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Do You Want to Learn How to Program?

A question people regularly ask me is, “How did you get started with web design?” They’re looking to build their own web site, build a friend’s web site, maybe even build their own business.

It’s a great question. The economy is tough, but technology-related industries are thriving. In fact, there’s an unmet demand in the United States for web programmers who really know what they’re doing. I’m seeing this firsthand in the industry. If you’re good with code and know how to work with people, you’ll make better money than most bloggers. It’s not an attack on writers, it’s just a statistic.

Not only is web development lucrative, it’s personally rewarding. It’s difficult to describe the feeling when you build a web-based application that works and is heavily used.

There’s a lot of opportunity here, so where do you begin? Where did I begin?

First, I learned basic HTML and CSS really really well with this book: Build Your Own Website The Right Way Using HTML & CSS, 3rd Edition. You can land $1,000 Web design gigs with the skill sets of this book. Over the years I’ve seen many books on HTML and CSS, and none of them hold a candle to this one. It’s not a college textbook. It’s enjoyable to read and you actually learn stuff!

Once you have HTML and CSS down, you’re ready to begin web programming. There are dozens of programming languages you could start with, but I recommend PHP because it’s by far the most popular programming language for web application development. PHP is where the money is. eWeek has a great article listing the top 10 high-demand languages, and PHP is #1 on the list.

As you know, books are the fastest way to learn, and once again Sitepoint has hit a home run. Sitepoint’s Technical Director, Kevin Yank, has put the finishing touches on the 5th edition of his PHP & MySQL: Novice To Ninja. You can pre-oder the book like I did for $34. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

I’ve not read the fifth edition; how do I know it’s any good? Because I downloaded the first four chapters of the fourth edition for free from Sitepoint, and I learned how to build this and this (you’ll need to login for the second link).

Software development has a bright future, and if you love learning, you can be a part of it. Will you join me?

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11 Replies

  1. stu

    don’t fool the fools. it takes years to learn AND do it correctly. but they are fools, and will not listen to advice.

    1. Martyn Chamberlin

      I dearly hope this is a spam comment.

      1. I might disagree with the way he said it, but I don’t think it’s a spam comment. In some ways, stu is right: it takes years of experience to really learn Web Development principles and be able to apply them correctly.

        You can memorize whole books and attend countless courses, but experience can’t be learned, bought or achieved in any other way than practice. You must expose yourself to challenges, learn how to deal with them and, ultimately, make mistakes. Obviously, if you have a natural predisposition, everything will be easier, but there’s no “quick & easy” way to learn.

  2. Great article, Martyn.

    I also highly recommend SitePoint’s books on web design!

    1. Martyn Chamberlin

      Dude. You seriously ought to get the PHP bundle and learn with me.

  3. Great thoughts!

    Am sending this post as a link to my hubby – he’s interested in learning how to program without having to go back to school or something. This sounds good.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Martyn Chamberlin

      Sounds like a plan. 😉

  4. Hi Martyn,
    It’s nice to see that you’re making progress. However, I have two comments to make on what you wrote.

    As I mentioned in the past, a Web Designer and a Web Developer are two *different* people. To be an excellent Web Designer you require artistic creativity, knowledge of graphic design (and related tools) and, as you mentioned, the ability of transforming a nice design into proper HTML and CSS. Knowing a bit JavaScript would help too, to put together those fancy interfaces.

    A Web Developer, on the other hand, requires a different type of creativity, as his job is mainly “problem solving”. Databases, programming languages and software architecture are key aspects of a Web Developer. It doesn’t matter if he has no clue of how to create a glossy button, or if he believes that maroon, purple and lime green are a great colour combination, he must be able to design, implement and follow software logic.

    The reason why people tend to mix the roles is that they have some things in common: they both “produce” web pages. It’s not infrequent that a Web Developer has to take a PSD file and “slice it” to make it into a template, or that a Web Designer has to figure out why a page throws an error. However, they are distinct roles, which require different mindsets. In my 15+ years’ experience, I’ve met individuals who were from mediocre to average at both, but never excellent.

    Personally, I’m a Web Developer, and you can clearly see it if you look at my “designs”, and I’m happy to encourage you through this path. Challenging, but rewarding (if you like it, that is). :)

    1. Martyn Chamberlin

      Interesting. I don’t think I’ve had this explained as clearly before. This explains why some sites are so downright ugly but they’re technically awesome. It also explains a few of my friends …

      Web designers don’t make as much as web developers, do they? Do you think this is fair? Curious what your thoughts are on this.

      1. Web Designers can actually make more than Developers, if they are skilled. The key here is being skilled and really creative, which means forgetting about “taking inspiration” from the hundreds ready-made templates on the market and changing a few colours.
        Also, everybody is able to put together a PSD image and walk away. That’s the easy part. A good Designer should be able to implement his design as a theme for the target platform. This, in turn, means learning some coding and understanding what can be and cannot be done in various circumstances.
        Add cross-browser testing to the above, and you’ll see that Designers can earn good money.

        I could go on further, but the topic is too complex for a comment. I may write something about in on my blog, perhaps you’ll find it interesting.

  5. Very awesome and inspiring article. I’ve been learning HTML and CSS, and was wondering if that is the best place to start. This article def helped give me some direction and valuable resources to check out.

    Thanks for writing and sharing this, Martyn! Really appreciate it.