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Website Development

SlapnutsSlapnuts Registered User regular
edited May 2008 in Help / Advice Forum
I've been managing Websites for a major media company for almost two years. The sites have their own CMS so I am not required to do any sort of coding or programming. Everything I need to do is based in HTML. I want to be able to code and am very interested in Web development. I'd like to start my own Website development company someday.

The problem lies in the fact that I didn't go to college to do what I'm doing. I got a degree in Mass Communication and work for a Television Station. I have good editorial news judgement and a fundamental understanding of how our viewers think and what they'd like to see on the Website and how to create that content. The CMS is simple, so I'm able to do what I need to do within the framework but have to outsource most of the new media projects to other people within the company.

I want to be able to create flash/java/other interactives on my own. And I'd like to be able to one day take the skills to my own Website design business.

What do I need to do? Go back to school and get another degree in Web design? Or can I buy tutorial books and learn these skills on my own? I'm thinking I'd probably need to go back to school, but that isn't in the cards at the moment. I'd have to wait at least 2 or 3 years until my fiancee finishes her degree. I'd like to at least start developing my skills right now. I, at the very least, have a site I can test some of my projects out on.

So, in conclusion, what programs/languages are required to run new media sites? And will I have to go back to school to learn them? If not, what books can I go get tomorrow to start learning?

Slapnuts on
There are some acts so ruthless, some deeds so unpalatable, that only the Vlka Fenryka are capable of undertaking them. It's what we were bred for. It's the way we were designed. Without qualm or sentiment, without hesitation or whimsy. We take pride in being the only Astartes who will never, under any circumstances, refuse to strike on the Allfather's behalf, no matter what the target, no matter what the cause.


  • SlapnutsSlapnuts Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Also, would buying the Adobe Creative Suite Web Edition be a good starting point to fool around with some of the things I want to do? Or am I still going to need the basic Java/Flash skills anyway? Basically am I going to be lost in these programs if I don't have some formal training or are the easy enough to pick up and screw around with?

    There are some acts so ruthless, some deeds so unpalatable, that only the Vlka Fenryka are capable of undertaking them. It's what we were bred for. It's the way we were designed. Without qualm or sentiment, without hesitation or whimsy. We take pride in being the only Astartes who will never, under any circumstances, refuse to strike on the Allfather's behalf, no matter what the target, no matter what the cause.
  • DelzhandDelzhand Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Well, you could learn Drupal as a CMS - it's very robust, and you can define your own content types, modules, visual themes, etc. It also includes jquery, which allows you to use some pretty slick visual effects with relatively simple syntax. I don't know if I'd go back to college just for web design though - it's not a skill that's difficult enough to warrant the cost of tuition.

    Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward - November Elzhand (Sargatanas)
  • LewishamLewisham Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    You absolutely do not need to go to university to learn this stuff. You need tenacity and talent, but you could easily learn from books and online tutorials.

    Personally, unless you have a desparate need, I would not start with learning web programming. There are many platforms out there for you to pull down and modify. I'm the webmaster for www.mcs.vuw.ac.nz . I used TWiki to deploy it. I could have sat there and written it in Django or Ruby on Rails, but I have much better things to do with my time. You should learn these skills, but I would really get familiar with design first.

  • DrFrylockDrFrylock Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Let's try to clear up some confusion here.

    First, let's draw a distinction between a Web Developer and a Web Designer. A Web Developer is probably somebody who is writing HTML, CSS, Javascript, SQL queries, PHP, or some combination of these things. A Web Designer is a combination between a graphic designer (for the look) and a user interface designer (for the feel) of a website. A person can be both, of course, but many designers do not know how to code and many developers do not know anything about design.

    A big problem in Web development and design these days is that neither Web developers nor Web designers take their professions seriously. Both are still treated largely as vocational skills. There are no textbooks on Web development, although there are hundreds of trade books. There is no corpus of foundational knowledge. I would bet that more than 90% of practicing Web developers are fully ignorant of the architectural principles of the Web. (Yes, they do exist and they are codified). Most of Web development comes down to raging opportunism. People take whatever facilities are provided in the 6.0 browsers and attempt to make them do whatever they can to be cool. Witness AJAX, which is basically people noticing that a bunch of services that happened to get built into browsers (better Javascript interpreters with built-in XML parsers and DOM APIs, the ability to open HTTP requests back to the origin server, and the ability to manipulate the HTML page in real-time) could be used to create a whole new class of dynamic Web applications. Note also that these technologies were never meant to work together in this way, and so you have things like cross-site scripting attacks.

    This is why it's more or less pointless to go to college to study Web development. If you really want to understand Web development, go to college for computer science and study software architecture and distributed systems. Then you'll know something worth knowing about building Web software. Of course, they probably won't teach you Flash and Java per se, but by the time you graduate those technologies will be dead anyway.

