First Forays into Web Development – Tackling the BEAST

Okay, the title of this post is a lie.

I’ve been messing around/working with websites for years. I learned HTML back in the pre-Broadband era on Neopets of all places (I was 11 or 12 – don’t judge me). I learned I could use it to make my messages on the forums “prettier”. It was a lot of fun.

When I started writing for money, I learned about SEO (accidentally first, then on purpose).

I even tried my hand at blogging a few times. I set up basic websites with the likes of WordPress and other tools (good old Weebly… what a heap of shite).

Then, I got my first digital marketing job (online dating comparison – I’ve had a damn weird career). I had to deal with an ancient, outdated CMS (ironically called “CMS Made Simple”). So naturally, you can imagine how happy I was when I set up this blog with WordPress.

Thanks to digital marketing, my knowledge of HTML and CSS grew exponentially.

cms made simple 400x
YUCK. Admittedly, the “made simple” part was probably aimed at developers, not humble content managers.

Beyond markup languages, I learned how to use File Transfer Protocol. In my last job, I was even tasked with building and landing pages (content, code, EVERYTHING) despite being a “Media Analyst” (whatever that title meant…).

In my spare time, I did courses with Codecademy. I tried to learn programming (JavaScript & Python) but got bored (in retrospect, it was the way they did it and not the languages themselves).

It wasn’t until a few months ago (after I became unemployed – again) that I began my real education in web development (thanks, CareerFoundry).

To my surprise, I learned that I already have a huge tonne of frontend knowledge. I’m still doing the course and let me tell you – frontend is the easy part. It’s still a challenge, but there’s something very satisfying about writing code, tweaking it, changing it and then sitting back to see what you’ve created.

PSST! If you want to see my gloriously bad first attempt at my very first website, check out http://liam-hennessy-test.000webhostapp.com/. It will definitely improve as time goes on, but for now feel free to laugh at the horror that is the first site I built from scratch.

I’m pretty confident in the basics of frontend now more than I ever was.

Now I’m REALLY digging into JavaScript and moving to the backend.

I won’t lie: programming is fucking HARD. It’s fun, too: but if you’ve never worked with logic before, it’s a massive learning curve. I’ve only just gotten the basics of JS – namely, learned what the data types are and what functions and conditionals are (a piece of piss in comparison to for loops – good Jesus…).

As hard as it is, I plan on sticking with JavaScript until I know it. Do I want to be a developer? The honest answer is – I don’t know. I love tech and I love open source software. I’ve still got a few months left on the course, so I’ve still got time to determine whether this really is a career path I want to follow.

That being said, I’m really glad I chose to put my head down for a few months and learn web dev properly. The thing is, even if you don’t want to be a developer…

…having a strong technical background opens up many, many more doors.

This is something that’s been playing on my mind in recent months.

Being unemployed, I still have to apply for jobs. I’m taking this as a learning experience and have changed up my resume here and there to see what sort of responses I get (I have about 10+ versions of it, depending on the job I’m applying for).

I’m not ready to apply for junior dev/tech jobs yet – so I’m still sticking with digital marketing positions. Since I wax lyrical about my strong frontend knowledge, responses to my applications have been overwhelmingly positive. Even in digital marketing, strong tech skills are a massive plus. Digital marketers are in even more demand if they know their way around websites and understand how developers think.

But what about you? Not sure if web development is right for you? Well, I’ve learned a couple of things that may ease your mind. If becoming a developer is what you always wanted, read on!

Want to be a web developer? Some surprising things I’ve learned (so far)

Web development (and software engineering in general) takes time. You won’t pick up the skills you need in a couple of days (or even weeks, or months). There is a LOT of information to absorb: especially if you’re like me and you come from a more creative/artsy-fartsy background. That being said, it is entirely possible. It just involves a lot of hard work.

I think many of us have a lot of misconceptions about what web dev entails. Time to dispel them!

Web dev isn’t just about building websites

Shockingly, the actual process of building a website is the easy part. Wireframing, design, figuring out site structure, coding in HTML, creating lovely buttons in CSS, adding JavaScript for interactivity. Once you know how to do that, it’s not just easy. It’s a hell of a lot of fun!

The thing is, though…

…a significant portion of a web developer’s job is problem solving.

You may have the design and structure down, but you’ve also got to think about the code. Indent it properly, so that when you return to the project in a few months you can pick up where you left off and not be scratching your head about what something means.

Web developers end up spending a lot of their time on small, annoying problems. You can spend hours trying to figure out why a particular piece of code isn’t working only to realize that the problem was staring you in the face the whole time.

Web developers aren’t just builders. They’re problem solvers. Things shouldn’t be done quickly – they should be done properly. And that takes time.

No web developer (or programmer) knows everything

Crazy, right?

Not really. Obviously, the longer you do it the better you get. The more code you know off the top of your head. Even the most senior developers, however, have to turn to the search engines for their answers. That’s why there are so many communities based around different languages. If you’re experiencing a problem, it’s highly likely someone else has encountered it before.

That’s where you can go onto sites like StackOverflow and see if someone’s come up with a solution. As a developer, you’re also allowed to ask for help.

The two last points really put my mind at ease. You’re not just paid to create sites and apps – you’re paid to solve problems. While it’s early days for me yet, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t mind web dev as a career. We’ll just wait and see.

PS: Well, you can wait. I’ve still got a lot of work to do on my site…