In-depth WordPress development course by Neatly Polished

My father taught me to drive when I was thirteen and his first instruction was: When on the road, try to see as far ahead as you can.
Basically, anticipate any unexpected situations so you can adjust.

I do this when I’m learning something. At times, seeing too far ahead becomes paralyzing and overwhelming, but other times, it just makes me more determined.

Front-end development is making me more determined. From April 2013 I have looked as far ahead as I can. There is so much to learn in this field, things change unexpectedly, like the time I learned the hgroup tag and the following week I learned it was deprecated.

In my previous post, I said: learn your foundation well. Learn HTML well, then CSS. After, you can start using all the nifty tools and frameworks.

But when you face the workflow of an entire website, when you want to switch careers NOW, when you see the job postings and think “I’m not there yet”, or when you spend hours reading tutorials written by super-smart people and you see reality of how far behind you are, you have no choice but to get on the fast lane.

To do this, you have to speed up and double your focus. This means, in terms of front-end development, that you have to find the ONE resource that will get you faster to where you want to be. It might be a person, a book, a course but it has to be just ONE (for a little while at least).

Otherwise you will be swamped in information, or the equivalent of a traffic jam.

When Zoe Rooney launched her WordPress Theme Development course (currently in Beta). I jumped at the opportunity. She’s not only teaching Theme development, but she’s explaining the workflow behind it. This is so worth it because no other course teaches you the bulk of a web project. Other courses will teach you a bit of this and that but when you’re ready to tackle a project you have no idea how to bring everything together and you wind up parked in StackOverflow for months.

Zoe’s course seems to me like the fast lane: getting started with Git, Gulp and Sass, in a very simple way but within a clear context by building a starter theme for WordPress. The course doesn’t make you an expert but it does get you up and running.

Having said this, this isn’t a beginners course. She will probably specify this when she launches to the public in the near future.

Zoe is opening her @ntlypolished course for a few more participants soon, get on her list!

If you can take it, I truly recommend it.

The Pillars of The Web

Sometimes, things just make sense in an instant. And sometimes you spend months studying something, trying really hard to make sense and the more you try the more elusive it becomes.

Last week, in the most groupie manner, I emailed a developer whose work I admire very much. I typed out an email to tell her how much I respect her work and feel encouraged by it, and to ask her a question that has haunted me for months.
Amazingly she replied. She’s someone who is super busy giving conferences, managing her company and producing great newsletters and podcasts. She’s also a published author.

She tweeted recently that she didn’t use Sass (or preprocessors) and I really wanted to get my head around this because I am not that inclined to use them either.
She advised I should learn CSS well. Which is only logical because if you don’t know CSS and the best practices around it, you will only make a gigantic mess in Sass.

So, as I brush my teeth, wash the dishes and jump on my rebounder I keep thinking how important it is to round-up the skills and competencies that you actually need to build a website. And surprise, I’ve written about this before... I tend to forget.

The amount of new frameworks and tools, the different philosophies about what the web should be, the rivalry between OS systems, the variety of devices etc, makes me think that there is a bigger disconnection between developers, designers and users than ever before. People are publishing their own beliefs all over the place and ignoring all the work that’s been done to make browsers talk to each other. Does the web and its technologies need to be cut off from all other networked apps? ugh.

Websites are my only concern for the moment.

What do you need to build a website that can work across all browsers, across all devices, that is accessible, responsive and fast? What do you need to make it shareable? What do you need to make it readable?

I dare to say you need HTML and that’s it. The rest is eye candy (and I mean this in terms of functionality – the web in HTML only would be depressing).
I’m far from being the only one to reach this conclusion.

This week’s The Web Ahead episode articulates this idea better than I ever could and it’s given me insights to why I should avoid the stream of tweets that carry little paper boats of new tools and new frameworks every minute of every day.

I don’t think these tools are bad or anti-web, some are brilliant, but the real question is can you build a website that is cross browser, cross device, etc, etc – without going down an endless rabbit hole?

Chris Coyier wrote an article that I didn’t really grasp until recently. All these technologies are not perfect (and neither is any workflow), but the underlying work  done up to now is what keeps the web accessible – to my understanding.

I opened my first HTML website from 1997 which I had in a CD-ROM. It’s seriously ugly but just to test it I uploaded it to my hosting account and opened it on my iPhone.

Except for the images, the site was already responsive.

In The Web Ahead, Jen Simmons gives a wonderful example about learning. She says that sometimes as she learned new technologies she felt like she was falling down a mountain. In order to stop the fall you need to grab on to something, like a tree for example, and to her, the tree is HTML.
If you write good solid HTML then you can switch the looks and layouts all you want but your content will remain exactly as you intended.

Can you write HTML and CSS and the bit of JavaScript needed to stand the test of time?

If you are new to front-end development and feel overwhelmed I would suggest to not tread away from the core technologies that make the web. This has been my practical mistake.

Know about the technologies, listen to podcasts like The Web Ahead, but try to keep your hands off these frameworks and technologies until you feel somewhat sure of your foundation.

I suggest this keynote:

Links:
The Web Ahead episode 65
Hatin’ on web tech

Grids

gridset

Layout is challenging. This is part of the reason frameworks like Zurb Foundation and Bootstrap exist. It’s the illusion of ease and speed that makes us use them. When I took the CSS layout class with WCC I suffered with floats. My code wouldn’t work. It was mind bending and I nearly gave up.