    Well, it's funny you mention those two particular technologies as things you want to learn, because from a Web client perspective, both Flash and Java are deader than dead. Flash is good for nothing more than punch-the-monkey ads and serving videos on YouTube. It is an utter failure when it comes to replacing HTML as a site development platform. There are a few exceptions: if you are a jewelry store that sells fourteen items (not through the Web, just in the store) you can get away with a Flash site. Otherwise, it's completely useless. Java as a client-side development framework (i.e., applets) died in about 1998. It's flourishing on the server side and in other domains, but applets are dead dead dead. These days it's all about AJAX and maybe Silverlight. But these are just technologies.

    Being a Web Designer is also very difficult, because like I said it's a cross between being a graphic designer and a user interface designer. You can go to college for graphic design, and better colleges will actually teach you something worth knowing. For example, I'd bet that 50% of working Web designers don't have the faintest clue about color theory. However, a lot of graphic design (like any artistic profession) is subjective and artsy. So I question just how much you can "train" to do the graphic artist part of Web development.

    Worse yet is the user interface side. There's an academic body of literature on UI design and user experience. A good portion of it predates the Web. You want to know a good book on Web design? The original Apple Human Interface Design Guidelines. This book was written years before the Web existed and does not mention the Web. But it's a good book because it distills a lot of knowledge about user experience. Another good book is The Reflective Practitioner, about how people's minds work when they're problem solving and designing. It also doesn't mention the Web. But this body of knowledge isn't trickling down. Every once in a while I'll click on a "top 10 mistakes Web designers make" article on Digg, and the contents are always laughable. It's subjective, it's not derived from general principles, it ignores the research, etc. I believe that someday we will have a good academic understanding of the user interface side of Web design, but that day hasn't come yet. Perhaps most maddeningly, designing a good user interface requires systematic thinking and application of principles, and artsy graphic designer types seem to do things the exact opposite way.

    This is why it's more or less pointless to go to college to study Web design. If you really want to understand Web design, go to college for computer science and study human-computer interaction, or go to college for graphic design.

    I would not run out and buy the $1000 or $1600 Adobe Creative Suite for the Web. These are powerful tools and unless you're serious you'll probably end up using about 2% of their capabilities. You'll be better off with a book on HTML and CSS, a copy of the GIMP, and a decent text editor, which will cost you about $40 in total. Shit, the low-end Creative Suite for the Web doesn't even include Photoshop for $1000.

    Content management systems are all the rage these days, for lots of good reasons. Of course, each one has its own beautiful way of doing things in the most counterintuitive way possible, so you've got plenty of opportunities to learn each one's particular niche languages and configuration principles - knowledge that won't help you outside that particular system at all.

    If you're serious, the best thing for you to do right now is to get facile with HTML and CSS. No interactivity, just develop some skills with those. It might also help to learn about image editing for the Web and pick a tool for doing that. GIMP is all right for you right now. Once you've got that basically down, you can start working on interactivity. You seem interested in the client side more than the server side, so I'd start with some basic Javascript. Eventually you'll want your Javascript to go pull more data dynamically from the server, and so you'll eventually want to start learning about server-side development and databases.

    If you're REALLY serious, once you get a handle on what's possible and not possible with the Web, you should go start learning about things like graphic design, user interface design, and the Web architecture.

    If you're not serious, just get a copy of Dreamweaver and learn the shit out of it. You won't understand what's going on underneath the covers but you're not serious anyway so it doesn't matter.

    Pheezer wrote: »
    I would strongly recommend reading DrFrylock's post thoroughly and considering all of his points individually.
  • JasconiusJasconius sword criminal Flo-ridaRegistered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Flylock is the most awesome poster on these subjects.

    Please, do not make my mistake and go to any school for a "Web Development" degree. They are complete bullshit. If you want to understand what you are doing then Computer Science will serve you much better.

    The only thing I got from a 4 year study in Web Development was an extremely rough concept of what it was I actually needed to go out and learn for myself, I would put forth that most schools who boast some sort of "web" degree are simply churning out a horde of shitty journeyman developers to which Fry is referring to.

    About 95% of what I put into practice on a daily basis I learned in the field actually making web sites, rather than sitting in a classroom listening to someone drone about CSS to a class filled primarily with graphic designers.

    If you are interested in Flash then bravo to you, Flash programming is my primary trade. My only advice to you is don't jump straight to Flash, start making non-flash sites and then look for opportunities to use Flash in a positive way. Flash is rarely used as the primary platform for a web site unless it's geared towards marketing or just showing off, as you will find by surfing some of the highest end Flash studios a good chunk of high quality Flash work is all alloted to the entertainment, electronics, and auto industry, companies with huge budgets that want to show off. If you pay attention closely you will notice that a majority of them aren't selling anything right off the site or giving you a magna carta of product information (two common functions of web sites that should never be mixed with Flash), they are basically just big hulking advertisements. But they are fun to make.

    As a rule of thumb you should avoid Flash unless you have a legitimate requirement of the platform such as delivering audio and video, or doing some sort of animation/presentation. Completely static sites that are built entirely in Flash are almost all stupid, and take longer to develop.

