May 14, 2011

Turned out to be “Not”

Hmmm, let me see, when was my last post? May 27th 2010, almost a year ago. For anyone following this blog, my apologies.

What’s happened since then? Well, the World Cup was on in June/July 2010; I’d have been pretty engrossed in that for 5 weeks! Lots of job hunting. Lots of dead ends. Lots of demoralising trips to sign on and be told that “look, here’s a job delivering groceries”. Yeah right, thanks!

Along the way, I think I realised that web development was not really for me. I’m not a coder, not a programmer. Feeling a little deflated at this realisation and what I was going to do next, a lucky break occurred. In April 2010, whilst browsing for web design companies, I came across a site for an Apple Technical Support company called “Mac For Idiots” in Southampton. I wrote to them asking if they might need any staff and received a reply basically saying “no, not right now, but keep in touch, we may have something in the future”.

I carried on with my job search routine and in late September I remembered that company and fired off another email to them. I heard nothing for a while, and then in early November I got a reply saying “If you’re still looking for work I would be interested to meet for a chat”. We met the very next day. The company had changed their name to Purple Computing, and was run by one guy, James. We had a very nice, informal meeting and I came away from it feeling quite positive. James is an Apple Certified Support Professional providing support to home and business users. He was doing everything from email setups to server installs, and as he was getting quite busy, he needed someone to provide a bit of back office support.

A week later he offered me the job. He was keen for me to get qualified so that I too could provide technical support. I took the Mac OS X 10.6 Support Essentials course in March 2011 and passed! In my short time with Purple Computing I have helped with server installs, provided home support, remote support, telephone support, worked on our own website in Coda, made other websites in iWeb and I’m busy creating a Customer management database in FileMaker! Lots of variety, and I’m loving it.

I remember saying in my “About” page: “This Blog will hopefully cover my journey from complete novice to a new career in Web Design. Or not. We shall see.”

Well, here we are, a year later and we have seen, and it turned out to be “not”. Well, not quite.

May 27, 2010

OU, NVU, SOB

I’m three weeks into my course now so I thought I’d give a little update. Week 1 was a bit frantic because I needed to get a monitor for my PC. A friend of mine said they could loan me one but when I got it home it turned out it required a power supply rather than just a power lead like most monitors these days. Unfortunately they were unable to track down the power supply for it. This was late afternoon on the Saturday and Monday was a bank holiday so I wasn’t able to sort it out until Tuesday. In the end, I remembered that my Dad had an old CRT monitor that he said he was going to throw out, but he hadn’t, so I decided that that would do.

With the PC now set up, it was time to install the course work. As I said before, the course materials are not mac compatible, but after much reading on the OU forum I found that most of it was. The OU use an email/forum client called FirstClass and there is actually a mac version of it. Also, the editor the OU was using for this course was NVU. I already knew that there is a mac version of NVU but I didn’t install it cos I thought I’d be doing everything on the PC. The only thing that remained was the T183 CD-ROM. What was on there? I installed it to find that it had a program showing some graphic examples for use during lesson 4 and a bunch of folders containing other examples and images. Those folders could easily be copied over to the mac, so actually, it’s only the lesson 4 stuff that I need the PC for! I was a bit miffed to be honest cos it took me most of the evening to find that out. All that messing about with the monitor and PC and I don’t really need it until week 4.

I was now ready to start and I had a bit of catching up to do, but FirstClass was gonna slow me down first. It is an awful forum system. Everything about it is just, well, awful. The interface is so archaic that it took me a while to get to grips with it. I’m used to forums that have a list of topics, threads within those topics, and sequential posts within those threads. FirstClass has everything separate. I could go on and on about how bad it is but I don’t want to bore you any more than I have already. The only good thing about it is that it has a web publishing folder that you can upload your work to. This provides you with a unique URL so that you can share your work with other students.

With most hurdles overcome, I was able to crack on through the course. Sadly, this course relies heavily on NVU, a WYSIWYG editor, and what I’ve done so far feels like an NVU tutorial. To be honest I’d rather use another editor but I feel that if I stick with NVU I’ll get the same results as everybody else. NVU is quite buggy though and I discovered that it hasn’t been updated since 2005, but there is a new version albeit under another name, Kompozer, and I’ve found that to be a bit more stable.

What with all that, and the fact that the course is using Tables to demonstrate web page layout, I’ve become quite disillusioned with it. I’m hoping for more exciting content in the forthcoming weeks.

