Marc Andreessen is famously quoted as saying, "The spread of computers and the internet will put jobs in two categories: people who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do."

He has a point. Even with people glued to their screens for everything from streaming video to Snapchat, today only 62.7 percent of adult Americans work. That's the lowest labor participation rate in more than 40 years. For those who are working, the typical take-home pay, adjusted for inflation, is close to what it was 20 years ago.

Solving for perfect employment

Several platforms are trying to solve for "perfectly employable."  Whether through marketplaces such as LyftSoothe, and Kandid.ly that help people connect with the on-demand economy, or free learning sites like Khan Academy, entrepreneurs are doing what they do: creating opportunities.

One of the brightest spots in the jobs outlook is in technical work. The average developer in the U.S. clocked in at $100,000 in salary last year. The profession is growing in double digits. Just last week, one of the free learning sites for coding, Codecademy--famous for providing the content for Coding for Dummies--raised $30 million. That brings its investment haul up to $42 million, from notable investors like SV Angels, Union Square, Richard Branson, and others.

So how hard is it to learn to code, if you haven't done it before? Decide for yourself--here's one of Codecademy's teachers introducing a course:

 

"We're determined to succeed in realizing our mission to turn a world of tech consumers into one of empowered builders," says CEO and co-founder Zach Sims. Today, Codecademy attracts about 50 percent of its students from outside the United States. A full 38 percent are women.

Free education for coders--meaning everyone

Esther is one of the 16 million registered users at Codecademy. She is interning in web development at Basecamp. "I've been programming in Rails and contributing to other projects, including their podcast and improving accessibility," she says.

"One of our core values is accessibility," says Zach. "Free allows us to make education available to anyone around the world who wants it, while offering additional services on top in order to help yet more individuals learn." The program offers paid coaching and is building out its ability to connect you to jobs.

"We think learning to code offers among the largest ROIs for anything you can spend your time doing," says Zach. But as for being able to go from absolutely no coding skills to being able to get a job as an entry-level developer, he's clear that "a new job is definitely something that takes hundreds of hours of effort."

Plugging into paced self-development

Of course, for developers, being self-taught is a popular and often  smart decision. According to Stack Overflow's most recent global survey, 48 percent of developers don't have computer science degrees and 33 percent have never taken a university course in coding.

Esther likes to rely on a mix of free, paid, and self-directed assignments to keep honing her skills. "Free resources like Codecademy, Free Code Camp, and Skillcrush's 10-day boot camp offer low-risk, less intimidating ways to explore," she says. "I think each resource has particular strengths, so I've often mixed and matched--using free along with other budget-friendly resources to challenge and motivate." She's also, like many developers, committed to solo and group practice. One of the ways she stays plugged in is the Atlanta Women Who Code network, including upcoming programs like the Hackathon.

Lifetime learning on tap is a new standard

Codecademy is not alone--new ways to get reasonably priced education somewhere on the technical spectrum are cropping up all the time, all over the world. Most of them didn't even exist five years ago, when this year's college grads were picking schools. Another New York City startup, Andela, just raised $24 million from Mark Zuckerberg for its schools in Nigeria and Kenya. Revature's free coding boot camp for college students and recent grads gets you a job as a developer, or Revature doesn't get paid. Try Ruby will have you "coding in 15 minutes." There are many more ways to be your own learning superhero.

If the pace of learning platforms keeps up like this, we'll all know how to tell computers what to do--and we won't have to pay a hefty price tag to do it.

 

Published on: Jul 18, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.