    If you want to learn Flash I would recommend first touching on Javascript which is a similar but far less devious variant of the same standards on which Actionscript is based. The Flash platform is a very strange one to learn about computer programming on because of the complexity of the environment (layers, frames, nested movie clips, packages, etc). Most importantly don't ignore Actionscript 2.0 just because its older, AS2 will get you a lot of basic functionality very quickly that would take you two or three times more code in AS3.

    If you want to get into Flash without shelling out moneys I would highly recommend downloading the Flex 3 SDK and then getting Flash Develop, which is a lovely tool that hooks right into the SDK and uses it as a compiler for AS3. You can't do any of the precise animations and tweening that you could in the Flash IDE, but in terms of programming you can do almost anything in Actionscript 3 with it.

    Buy my very gently used Surface Pro 4 https://swappa.com/listing/BMW763/view
  • SlapnutsSlapnuts Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Wow Frylock. Thanks for taking the time to write all that.

    I'm going to follow about 100% of your advice as you seem to have nailed exactly what I need/want to do.

    There are some acts so ruthless, some deeds so unpalatable, that only the Vlka Fenryka are capable of undertaking them. It's what we were bred for. It's the way we were designed. Without qualm or sentiment, without hesitation or whimsy. We take pride in being the only Astartes who will never, under any circumstances, refuse to strike on the Allfather's behalf, no matter what the target, no matter what the cause.
  • SenshiSenshi Registered User
    edited May 2008
    I'm by no means a professional--and I probably never will be--but I know that learning by doing is in this case a pretty good idea. Frylock's comment about Creative Suite 3 is pretty much spot-on, that stuff is advanced, much too advanced for any kind of beginner, and when it boils down to it, you can do the same things in cheaper (even free) applications.

    Hell, I write my HTML in TextEdit, and it's fine for what I do.

    Anyway, like I said, learn by doing. What I do is generally webdesign, I dabble in development but it's really simple stuff (basic PHP, some SQL to work in tandem with it), nothing advanced. I manage fine, and people have complimented the stuff I do. It's sorta pretty, and it's got a robust base. Nothing fancy. This is because I've been doing this for a while, making websites, messing around, trying to implement new features, etc, etc. Start with the web, look up guides on HTML usage (not a "how to build a site" tutorial) and open up WordPad or whatever. Get familiar with expressing yourself in HTML, then move towards writing valid code (I really can't think of any reasons not to have proper, valid XHTML these days--use the W3C validator).

    You'll want to learn CSS, too, because it really makes a difference and is pretty much required these days. Back when I started with this stuff, it was all "make a table and put pictures in cells to make it look good". That doesn't even come close to flying these days. Easy as it may be, it's totally wrong. New revisions make it more and more functional, and this is all very good for you.

    To summarize, do pretty much exactly what Frylock is telling you to do: start off slow, find some material on writing (X)HTML and CSS, and start experimenting. You'll want to move to PHP and databases soon after.

  • flatlinegraphicsflatlinegraphics Registered User
    edited May 2008
    i'm all front end, design and some dev (build out). mostly learned by doing, as i was the only person in production at the old shop (really, really small agency).

    in addition to the above information, here are some web dev stuff and links (all free).

    firefox webdev toolbar. edit live webpages and css and see how things work, without actually changing the file. you can even edit other peoples pages and see how they work (obviously doesn;t actually change the file... but can be a real help tracking down css bugs)

    msft visual web dev express (and assorted other things). plus the msdn info, silverlight, etc.

    HTMLKit - advanced text editor with code highlighting and hints. a decent dreamweaver replacement/alternative:

    GIMP (possibly with the gimpshop theme) - graphic editing and production software. not as advanced as CS3 (by far) but Good Enough. esp for web graphics.

    if you go the route of the microsoft visual studio, you should be able to do everything on your own box. otherwise, you should set up a webserver of some kind. APACHE is a standard, but you may also have access to IIS (if you have win2k/XPPro). otherwise, buy a domain name and get some cheap hosting. html can be previewed just by hitting file->open at the top of your window. but any sort of active page will need a server.

    once you get going, you may want to invest in the big boys (CS3, Visual Studio, etc). but this should get you started.

  • HeartlashHeartlash Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Frylock's post needs to be stickied, bolded, and immortalized.

    Btw, if you want a nice, user-friendly tutorial site to get started with html/css, I highly recommend www.w3schools.com

  • SlapnutsSlapnuts Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Heartlash wrote: »
    Frylock's post needs to be stickied, bolded, and immortalized.

    Yes. And the title of the thread should change to Beginning Website Design.

    There are some acts so ruthless, some deeds so unpalatable, that only the Vlka Fenryka are capable of undertaking them. It's what we were bred for. It's the way we were designed. Without qualm or sentiment, without hesitation or whimsy. We take pride in being the only Astartes who will never, under any circumstances, refuse to strike on the Allfather's behalf, no matter what the target, no matter what the cause.
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