Getting Started in Web Development: FAQ For the Absolute Newbie

Not too long ago I decided I wanted to learn to code, and was trying to figure out where to start. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m far enough along to offer some advice to the people who are just beginning their journey.

Here are a few common questions I hear from people wanting to get started in web development, along with my answers.

1. How Do I Get Started?

Start by taking Codecademy’s HTML & CSS course. Then take their Ruby course. This will help you figure out what type of programming you are interested in.

2. How Do I Choose A Focus?

–> What did you enjoy more: moving elements around on the page and seeing the result with HTML & CSS, or working with programming concepts like loops, hashes, and arrays in Ruby?

–> Do you prefer visual things like drawing or design, or do you prefer abstract things like logic problems, puzzles and math?

If you are visual or preferred the HTML & CSS course, you may be interested in Front End Development. This means being the person who develops the part of a website that a user sees.

If you are an abstract thinker or preferred the Ruby course, you might be interested in Back End Development. This means working on the hidden logic that makes complex web applications work. This can be done in many programming languages, such as Ruby or Python.

3. What’s The Next Step?

Codecademy courses give you a good overview of the language, but they don’t give you exposure to some of the tools you will need to know, such as text editors, the command line, and coding documentation. The next step is to do a tutorial that will let you make real, functioning code using the tools that professional developers use.

Front End (HTML & CSS): HTML Dog has some excellent tutorials. Use those as a reference, and build a few websites on your own. Once you feel comfortable with HTML and CSS, try learning Javascript.

Back End (Ruby): Learn Ruby The Hard Way will introduce you to the tools you need, and teach you how to use documentation to solve coding problems. Once you feel comfortable in Ruby, try Hartl’s Rails Tutorial, which will teach you the basics of the Ruby on Rails framework. Ruby on Rails lets you use your Ruby skills to build complex websites.

4. Should I go to a Coding Bootcamp?

That depends: Can you invest the time and money to do so?

If the answer is yes, then a good coding bootcamp is worth the investment. It will keep you on track and give you the opportunity to be surrounded by mentors and other students that can be a great resource for you.

If the answer is no, don’t let that discourage you. It is 100% possible to teach yourself everything you would learn in a bootcamp. You will, however, need to find a mentor (or, preferably, several) who can help you get past roadblocks and figure out where to focus your attention.

5. How can I Find Help From Real, Live Humans?

The Best Places to Get Help:

  • CodeNewbie Weekly twitter chat, podcasts and discussion board (FREE!)
  • CodeMentor Paid individual mentoring.
  • Local Meetups: You may have to try several before you find one that welcomes and encourages newbies. Read the descriptions on http://www.meetup.com, and see how the attendees describe themselves. Look for meetups with a good mix of experience levels.
  • Exercism Work on practice problems and get feedback on your code from other developers. (FREE!)

Have more questions that I haven’t answered? Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.

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9 thoughts on “Getting Started in Web Development: FAQ For the Absolute Newbie

  1. Great tips and resources, thanks for sharing! I was sternly warned against learning HTML & CSS before Ruby. The logic offered is that if I learn Ruby, HTML & CSS will come easily, but if I learn HTML & CSS first, then it will be harder to learn a programming language like Ruby. So that’s what I’m trying to do…but it’s hard because I’m so much more drawn to the visual design possibilities of front end development! I’m going to keep going for now on my path for now, but I like encountering a different perspective!

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    • That’s an interesting perspective. In my opinion, anything you learn makes learning the next thing easier. Perhaps the person meant that HTML & CSS is less complex, and could give you a false impression of how complex programming can be. If you’re sure you want to do front-end development, you might consider learning Javascript instead of Ruby. It will teach you the same concepts as Ruby (loops, etc.), but will be much more useful as a front-end developer. Codecademy has a Javascript course as well.

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      • Thanks for the tips! The thing is, I am not really sure of anything right now, haha! My goal is not exactly to be a professional developer, but rather use the knowledge and skills to enhance my current profession. However, I’m not really sure what that will look like, so I’m kind of just wanting to learn some of all the possibilities. I think that point about HTML/CSS is that it’s not “programming”, and my “advisor” thought I should learn the logic behind programming before front end. I don’t really know…it made sense to me at the time! 🙂 Maybe he didn’t think that I’d want to go back and learn any programming…I just feel like once I get to the front end stuff, that’s what I’ll be better at. I actually did start learning some JavaScript too, and do think I want to learn that eventually. Ruby just seemed more intuitive, and since this whole venture is so foreign to me, I’d just kind of focus on that for now and see where it gets me. I am counting on your logic, that if I just learn Ruby (mostly since I’ve already started), then it will make anything else easier to pick up. I’m not sure, I might change my mind soon, but I’m trying to resist my ADD urges. (for now!)

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      • I’m learning Javascript now, after learning Ruby, and it definitely is much easier because the concepts are the same even if the syntax (words/grammar) is different. Ruby is easier in many ways, but don’t wait too long to switch to Javascript if that’s your end goal.

        Learning French is easier than learning Chinese, and knowing a 2nd language makes learning a 3rd easier, but if you want to learn Chinese, learning French first is not the most efficient way to do so. Hope that analogy helps!

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  2. Pingback: Embracing My Beginners Mindset: Avoiding Overthinking | Teacher Learns to Code
  3. This is wonderful, I actually just had the same conversation with a back end developer I know and he recommended I go front end. I guess he was right because I’m definitely drawn to the visual! I’m learning javascript and already have a pretty good handle on html and css. i just hope i can find a way to apply my knowledge of javascript soon.

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