Since the beginning of the web, it has been a tradition for designers and developers to share knowledge and keep learning out in the open. For that reason, there are a number of resources available to anyone who wants to learn web development from scratch. Over the years, various programs have emerged which allow you to learn the basics of web development, build a portfolio, and start on your career.
Why Learn Development Online
Online learning runs a bit counter to the traditional four year university program. Until a few years ago, it was close to impossible to find a web development course in a traditional college setting. In recent years, this has gotten a bit better, but learning web development still requires a lot of self-motivation.
As a still emerging field, your skills as a web developer are often evaluated by the strength of your portfolio rather than your credentials. Building up samples of work is going to be your most valuable asset in the field, and experience is paramount. This isn’t to write-off entirely the value of a proper college education. Rather, it’s to tell you that if you cannot attend a regular university, or have chosen to study something else there, then you are far from lost. A good amount of the web community are self-learners, myself included. The best way to build websites for a living is to start building websites on your own. The strength of your skills, and your own motivation, will be the strongest factors in how far you are able to take it.
Fortunately, there are lots of online resources that can help you get started. We are lucky to be working in an industry that is growing exponentially, and the skills needed are out there for you to learn. But you also will be required to drive yourself and push to complete your skill set. For those hungry to acquire knowledge, and eager to get started, there are several places where you can learn web development right away.
One of the leading premium online learning resources is Treehouse. The program comes at a monthly cost with two pricing tiers. It works by guiding you along various “tracks” which are meant to teach you a specific skill or programming language from beginner to advanced. In each track, you will take several courses with videos from an instructor, accompanied by structured code walkthroughs and sample quizzes to keep you on pace. Treehouse has tracks that can help with all aspects of building websites and apps, from building the most basic website with no knowledge of HTML or CSS to back-end languages and iOS app development.
Treehouse comes closer then most at replicating an actual university structure, as it’s tracks are highly structured and assume no previous knowledge. But it will be up to you to make sure you keep up with a course, and engage with all of the examples provided. But Treehouse also gives you access to a lot of external resources related to learning, including small workshops, a library of books and audiovisual materials, and exclusive conferences. And as you gain more experience, Treehouse also offers help with job placement and internships, which is a pretty big bonus.
Lynda is a bit like Treehouse, in that it offers a range of video courses taught by online instructors for a monthly fee. However, rather then break things into tracks, Lynda simply gives you access to thousands of courses which range from beginner to intermediate to advanced. Lynda is not just focused on web development, and has courses on animation, photography, film, music, and even education. But Lynda’s core strength and most comprehensive course offerings are available in web design and development. To get started, you simply need to find the course you want and take it.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to jump straight into things, and works best by example, then Lynda is probably the right choice for you. It will offer you a full range or learning opportunities, and you can work at whatever pace you feel comfortable with.
Udemy serves as more of a platform then a structured approach to learning. Using Udemy, instructors can set up courses which are meant to be extremely comprehensive and independent learning tracks that teach you a particular skill. Like Lynda, Udemy offers a wide range of course offerings, both in web development and related fields. The strength of Udemy courses rests on the skills of the instructor, so before taking a course there it is worthwhile to research the instructor’s credentials.
Codeacademy is another course-based online learning site, but it takes a slightly different approach. For one, it is completely free. And rather then offer you a set of videos to learn from, you are walked through interactive examples which get you coding right away. Each example will show another facet of a particular programming language, like HTML, CSS or PHP, and through these examples you build up knowledge of the code’s structure and semantics. Samples allow you to type code right in the browser, and your code is evaluated on the fly by the platform, accompanied by explanations and walkthroughs.
Without the background that comes through videos, you may miss some of the theory behind programming, but you will also get started building websites almost right away. And once you’ve learned how to use a language, it might be a bit easier to go out into the world and figure out the why.
Codeacademy has a fairly small number of courses available. Most teach a specific programming language from beginning to end, but the site also offers two courses on how to make a website with no knowledge of development at all. If you’re a “learn by doing” type, then Codeacademy might be the right way to go.
Each session has three speakers, at about an hour each. And Brian adds a unique twist to the site, by allowing you to attend the session live, and interact with the speakers in real time. After a session is over, it goes up on the site for purchase. WPSessions is in the midst of an expansion right now, and is going to offer more and more courses, comprehensive dives into different areas of WordPress development.
But the site also offers a premium option which takes a more course-based approach. You can choose to purchase individual courses, which will teach you a specific skill in web development, or subscribe to a monthly plan which gives you access to all of the courses. Tuts Plus focuses exclusively on web development, from design to the front-end to the back-end. It allows you to dive deep into a web development skill or programming language, and is one of the only learning resources out there that evaluate and demonstrate how to use various libraries out there, like Backbone, Ember, Laravel, Sinatra, Ruby on Rails, and a whole lot more. For an absolute beginner, Tuts Plus may be a bit advanced. It starts at about the novice level and goes up from there. But if you’re trying to expand your basic knowledge, and make really cool websites, Tuts Plus will show you how.
Khan Academy was founded by Salman Khan in 2006, and has since grown into a full non-profit online education platform. It offers courses in a range of subjects, though it’s focus tends to be on Math and Science. Each course has a series of videos that help you learn a new skill, and interactive challenges that guide you along.
CSS Tricks also has a premium section to it, known as “The Lodge”. For a monthly fee, you can get access to in depth screencasts and video tutorials. Chris often uses WordPress for his projects, so even when he is just talking about basic front-end code, it is often within the context of WordPress sites, which should give you a baseline of familiarity.
Codrops is a resource for web developers at any level, looking for a little inspiration. The site is filled with tutorials and code demos that push front-end code to the limit. Tutorials usually begin with a stunning demo, with animations, or transitions, or dynamic interactions. The demo’s focus on a sole feature, like adding an off-canvas menu, or a preloader. Then, the tutorial walks you through the code and shows you how to get the example up and running. All of the tutorials come with a code package that you can download and look through yourself, so you can see how it all comes together.
Codrops won’t take you from novice to expert, but it is great for those learners looking to stretch their imagination a bit. It takes a “do as I do” approach, coding things up using cutting edge technologies and best practices. One of the best ways to learn web development is to simply dig around existing code, and Codrops offers you lots of opportunities to do so.
You may be hesitant about starting a career in web development. But trust me when I say, getting started is the hardest part. There is a lot of ground to cover, but wrapping your head around the basics can be done fairly quickly. With just an afternoon of focused time, you can have your first, albeit very simple, website built. From there, it’s just a matter of practicing your skills with code until you feel comfortable. Hopefully, these resources can help you along the way.
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