Are you old enough to remember the IBM midrange documentation that used to ship in the white, "IBM" embossed (like the original Beatles white album), three-ring binders? I vividly remember taking delivery of a Model D AS/400 and it came with, I am not exaggerating here, 800 pounds of binders and paper. There were easily 40 or 50 binders, maybe more.

When I told a youngster about that here at ASNA a couple of years ago and he scrunched up his nose and said, "How did you ever find anything in that many manuals?" Kids today! He already thought I was old but for fear of making him think I was born before dirt was invented, I didn’t tell him we had to use a similar analog system to find telephone numbers and read the news.

With the advent of the Internet and its rich, deep veins of educational opportunities available with just a few keystrokes, the notion of wading through 800 pounds of three-ringed binders for a technical answer does seem pretty silly. Here are a handful of our favorite learning/info spots on the Web (note all costs listed are in US dollars):

Online educational sites

Coursera. Coursera is chock full of tons of courses on a variety of topics. It claims to be an educational platform that partners with top universities and educational organizations worldwide to offer free online courses. As you might expect, the materials here tip to the academic side of things, but that doesn’t diminish its value. From computer science, to business, to personal development, Coursera has a lot to offer.

TutsPlus. TutsPlus provides books, videos, articles, and other content. It has free content, but to get the most out of it (especially its video courses), you’ll need to pony up $15 per month. However, you can also buy individual courses for very reasonable prices. For example, its 1.5 hour BootStrap 3.0 Essentials course can be purchased for $9. It provides a great introduction to using the Bootstrap CSS framework to create your Web UIs.

Code School. Code School is free/paid technical site. It is $29 per month or $290 yearly. I haven’t ever purchased content here but have used some of its free content and thought was quite worthwhile.

Pluralsight. A couple of years ago, there were several lower-cost mom and pop nerdy educational sites. Two I used frequently were Tekpub and Peepcode. They are no longer in business, having been swallowed up by big dog Pluralsight. Pluralsight has a broad set of contributors and covers a wide swath of topics (and has lately been branching out beyond technical content). Pluralsite is about $25 per month or $300 per year.

Lynda. While has technical content, it’s right-brained materials have been most helpful to me. A couple of years ago I dragged myself out of the dark ages and learned core skills for both Photoshop and Illustrator. Deke McCelland’s videos at Lynda about those products got me up to speed very quickly and far quicker than a book would have ever gotten me. Lynda doesn’t offer free courses and starts at $19.99 a month.

Leanpub. Leanpub isn’t a video site, it’s a book site. It’s offerings don’t cover much Microsoft material, but there are lots of high-quality content for front-end development (including CSS, JavaScript, HTML). I purchased several very good books at Leanpub that weren’t otherwise available anywhere else. And, you set the price; books cost anywhere from $10 and up. Beware that Leanpub offers books for sale before they are complete. In many cases, when you purchase an uncompleted book you are betting that it will get completed. Some don’t. If that bet bothers you, look closely for completed, or nearly so, books.

KhanAcademy. The Khan Academy is a nonprofit organization that aims to provide free, Web-based world-class education on a broad variety of subjects. While the content is free, a small donation by the non-profit organization is encouraged. In addition to the computer science and computer programming courses aimed for adults, Khan Academy also offers Hour of Code with aims to teach coding, Web pages, and databases quickly and for audiences down to eight years old. 

There are surely many others out there. Get your Google out and see what else you can find. 

Yes, you gotta spend some money!

I know that most of these sites require you to purchase content. And I can almost name names of some of our readers that will read this and think, "rp is out of his mind. I’m not putting a $300 hole in my annual beer budget just to learn this computer stuff."

While these sites may seem expensive at first, how much have you spent in the last five years to ramp up your programming capabilities? Ten bucks says the average plumber spends more on new wrenches each year than the average coder does honing his or her craft. Consider that pretty much any technical book today is $30 (for hard copy or electronic version). I used to be a book junkie but the advent of paid online education has shifted most of my book budget to online learning. Consider, too, that you might be able to lean on your employer for a little help. In many cases, I think employers would be happy to foot part of the bill for online learning that you’re willing to do in your time time. Everyone wins!

You don’t have to invest in yourself (or ask your employer to). There will always be mid-level jobs for mid-level coders. But, if you want to excel, if you’re shooting for something beyond mid-level, dig into your beer budget, lean on your employer, and get learning! That time and expense will pay itself back for sure.