CXO

No training budget? Try these five free tutorial sites

Keeping your development skills up to date is tough work, especially when you don't have money for books or training. To help you fit more training into your tight budget, check out these free alternatives.


Being an effective developer means engaging in a constant quest to keep yourself up to date with changing technologies. There are two challenges in such an endeavor: finding the time for training and the money to pay for it. I can’t help you with the time issue, but these five Web sites might help you with the money side of the equation. All five offer collections of tutorials that will be useful to you when looking to expand your skill set.

Go back to school
W3Schools concentrates rather heavily on Web development, so you won’t find much client-side programming information here. What you will find, however, is a full set of tutorials on XML, as well as single lessons for working with things like Jscript, VBScript, Flash, CSS, and ASP. W3Schools does have a few .NET tutorials, but you won’t see much code in them; they're more brief technology overviews than actual tutorials. Most of the other tutorials, on the other hand, do include source code: The site claims to have “thousands of cut-and-paste examples.” From looking around there, I’d say this is probably a pretty accurate claim.

Each tutorial I saw also included some commentary on the technology in question, usually forecasting the future of that language or tool, but occasionally also providing some useful best-practice information. If you’re the type who likes taking tests, W3Schools also provides a wide range of online quizzes you can use to assess your knowledge on a subject.

Start your engines
Ascenvia.net’s TutorialEngine hosts tutorials donated from other sites and individuals, and they've been grouped into categories based on subject. There doesn’t appear to be any .NET content here, but you will find short lessons on Java, XML, ASP, HTML, SQL, PHP, and even image editing with PhotoShop.

The quality of each tutorial is somewhat variable. They range from beginner overviews, like using Java operators, to rather obscure programming techniques like Steganography, which is the hiding of information in plain sight with Visual Basic. Each tutorial can be rated by the people who use it, and the site shows you the highest rated or most popular tutorials in a given category. There are forums here, too, but they don’t appear terribly active, so I wouldn’t depend on using them to find help with a particular problem.

Tutorials with a lot of "class”
I wouldn’t necessarily classify the things offered at CodeWarriorU.com as tutorials per se; they actually fall more under the umbrella of online classes. But, the classes you will find here are free and very high quality. They center on mobile, Java, and C++ development. While taking a class, you’ll be able to pose questions to your virtual classmates and instructor via a private message board. The downside is that you’ll be expected to purchase a supplemental textbook for most classes, and some classes will assume you’re using a Metrowerks development product. Class topics are rotated fairly often, so check back if you don’t see anything that interests you.

And without as much “class”
Like CodeWarriorU, Free-ed.net has a selection of free technical offerings that you could more easily call classes than tutorials. Unlike CodeWarriorU, you won’t have an actual instructor or classmates. But you also won’t have to purchase extras, and the classes don't assume the use of a particular brand of development tool, unless necessitated by the subject. For example, the Visual Basic course naturally assumes you’re using Microsoft Visual Basic.

The site claims to have free classes available on more than 150 subjects, but only the ones located in the Information Technology course catalog will likely be of interest to developers. Sadly, there are only a handful of these, but they do cover quite a few languages: Visual Basic, Delphi, Perl, COBOL, C#, and Java are all accounted for.

Tasty tutorials
Dick Baldwin is a professor at Austin Community College, and his Java tutorials are “delicious and good for you too,” claims his Web site. All I tasted when I tried these was my monitor, but seeing as how he uses the tutorials on his Web site as part of his programming classes, they can’t be half bad. He currently has eight tutorials available—four on Java, and one each on Python, XML, and C#, in both online and downloadable formats—plus a set of C++ lessons he links to indirectly through the ACC Web site. Unfortunately, since they are based upon introductory programming courses, these tutorials by and large assume little programming knowledge, so they may be frustrating reads for some. But what do you want for free?

Share your favorite
If you have a favorite online tutorial site, share the URL in the discussion below.

 

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