Why Learn Web Development?
Happy 2020 and welcome to my trusty WordPress site. Forgive the analogy, but this site kind of reminds me of a classic automobile (like the '64 Porsche 911 below). It still runs smoothly if properly maintained and updated. If you haven't guessed, I'm a huge fan of German engineering.
As a longtime WordPress fan, this is where it all started for me (hence the quirky URL).
My name is Andrew and I'm a web developer, principal, perennial technology student, and aspiring digital nomad. This site, like me, is a perpetual work in progress…
I live in beautiful Austin, Texas with my amazing Canadian wife (a civil defense attorney). I'm also a huge fan of German soccer. ⚽️
The internet can be a powerful tool for learning. It's still astounding to me how many places you can access online to learn new skills (your choice of technology).
I'm passionate (I know, that word is overused) about helping people and learning new technologies. I recently acquired a (Shopify) company that was on the curated list of "Staff picks" on Exchange Marketplace and support what Shopify represents as a company (but that's another story)…
Here are a few "starter" projects I put together for my initial portfolio. Did I ever question when the best time to deploy this site was? Was it really ready? Well, yes and no. It was simply a starting point for me to initially improve upon. Admittedly, I am still somewhat conscientious when it comes to creating and deploying my own web projects because I can only see it as a reflection of my "quality of work." Proper and efficient design is an endless pursuit.
If you're just starting out, the main thing to remember is that it is essential to keep progressing and learning incrementally. You will definitely improve over time. If you are determined to learn, keep persisting, and you will get to a point where you can look back and say, wow, I did that, and I didn't even have a clue about that technology a year ago (or six months ago, etc.).
Believe me, I have taken a few "breaks" before I picked myself back up and persisted to learn until it "clicked" for me.
That's the beauty of learning something new. It's challenging, and anything worthy of accomplishment is worth the continued effort.
So, what caused me to want to dive deeper and learn more about web development? I'll share my story with you. Feel free to grab your favorite bevy and keep reading. ☕️
I was not born with a phone in my hand. Is anyone too "old" (and I don't see myself as old) to learn something completely new? Never. The first time I programmed a small line of code and saw the end result, I was pretty stoked. This took place in the early 80s during a BASIC class (which stands for "Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code") that I chose to take eons ago, during my senior year in high school…( where I was probably listening to The Psychedelic Furs or The Clash and watching Jeff Spicoli and the term "dude" grow incessantly 🏄♂️).
Fast forward a few decades…I initially deployed this site several years ago because I thought WordPress would be fun to learn and also because I wanted to figure out how to create a website on my own.
I enjoy researching and decided to make a transition after working many years in the "corporate world" (within the SaaS space). I primarily worked in business development and enjoyed training clients to learn how to use particular software and hardware products. I always wanted to nerd out on the deeper underlying technical aspects, to better understand how they functioned.
I'm grateful for all the experiences and teams I was fortunate to be part of, but I was simply ready for a new challenge and a fresh start. Why not, right?
I finally decided to take action (instead of just dreaming about it ). Learning to code (or learning any new technology) obviously takes perseverance. I told myself (as a young 50 something-year-old), "you can do this and it's never too late to merge your tech skills into something completely new." After all, I have enjoyed working with people, tech, and learning different types of software since the early 80s. It's challenging, interesting, and always fun.
I've listed a few ideas below that may help you find a place to begin.
One thing I've learned to ignore, regardless of how much (or how little) I have learned so far, is that it is easy to think to yourself "I'll never learn this fast enough"…"There's so much information to keep up with,"…"What programming language do I begin with?" …"Will my head explode?"
I also found it helpful to familiarize myself with Git, GitHub, and the CLI (Command Line Interface), especially if you prefer using keyboard shortcuts that don't require a mouse.
Familiarizing yourself with the CLI can save you hoards of time (plus you'll quickly become a keyboard shortcut ninja).
What are HTML & CSS?
HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) uses tags to identify different types of content and the purposes they each serve to the webpage. It's a great place to start if you want to get involved with computers, primarily because it's exciting, and you can see the results of your learning almost instantly.
HTML provides the raw tools needed to structure content on a website. CSS, on the other hand, helps to style this content so it appears to the user the way it was intended to be seen. These languages are kept separate to ensure websites are built correctly before they're reformatted.
CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets. It dictates how the HTML elements of a website should actually appear on the frontend of the page.
Put simply, CSS is a list of rules that can assign different properties to HTML tags, either specified to single tags, multiple tags, an entire document, or multiple documents. It exists because, as design elements (like fonts and colors) were developed, web designers had a lot of trouble adapting HTML to these new features.
I personally like working with the front-end since it appeals to my creative side and allows me to put my ideas in a digital format (as you can see I'm a crazy fan of unique emoji's (artwork), and I probably use them way too often).
For me, learning visual design is just as important, because not only do I want websites to function properly, I want every pixel to be visually appealing…(as I'm typing this, I laugh as I realize this particular (WordPress) site is not yet an example of that). It's all subjective, and this particular website is a never-ending experiment that I eventually return to and update.
In early 2018, I finally decided to get out of my comfort zone and go for it.
