The truth about learning web development

This morning Jeffrey Zeldman published a very interesting article. Actually it was a response to Jeff Croft, web designer, about web development skills. At least that’s how I summarize the discussion. The article has a more dramatic title: Is Web Design Dead?

Yesterday a friend and I were discussing our worries about falling behind if we didn’t hurry up and learn all the ‘new’ stuff: pre-processors, working with the command line, JavaScript, JQuery, etc. I sent her Amber Weinberg’s post Plain Ol’ Code which I read several times a month when I start pulling my hair out.

If you decide to learn web development today, in 2014, where would you start?

Of course, you need to know HTML and CSS but how much time will you spend learning those things and building ugly little pages? Because that’s a rite of passage only to discover that when you link your brand new page to another page you have to copy and paste all the code that remains static and then code the bits that differ from page to page. Once you have your pages complete you decide you need a blog so you go to the most obvious choice: WordPress and there you discover that a theme is a garbled monster of something called PHP.

You set out to learn how to take your HTML and CSS into THE WORDPRESS.

Everything is going fine until you hit WordPress functions and loops. Sure, everything is a ritual of copy paste these days. The faster your fingers are at the ctrl-c / ctrl-v the faster you get to the illusory finish line. Then you realize after hours of CSS fiddling that it doesn’t look quite as you’d like so you wonder how far ctrl-z will get you. And then, my friend, you face  Git. You wander into the terrains of version control and you want to cry because your head starts to remember how you hated DOS and Unix (this applies if you’re over 35 only), so you reluctantly open the command line.

The cursor blinks at you. But before you dive in, as a good procrastinator does, you decide to go read one of your favorite blogs and wonder: where is web design in all of this?


I don’t mean to be cynical or discouraging. I started on this path with the same mindset I start everything I do: I will work hard, put in the hours and by this date I will have accomplished so and so.

Well it’s not a linear path, it does not have a finish line. The finish line moves further away every time you make progress so save your energy.

Some people have built websites  for many years without interruption, they have built upon their knowledge. They didn’t have to learn everything at once. Plus, things used to go a bit slower. So if you do take on learning web design,  take enough breaks. Don’t forget your other interests.

This week a came across different people’s insights  that have kept me from shutting down my computer in a dramatic fashion, I share them here:

Clean Modular Code is Overrated
Zoe Rooney on How to Hold a Pencil Podcast
Amber Weinberg’s post on how her workflow has changed

Learning Front-End Development from scratch in 2014 will be your personal  Mount Everest and the risk of an information avalanche / overload is high.

Tiny update: I’m already too far up to get down. So I’ll keep going. Will you?

What do you think?