April 29, 2010

Starter For Ten, No Conferring*

I registered for my first course this week. It is the Open University course T183 – Design and the Web I mentioned in my previous post. It’s a ten week online course which, while being a fairly basic introduction to design principles, should at least get me back into ‘learning’ mode!

The course material is not compatible with the Mac though so I have to use a PC. One of the ‘benefits’ of my office closure was that they were throwing away a bunch of PC’s so I grabbed one in case I might need it one day. That day has arrived. However, they weren’t being so generous as to supply the monitor with it, so I need to get one quickly. I’m comforted by the fact that I can use the 2nd monitor with the Mac when I’m not using the PC so that’s a nice little side benefit.

So, onwards and upwards. Keep watching for further posts throughout the course.

*The title comes from the University Challenge; “Your starter for 10″ became the programme’s most famous catchphrase. As it happens, my course is worth 10 points too!

April 12, 2010

A Journey Into Web Development

Where to begin? Well, at the beginning I suppose, so let me introduce myself; My name is Lee Webb, I’m 40 years old, married with 2 young boys and last summer I was made redundant from a job I held for 21 years. I am was an IBM Mainframe computer operator working for a small payroll bureau in Southampton, UK. I won’t go into what that job entailed, (it evolved a lot from the beginning) but suffice to say that jobs in that field are a little thin on the ground these days. I also wondered if it was something I really wanted to continue doing. The upshot of all this is that I have been contemplating a change of direction and this is where web design comes in.

I’ve been interested in web design since buying my first computer, an Apple iMac, in 2005. Yes that’s right, I worked for a computer bureau for 15 years without actually owning my own computer! I stumbled across RapidWeaver, a template based web design application for the mac, and very quickly, I had myself a personal website. Of course, this involved no coding of any kind, although I did tinker with a few things such as changing the banner image and the navigation buttons. Plus there are lots of 3rd party plugins and themes, and a fantastic forum full of many helpful members. I carried on using RapidWeaver, making a couple of sites here and there and thinking that I’d never need to learn any code at all. Oh yes, I looked at plenty of code, especially when things didn’t quite work or look the way I wanted them to. Occasionally, I would alter some HTML or add some Custom CSS, but it was all mostly trial and error. So, at that time I was not actively learning HTML or CSS.

My Wife was around 5 months pregnant at the time of my redundancy so we decided that it would be as good a time as any to take some time off. We were lucky in that there was no desperate rush to go out and find a job. However, any time I stopped and considered what I wanted to do next, it is web design that appeared at the top of the, albeit very short, list. But, where should I start? Should I do an online course? Should I go to uni? Should I learn by myself? What part of web design do I see myself being involved in? I now understand that there are 2 main aspects to web design and that web design as a term is a bit vague; a web designer is generally considered to be the person who designs the look of the site, the graphics and the layout. A web developer (or front end developer) is the guy who writes the code that builds the site and tells everything where it is to go. There are some people that do both, some that do one or the other, and there are plenty of online discussions saying that designers should learn to code and that coders should learn to design! :)

I decided that I would endeavour to become a front end developer. I’m more familiar with the concepts of coding than I am with images and graphics. Besides, the number one tool for designers seems to be Photoshop, which is very expensive. I started to scour the internet for information about becoming a web developer to see if I could further understand where I was going. I have been amazed at the amount of brilliant blogs, helpful tutorials and inspiring web design sites that are out there. I’ve been busy bookmarking! I’ve also searched for courses in web design but I’ve been disappointed to find that most of them start in the autumn which seems such a long way off. There is an Open University course which starts in May ’10 so I may register for that, despite it being a fairly basic course. After that I could move on to the more advanced autumn course. My local college is currently running a web design course but unfortunately isn’t getting the funding to provide the course again this year.

Learning completely by myself seems like  such a daunting task which is why I feel I need the focus and direction of a course. I think that I learn best when I’m on the job working with other like minded people. With that in mind I’ve spoken with some local designers and I am hopeful that I can get a short work placement with one of them. This could really help me discover if this is the right career for me and set me on the right path. Who knows? It may may turn out that I am more suited to the design element of web design!

I’ve been given some good advice whilst doing my research; get networking, get yourself on Twitter, follow other designers, read design blogs and books, and try out online tutorials. I’m doing all of those things. There are tons of tutorials, but I have to say, a lot of them involve some Photoshop work so I get a bit stuck there. I’ve read lots of great blog posts about starting out in web design and they’ve been very helpful and insightful. I decided to start my own blog here at WordPress.com to journal my story. WordPress.org is also something I’d like to learn.

Here’s a small selection of my bookmarks:

Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment if you have any advice or want to share your story.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.