The Journalist’s ‘Learn to Code’ Resource Guide


Originally published by Lisa Williams on Life and Code under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence.


This is a list of resources you can use to begin to write your own programs, written with journalists in mind. I focus mostly on free resources that are available to anybody online, and resources useful to people starting from scratch. If you have additions or corrections, please leave a comment below. 

Learn-to-Program Resources









Tutorial Sites

  • NetTuts
  • Tutorialzine - Excellent video/text tutorials on a variety of web development topics.
  • The New Boston - Free educational video tutorials by Bucky Roberts. 

Free Online Computer Science Courses

Not (Always) Free, but Notable: 

  • Udemy offers online computer programming classes. A small number are free, while many others hover between $79 and $99.  Online course materials that go along with Zed Shaw’s Learn Python the Hard Way is only $29. 
  • Udacity has a Computer Science 101 course that I’ve heard good things about. 


Getting and Finding Answers

  • StackOverflow  This is a Q&A site for programmers.  You can actually post a code snippet here and say “Why doesn’t this work?” But be sure to search first to make sure your question hasn’t been answered! You’ll get snark if you don’t.


I strongly recommend that you find a local group devoted to the programming language you choose to start learning in. If you are using books or online tutorials, at some point you will get stuck.  If you don’t have anyone to help you, you will stay stuck. You can check Meetup.com for these.  I was helped immensely by the members of the BostonPHP Meetup group.

Setting up a Development Environment on Your Computer

You will want to create a “development environment” on your computer. This replicates the web server you’ll eventually use to host your programs, and typically includes web server software, a database, and files and packages required by the programming language you intend to use. 

There are several (free!) bundles for popular operating systems:

  • MAMP (MacOS, Apache, MySQL, PHP)
  • WAMP (Windows, Apache, MySQL, PHP)

When you download and install these, you have a small, live webserver on your laptop that you can load your programs onto and test. 

For other programming languages, you may have to download and install things to make it work:



Text Editors

You’ll need something to actually write your programs in. Programmers have extraordinarily strong opinions about these. Two popular editors, vi and EMACS, both run in the command line in Unix. I’ve restricted this list to graphical text editors. (Thanks to Greg Linch and Chrys Wu for additional suggestions of free, graphical text editors).

  • BBEdit - This is what I use. Not free, but free trial.
  • TextMate MacOS editor. People I know have said good things about it. Not free, but free trial.
  • TextWrangler is the free “little sister” of BBEdit.
  • gEdit is a simple, lightweight text editor. Free and open source.
  • AmyEditor is an online, collaborative text editor (that is, you can edit code in the browser while another coder looks on from over the web). Free.

Version Control

A version control system stores your code safely and allows you to “roll back” your changes to a point in time before you screwed it up.  You will want it.

Git is the version control system I use.  Git is relatively new. SVN is probably the version control system in widest use today, and CVS is the old warhorse of version control. 

Github for Mac - A graphical client that lets me see my “repositories” and check in code to Github, the popular online code-sharing site.
Github is a hosted version of Git (read: you don’t have to download and install Git).  In addition to doing all the things you want a version control system to do, it stores your stuff in the cloud, and you can browse and share code.  Many news organizations, including the New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and ProPublica have Github pages where you can view - and download! - their code. (Here’s where you can find my code on Github. Friend me when you get there.)

Bug Tracking

One happy day you’ll move your baby code onto the web and launch something… and then you’ll have to track bugs and new feature requests! To keep that from devolving into a pile of inscrutable email, use a bug tracker. It will let other members of your team make notes about bugs, or about new feature requests. You’ll end up with a neat, cleanly ordered list of requests which you can rank by priority. 

16Bugs - This is what I use. It’s VERY simple, but I like that, and it also integrates with Basecamp. Free for single projects.

Programming Resources for Women

Programming Resources for Kids

  • Hackety Hack - Teaches kids to program in Ruby. Good for former children, too.
  • Scratch - A programming language and environment developed for kids; designed to encourage kids to create games and animations. 
  • LearnScratch.org has great video tutorials for Scratch, delivered in a very fetching French accent. 
  • Snake Wrangling for Kids - Free downloadable e-book teaches programming in Python. 
  • Python4Kids - Tutorials for kids age 8 and up.
  • How to initiate kids - or anyone - in coding - Great list of resources.
  • Intro to Scratch for Kids - Scratch is a visual programming environment created for kids. Lets them make games and animations to share online. It’s really great.
  • KidsRuby - Have fun making games or hack your homework with Ruby.
  • AgentSheets lets you create agent-based games via a drag and drop interface.
  • Alice is a 3D programming environment aimed at kids who want to create games and animations.
  • Hack the Future is a hackathon/self-guided hacking experience for people from the ages of 10 to 19.

Programming Blogs

(I’ve only listed blogs here I actually personally read. Please do feel free to suggest more!)

Newshacking Blogs

Things I’ve Written about Learning to Program

This page is a list of ingredients - but a list of ingredients isn’t a recipe. If you’re looking for pointers on where to begin, read Learning to Code for the Web: Starting from Scratch. If you’re a journalist and you’re wondering why you should learn to code, or whether it’s practical for you to learn, read Learning to Program for Journalists: The Epic HOWTO. For this site’s most popular posts, check out our Greatest Hits.

Learning to code takes effort, and everybody has to answer the all-important “Why bother?” question for themselves. Here’s mine: Code To Make a Point; Code To Make Change.