So you’re thinking of becoming a web developer, huh? Or maybe you’re just interested in learning some coding techniques to make your WordPress blog your own. Either way, I have a secret for you: Learning how to build websites is actually not that hard. In this series of posts I will offer some suggestions and resources for starting your journey in the world of web development.
I will admit that coding is definitely a skill and that some people don’t have the problem-solving mindset of a developer. But, for the most part, learning to code is a fairly easy task with practice. Best of all, you can learn for free thanks to the wonder that is the internet.
Take, for example, my first experience with web development. As a junior in high school I was asked to design and code a website for my school corporation. Being completely and utterly unfamiliar with how to build a website, I turned to every do-it-yourselfer’s best friend: YouTube.
Over a four-day period I watched a video series (which, sadly, I can no longer find) about building a website from scratch. One month later, my first website was designed, built, approved, and launched.
The Web Dev 101 series of posts will offer some starting points for an aspiring web developer with resources to get you up and running, as well as my suggestions to help you along the way. In this first post we’ll cover basic software that every web developer needs.
So now that you’re ready and convinced you can learn to code, strap on your backpack, grab your lunchbox, and follow my tips to getting started as a web developer.
Web development is somewhat unique in that it’s a business that incurs almost no overhead expenses. In fact, you can create an entire website with only the cheapest computer you can find and the text editor software that comes pre-installed with the operating system.
That being said, you’re probably going to want something a little better than the basic text editor for more detailed coding. There are countless cheap or free text editors available for download. Some popular options include:
- Sublime Text (free trial; $70 for continued use)
- Atom (free)
- Notepad++ (free)
- Brackets (free)
- Dreamweaver (free trial; $49.99/month thereafter with Creative Cloud)
Sublime Text is my text editor of choice and is what I use in my freelance work. I haven’t evaluated many of the other options in the list because I found Sublime and fell in love. It’s free to try, but the developers ask that you purchase a license for continued use. It’s definitely worth it, though, because Sublime is completely customizable and comes with a huge repository of free plugins and other add-on features. Look for more tips on using Sublime Text in a future post.
A note on Dreamweaver: Dreamweaver is less of a text editor and more of a full-on developing suite. It comes bundled with a lot of additional features that could come in handy (but few of which I ever used). If you find yourself needing those features at some point, it might be worthwhile at that time to pay for a Creative Cloud license. But be warned: Dreamweaver is a bit of a hefty program. (Adobe, I love you, but your programs are resource hogs.)
One imperative step in the web development process is testing your finished product for cross-browser compatibility. That means making sure your website looks the same (or at least functions) in every heavily-used web browser. For that, you’ll need to have many different browsers installed on your computer.
It can be a little tricky to decide which browsers—and which version of that browser—you need to test. Services like CrossBrowserTesting let you test many different browsers at once, and you can avoid having to install lots of software on your machine. Services like these, though, aren’t free.For the frugal developer, stick to installing the most commonly used browsers and versions. Keep in mind that it’s impossible to support every browser and version in existence, but do your best to support as many as you can. The browsers I recommend installing and testing are:
There are a few other applications that you may find useful as you begin developing websites, but we’ll cover those more specific software packages in future posts. For now, decide which text editor suits you best and get familiar with its interface so you’re ready to hit the ground running when it comes time to code.