I immersed myself in code (full-time) and made the decision to complete The University of Texas at Austin Full-Stack Web Development Program (a.k.a. "UT Coding Boot Camp").
Some days it's like you're drinking from a firehose, so stay focused and positive. Choose to continue learning (with or without "imposter syndrome").
What I like about this entire process is that it motivates you to constantly keep learning something unfamiliar. The learning process is research-intensive. This is a good thing. Stick with it, since it will pay off in the long run. It will eventually click.
Although it's not a "popular" language, I started learning about PHP, so I could better understand how it interacts with WordPress. I think it's pretty amazing and rewarding to see how the code you write "becomes alive" on your page and how the user experience can constantly be improved.
This WordPress theme (an older theme I am still purposefully using), did not look like this years ago. So far (as of early 2020), I've made a lot of revisions to this page.
I initially chose this theme (years ago), before "Dark mode" was a common term. It's still intriguing to learn how to change the overall look of the site and make improvements to it over time using HTML and CSS.
You can also use PHP to edit the theme's code and (for example) modify some items in the footer (the very bottom of the page) to display your name instead of the generic "Powered by WordPress." I'm old school and like to figure out how things work (even if it's an older language like PHP). It's just as fun to learn.
Attend a Developers Conference – Invest in yourself
I took a friend's advice and recently attended a developers/designers conference in Seattle (in March 2019). It came highly recommended, and it's called An Event Apart (it was awesome). I learned from complete subject matter experts on web design and development, met some great people, and learned a lot.
Below are a few resources that I've found very helpful.
A Great Place to Start Coding:
FreeCodeCamp – Totally free online courses!
The value here is not that its free…there is a real, vibrant community, and the site is now even more "accessible" (built with text editors for accessibility requirements). Pretty cool!
I've researched a ton of online resources and one of my favorites (IMHO) is treehouse.
They have a variety of different "Tracks" to choose from, and for me, the format is really clear and easy to understand with videos and thorough step by step instruction.
Their slack channel is an effective way to connect with other coding students and instructors, and it's also a good resource to get quick answers to all your questions.
You are encouraged to review other people's project submissions, which helps to reinforce your own learning.
I highly recommend treehouse. You should definitely check them out. I think they do a great job.
There are obviously zillions of other helpful resources online and on YouTube, but I found these particularly helpful.
You can watch these anytime and anywhere on mobile (via the Udemy app).
How awesome is that? You can learn 24/7/365 from almost anywhere!
These instructors do a fantastic job of taking time to explain the process in a way that is very straightforward (and they respond quickly to your questions).
There are many other great courses available. These are just a few I recommend starting out with.
I have no affiliation with the course resources and podcast links below, I simply wanted to list them to help make them easier for you to locate.
As you can probably tell, I really do prefer treehouse as an overall "go-to" resource. Getting started and spending just an hour or two every day, is really what matters most.
- The Complete 2020 Web Development Bootcamp by Angela Yu at the App Brewery
- Build Responsive Real World Websites with HTML5 and CSS3 by Jonas Schmedtmann
Learning Git and GitHub (version control):
Learn to Code with Me (Laurence Bradford)
I started listening to her podcast and found it really helpful initially as a beginner. I think I'll always feel like a beginner, but in retrospect, I have learned a lot, and still have a lot more to learn.
I also found her website to be an excellent entry-level or informational resource. Definitely check it out.
If you're interested in learning one of the most powerful and predominant Content Management Systems (CMS) in the world, you may want to familiarize yourself with WordPress, (since it powered over 34% of the web in 2019)!
There are still many WordPress developers out there that stay very busy helping clients with WordPress sites or building themes or plugins. Personally, I'm a big fan of WordPress and the WP community.
Below are a few resources I found helpful:
Podcasts and Additional References:
It's amazing how much you can learn from listening to podcasts.
It's always beneficial to get involved in your community with like-minded people (developers & designers) by attending local Meetups a few times a quarter or as often as you are able. You never know who you will meet or can learn from or help.
Web Developer, Front-End, Back-End, Full-stack Developer, etc. I try not to get too caught up on titles.
Personally, I like the term "Front-End Designer" (which I heard recently) since (to me), design and development are equal.
I personally strive to learn the "front" of the front-end along with UI (user interface) design. I find learning back-end (or server-side) technologies interesting too, however, I prefer coding and designing with front-end technologies.
Wow, if you made it this far, congrats! As you continue to learn how to code (which really never ends), I hope some of the information above saves you time and helps you find a useful curriculum.
After a long day of staring at a screen
As obvious as it may sound, be sure to make time to take a short break and get outside for a walk, run, swim, or ride. It really helps to clear your mind, re-focus, and create new ideas. Right now is probably a good time.
Besides getting outside, one of my favorite things to do (every four years) is to catch the World Cup (Germany – men's or women's teams).
I also enjoy learning where people come from (their lineage). My ancestry is German, Dutch, and Swiss (check out a few respective European travel videos further below).
"It really is about progress, not perfection." -No idea who said that
Best of luck to you on your coding/learning journey…
Here is a great article on why you might consider SiteGround as your next hosting company. Thanks in advance.
Ocean photo by Amanda Phung