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.


3 Comments to “A Journey Into Web Development”

  1. Congratulations on starting this blog and welcome to front-end web development!

    I always prefer to learn by doing, but if I had to recommend one book it would Zeldman’s designing with web standards.

    Learning to code valid markup and CSS is probably your best starting point, but you’ll soon get pulled into other things like jQuery, WordPress.org, and other things.

    Good luck!

  2. I used to work in a cleaning company and then as a warehouse worker before I started doing web design. I simply quit my job locked myself inside my room with a few html/css books and crammed as much as I could in the shortest amount of time possible. It won’t be easy but if it’s really something you want to do, all you have to tell yourself is that “It’s possible!”. One advice I can give you which a close friend gave me when i first started is focus on either front end or back end. It’s much better to be an expert in one thing than to be okay at everything.

    I suggest going to http://www.hv-designs.co.uk. Richard (the web master) has a lot of coding tutorial and provides all the graphics already ready to go.

    Best of luck!

  3. I too am on this journey, but I’m doing the learning on my own. Most of what I know, including a little bit of coding, I picked up from a blog, magazine or book. I look forward to reading your future posts. Good Luck!

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