is that you self-describe as the teacher who founded freeCodeCamp. I mean, that is your self-description, is a teacher. Is that very much how you think about yourself?

QUINCY LARSON: Yes, yes. I mean, I think teachers are very important in history. I mean, if you go back to Confucius, Aristotle… All these great teachers through the ages have helped not only kind of shape the times, but have also helped inform leadership and inform the general population. In the case of after the printing press, people are able to get access to the teachings of all kinds of different people.

I think teaching is an essential function. I’ve always identified as a teacher, and I probably always will because I feel like that’s the most important. Once you strip out the software engineer, once you strip out the executive director of this nonprofit and all that stuff, you get somebody who fundamentally just likes to hang out and teach people.

I love to go to a hacker space or a maker space and just hang out with people, and answer their questions, and look at what they’re doing, and ask them a bunch of questions to see if I can get them to teach themselves. If you can use the Socratic method, and just ask a bunch of questions, and guide people toward their own answer, that’s the most powerful way of teaching. For me, it’s just the most exhilarating thing, is just teaching people.

FRANK BLAKE: I would recommend to any of our listeners, even if they’re not interested in learning how to code, you wrote a great article about writing for Medium. If you remember it, I’d loved for you to kind of take our listeners through some of your points. You had a section on Write Smart. That’s W-R-I-T-E, Write Smart. I thought, “You could take these same principles. Whether you’re working in business, or building a company, or whatever it might be, those same principles apply.” It happened to be, you were talking about writing, but much broader. I just thought that was brilliant.

QUINCY LARSON: Yes, thanks. I think the biggest thing that you can do to improve your writing, if those of you are out there trying it, and even if you’re just writing emails or letters to your loved ones, try to keep your sentences short. Try to keep your paragraphs short. When you can use a smaller word that does the same thing as a larger word, try to use that. There are tools out there that will tell you the reading level of your articles. There are three billion English speakers on earth. A vast majority of those people did not grow up speaking English like you and I did, Frank. Most of them learned English as a second language. Anything you can do to make it easier to read and understand something is a bonus.

Then the positive benefit of writing simply and writing in a way that people can easily understand is people who are native speakers, or have advanced degrees, and know a lot, spend a lot of time reading… They can read faster and understand better. It’s kind of a win-win if you can just simplify your writing. Bullet points do work. Don’t go overboard with bullet points. There are so many little things you can do to make yourself clear.

Stepping back, a lot of history’s problems come down to miscommunication. Communication is so vital. How do I get what’s in my mind, and take it, and get it in some similar manner into your mind? That’s writing. That’s oration. If there’s one skill that you want to get good at, it’s writing because then you get good at communicating everything else that you’re good at. You get good at communicating your value to everyone else.

FRANK BLAKE: I so completely agree with that. I’m just going to give two quotes because I love this so much. It’s in this segment on Write Smart. I’m quoting that. You say, “Do yourself a favor. Write what you know. If you have trouble coming up with at least five minutes worth of things to say on a topic or if your story devolves into a list of bullet points, you don’t know enough about it,” which I think is such a great point. There’s actually just a lot of knowledge that’s got to ride along with what you’re writing.

QUINCY LARSON: I think writer’s block is just a matter of not knowing enough about a subject yet. You don’t know enough to feel confident. That lack of confidence is telling. It means you need to go back to the research phase.

FRANK BLAKE: I didn’t realize until reading what you wrote here that there was a Hemingway app that actually strips out useless adverbs, and makes words, finds a shorter word, a more concrete word. That’s got to be very cool.

QUINCY LARSON: Yes, yes. I use it a lot. It’s probably the simplest tool that I recommend to people when they want to improve their writing. It’s just, throw your writing in Hemingway and see what Hemingway highlights. It’s just a simple algorithm. I mean, it could be wrong, but it’s helpful because just the process of looking at your writing and thinking about it is very helpful because a lot of people just write, and they don’t really think a lot about their writing itself. Stepping back and reflecting, you could dramatically improve how you communicate.

FRANK BLAKE: Right. As you say, communication is so… It’s critical to pretty much everything. If you can’t communicate, it’s very difficult to make progress on anything. 

Five years from now, where is freeCodeCamp, and where is Quincy Larson?

QUINCY LARSON: Hopefully, more or less the same place we are now. Hopefully, we can just do more of what we’re doing. I feel, again, very blessed that we’ve managed to kind of figure out what works and what people want because so many of my friends have struggled to do that. I’m confident that if they keep struggling, they’ll eventually find a way they can plug in and help. We just want to do more. We want to teach more people. We want to make our curriculum even more robust and more exhaustive. We would love to basically have the equivalent of an entire computer science degree that’s free and self-paced.

For people who didn’t go to university or don’t want to go back to university to get a computer science degree, for them to be able to learn all the math, and computer science, and engineering concepts, any applied art of programming. Right now, we’ve got, essentially, the equivalent of an associate’s degree in terms of total course work. It’s just a matter of adding a lot of math and computer science and figuring out interactive ways to teach those rather than just relying on, here’s a bunch of text, or here’s a video. We really want to make these interactive because experiential learning, in my opinion, is the most effective in getting people to actually work with the mathematical expressions or work with the concepts in code. That’s the best way to really solidify those concepts in people’s minds and make it stick.

 

FRANK BLAKE: This is an obvious question in your case, but I always ask it for guests. For listeners who want to find out more about you, where should they go? In your case, it’s pretty obvious, but I’ll ask.

QUINCY LARSON: Yes. Just check it out, freecodecamp.org or I mean, you can just start Googling around about programming, and you’ll probably eventually find some freeCodeCamp related stuff. I will just close by saying, you probably can learn programming. I think any sufficiently motivated person, regardless of age, can learn some programming. It’s hard, but it’s very rewarding. It’s one of those skills that you can turn around and immediately apply to make your life more efficient. I encourage you to give it a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you’re willing to tough out the initial frustration and everything and stick with it. I think you’ll be very surprised how far you can come in a year of practice.

FRANK BLAKE: All right. Well, now I’ve got my goal in front of me. Terrific. I want to end, again, by saying, Quincy, thank you. It’s a phenomenal thing you’ve done for tens and tens of thousands of people. As you say, next five years, it’s going to be millions, and millions, and millions. Thank you very much. Really-

QUINCY LARSON: Thank you, Frank.

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