Then I took one of Treehouse’s live tutorials on Bootstrap and in ONE HOUR I had a perfectly laid out website. It was a revelation. But, to create truly custom websites you need to understand the workings of The Grid.

Since this is designer’s terrain and I’m not a designer myself, understanding how the grid works, I need to read a bit about it and it so happens that this week A List Apart published an article titled Content-out layout. This article, besides making a case for creating grids in relation to content it explains the elusive concept of ratios.

I was tempted to try Gridset for a while but I didn’t want to sign up for a free trial before understanding a bit more about grids in web layout. So finally this week after reading (twice!) the ALA article and then signed up for Gridset.

I was surprised to find it very straight forward. Basically you choose the number of colums, your width, the gutter if you need it and a ratio (read the article to get a quick idea of what it is and how to use it).

Gridset generates as many grids as you need for your project including desktop, tablet and mobile  which you can then download as a zipped file (CSS and PNG for Photoshop or other design software). It also includes a cheat sheet with all the measurements.

Another  helpful tool within Gridset is their script to overlay the grid on the page you are working on. If you go to their blog and hit Ctrl-G you will see the grid appear, this way you can see how they laid out their elements and it’s included in your download as well. It makes it easier if you choose to design in the browser.

My first exploration is encouraging. I thought I would bump my head into a wall again but with just a little patience and if you’ve used a framework before, you can write your markup quickly.

If you use a grid correctly, it will guide your (or your user’s eye) effortlessly.  It is a delicate operation though, as the ALA article says, the content drives the grid and not the other way around.

Have you developed your own grid? Do you use a CSS framework?

Links:

Women’s Coding Collective – WCC
Content-out Layout by Nathan Ford
Gridset
Gridset blog

How I manage my Twitter problem.

My Twitter account saw the light of day in 2009. As most of my dabbling in the social web I wanted to try it out. I thought it would go the same way as FB. I would use it a few months and then I would hate it and delete my account.

 

 

Well, the opposite happened. I loved it and by 2013 I had a serious Twitter problem. But this “problem”  doesn’t rely on the “social” aspect of it like most people, it actually lies in the obsession with learning that I can’t seem to curve. You see, Twitter brings you everything on a silver platter. You don’t even have to “research” anything. Just find a person who has a thousand followers and who follows the equal number of people and who talks about what interests you and follow them. You will get daily digests of info all day long. People work for you!

I’m also a reader so this means I just need to follow  few key accounts  to keep my reading hunger satisfied. But that’s not accurate. I’m never satisfied and this is why Twitter became a problem. I’m aware I don’t apply any “Following” etiquette whatsoever. I’m aware that if someone follows you, you’re supposed to follow back and that the “social” aspect of Twitter mimics very much real life. If you receive a pat in the back, you need to pat back and that you need to “talk” to people.

I can’t seem to do that. I confess that sometimes I “spy” on conversations, most have to do with discussing a particular tool such as Sass. If you’re talking about Sass and the pros and cons of using and learning it then I’m probably spying on your conversations. But as much as I’m an information fiend Twitter overwhelms me to an unhealthy degree.

I have three major obsessions (or goals to put it mildly):

  • Front-End development,
  • Writing and reading literature and ideas,
  • and perfecting my French.

These three topics bury me in a landslide of information that makes things unproductive and uncreative. Twitter feeds the two states while numbing me with the false feeling that I’m “learning”.

False learning

Learning is opening up Codepen and trying out a few tutorials. Typing out the code instead of copy/pasting it and then tweaking some values.  False Learning is reading a bunch of blog posts about code and thinking you understood them.

Twitter feeds false learning. It informs you but it doesn’t get you any closer to your goal. It’s like any addiction. It is a quick upper that makes you feel shitty afterwards because you can’t stop. The feeling of false productivity and false learning piles up when nighttime arrives and you know you didn’t make any progress.

The summit of my Twitter distress is when I start writing about my problem. Writing helps me organize my thoughts and see the solution clearly.

So here is my quick recipe for dealing with Twitter:

  1. Unfollow or move the person who tweets too much. This seems drastic and against the “social norms of Twitter”. Unfollowing is seen as a snub. It’s not in my case, it’s just a personal organization strategy. Normally I’ll move people to a list for a while.
  2. Lists are my favorite thing about Twitter. I have a few lists that allow me to divide my current topics of interest quite well. I visit these lists once or twice  day and that’s enough.
  3. Remove the Twitter app from the mobile device. This is instant freedom, even though I know I can install it again immediately there is something about not having the icon there that stops me from going the extra step.
  4. Go look at Pinterest instead (just kidding!).

Twitter is by far my Achilles heel in terms of managing my information overload. It has nothing to do with will power. I understood this when I read The Shallows .

Computers and other gadgets reroute our normal neural pathways and so you find your hand clicking on the X to close an application before you even thought of it, or you click on the Twitter icon only to realize it wasn’t what you wanted. It’s worries me.

I hope I never have to deactivate my account. That would be a drastic measure. My barometer is how fast or how slow I’m making progress. These days, it’s kinda slow.