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Trying to help a complete beginner get their bearings in web development
March 18, 2014 12:17 PM   Subscribe

A relative is already a technical person (masters in electrical engineering) who is trying to switch careers and get into web development. I'm looking for good resources to get her up to speed on the building blocks of web dev.

A bit of an odd case... She can do very basic coding in C/C#/Javascript, and she knows her way around a relational database, so kid gloves are not completely needed.

I'm a developer myself and she asked for help with a fairly sophisticated (small but complete webapp) task that she's trying to do, so she somewhat dove into the deep end without realizing that there's a shallow end. I started trying to explain HTTP, the DOM, the request-response pattern, JSON, the idea of code executing in a browser, asynchronous web requests, REST, backend frameworks, web servers, application containers, ORMs, template engines, and then I realized that I don't have the time to teach a course, and she's never heard of any of these things.

So, what I'm looking for is a technology-agnostic guided tour of all the fundamental protocols and building blocks that make a webapp work. Once she has that overview, I'm sure she'll be able to pick up individual technical specifics and teach herself. Suggestions for books, online classes, or IRL classes in the NYC area would all be welcome.
posted by tempythethird to Education (7 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
If I may suggest a lateral approach, I'd start her out on one of the modern frameworks, Rails, Django, Node, etc., and have her learn the more abstract notions through practice, rather than first learn all the theory and then have to figure out how to apply it in the real world.

In this scenario, pick a language/framework, do the standard language tutorial first and then work through the standard framework tutorials.
posted by signal at 12:27 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]

Like signal, I'd strongly suggest building something and letting the concepts come from that. Lots of things like the DOM are really abstract and weird until you're manipulating them to solve a specific problem and then they make plenty of sense.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:33 PM on March 18

Send her to this:

BentoBox: everything you need to know about web development, neatly packaged
posted by foxfirefey at 12:42 PM on March 18 [8 favorites]

started trying to explain HTTP, the DOM, the request-response pattern, JSON . . .

That doesn't work. Find a small problem she needs solved and then suggest a framework you think she'd be comfortable with as suggested above. Your approach is trying to teach a person to cook for themselves by explaining botany. I do a lot of work in Django and it provides a pretty nice tutorial in the docs that's aimed at newcomers.
posted by yerfatma at 12:58 PM on March 18

The course from Stanford on Startup Engineering looks right for her.

It was offered last year, but the archive appears to be accessible.

(Coursera has lots of CS and technical web-related courses. You can browse here.)
posted by bertran at 2:06 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I agree a framework is the way to go. As a Rails developer, I recommend the Hartl Rails Tutorial. It's arguably too casual about Ruby/programming fundamentals, but it's justifiably popular and takes you through building a twitter-like app. If she does go the Rails route, Ryan Bates' (sadly not currently being updated) RailsCasts are good for deeper (but still step-by-step) dives into commonly-encountered web development problems and solutions.
posted by mskyle at 2:07 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]

Try, lots of software-specific and specialized info video tuts/courses
posted by Th!nk at 12:44 AM on March 23

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