Catching Up on Eight Years of Web Skills in Seven Days
August 10, 2015 8:56 AM   Subscribe

I've been making websites since 1997, when I set up my first GeoCities site learning out of the HTML for Dummies Quick Reference. Sadly, my skills plateaued around when I was graduating college in 2008. I've got seven days of free time coming up in a sort of work mini-sabbatical... help me get up to date!

Easier to tell you what I do know as a start:
  • (X)HTML (5)
  • CSS (2, a little bit of 3)
  • How to build a basic WordPress Theme
  • Some basic PHP (see above about WordPress
  • The very, very, very basics of responsive design and layout.
Of the stuff out there I think I should know, there's JavaScript (which I tried to learn, and then never found a reason to use on personal projects), jQuery (ditto), and CSS frameworks (Bootstrap? Is that what the kids are using these days?)

I'm not terribly interested in learning back-end stuff. I'm really more of a front-end guy, who likes laying stuff out, making things look pretty---or at least readable and usable---and that sort of thing. If I really need to learn back-end stuff, please whap me with a newspaper and suggest a starting point.

Books and other online resources appreciated. I've got access to through work (where I build HTML newsletters, and it's like 1998 never ended), and an account on Codecademy. Let's do this!
posted by SansPoint to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 2008 is a tough time to have stopped — it's right around then that front end tech had a rocket lit under it, and the pace of progress hasn't quit yet. But, as always, the fundamentals are still easy to pick up!

I highly recommend picking up any relevant titles from A Book Apart. They're all quick reads, and HTML5 for Web Designers, Responsive Web Design (the first one from Ethan Marcotte), and CSS3 for Web Designers were all hugely helpful to me in making the transition from the (if you will) silver age to the modern age of web development.
posted by o2b at 9:28 AM on August 10, 2015

Best answer: If you're going to do any significant amount of "modern" web development, you're going to need to learn Javascript. There are about 500k frameworks and libraries out there, and even I am struggling with which to use for a new personal project I'm working on right now, so I won't suggest any specifically (maybe someone else can come along and make some more informed suggestions). But I think that at least picking up the basics of the language and how it works with respect to websites would be a good use of your time.
posted by primethyme at 9:39 AM on August 10, 2015

On top of Ethan Marcotte and A Book Apart (plus browsing the archives at A List Apart), I'd add Peter Gasston's The Book of CSS3 and The Modern Web. Morten Rand-Hendriksen has some good WordPress courses on and there are some great classes at Treehouse.

I really liked The A to Z of CSS too.

You could also create an account at Sitepoint for when you get stuck.
posted by humph at 9:40 AM on August 10, 2015

Best answer: You've got seven days? If it were me, I'd revisit JQuery. It's fairly ubiquitous, it's fairly easy, and it's a good entry point to seeing what's happening with the annoying proliferation of Javascript frameworks out there.
posted by gimonca at 9:52 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

2nding jQuery. It's easier than "regular" Javascript, in a way. I liked this tutorial:
posted by gakiko at 11:34 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hi, I'm you. I left enterprise web development early 2009, and have been trying to update my knowledge. I have found that instead of helping, a lot of my old knowledge gets in the way. After a few false starts, I finally started at the beginning, learning to build a website the "new" way instead of appending new info to my old info. That helped so so so much. I recommend finding a build a site from scratch tutorial to get the mindset of using CSS3. I've used Treehouse and really liked it, though I haven't compared it to other online learning. Good luck! I'll also be watching for tips!
posted by banjonaut at 12:08 PM on August 10, 2015

As you start learning the "new" ways to make websites, keep in mind that some of what you see now are (in my opinion, at least) the worst excesses of a decadent website designer lifestyle enabled by faster CPUs and unlimited network connections.

Mobile devices are resource-constrained and mobile bandwidth is rarely unlimited, so thanks to the mobile revolution, a reckoning is coming for those single-article web pages that weigh in at 20+ MB, larded up with frameworks and trackers and social buttons. What was cutting edge in 1998 may not be so bad after all, as long as you're use consistent and up-to-date design language.

(What I'm saying is, don't go overboard with those frameworks and Javascript. Maybe you can do it more simply with some lightweight CSS.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:20 PM on August 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: RedOrGreen That's why I've come here for advice. I'm as concerned about bloat as any tech-savvy web user (who runs a WordPress site).

Thanks, folks. Got an idea for a project I can bang out while learning---building my Personal Site, which is currently just a redirect to an page. Should be a good way to experiment with some of the stuff I want to learn.

More advice and direction is still appreciated. I'm hoping to maybe springboard from this into a more interesting gig that isn't just email newsletters to put pharmaceutical ads in front of doctors.
posted by SansPoint at 3:05 PM on August 10, 2015

Best answer: FWIW I'm a self-taught web dev, working full-time on the front end of enterprise software for the past year and change.

I read The Modern Web book linked above awhile back, and I'm not sure how useful it will be -- it was published in 2013 and made a bunch of predictions about which technologies would become widely supported, many of which haven't panned out.

jQuery is definitely still ubiquitous and useful for DOM manipulation, but it's not as necessary as it once was for handling cross-browser differences. In some situations it's arguably not necessary at all -- see youmightnotneedjquery.

The cliche about the self-taught web developer is that they rely on jQuery to get things done because they haven't bothered to really understand JavaScript. IMO learning about the guts of JS would do more to help you in the long run -- jQuery is just a library.

Apart from that, here's a video I've linked a couple of times before that helped me find some focus when I was first learning and looking for jobs, which is getting slightly dated, being a whole year old (lol), but is mostly still valid: What HTML5 Skills Are Employers Looking For? from Jesse Warden.

He says you should know JavaScript, an MVC framework, and a CSS framework. Since you haven't worked with JS much and aren't necessarily trying to build web apps yet, I wouldn't worry about the MVC framework just yet (but gives you a tour of many options). But I'd definitely learn about CSS preprocessors (IMO you should use SASS), which are fairly ubiquitous and make writing CSS much better. He says knowing about build tools is extra credit, and I'd say this is a very good idea these days as well -- check out e.g. Gulp, Webpack.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:07 PM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

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