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The basics of web development

What should be included in formal coursework - a realistic "bottom line"?

5:03 am on Aug 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I've been researching online certificate programs in web development at reputable universities, and I'm astounded at how much variation there seems to be in what are considered the "basics". Some pile on the courses in specific markup languages and/or programming languages, while others seem to feel that an intro to Dreamweaver (ack!) pretty much covers the territory... some aren't clear on the line between design and development... some require courses on the business/economic end of things as well as the technical... the more programs I look at, the more I'm flabbergasted at the differences. And unsure how to choose.

Yes, I know that I could learn the whole thing on my own, without ever taking a college course. My reason for choosing to go after a formal certificate in this case is largely psychological; I've been unemployed for a while, I feel like I need to push out into the world and get myself moving again. It's motivational. So:

On the one hand, I don't want to bother with useless fluffy coursework that reads like a "Web Pages For Dummies" manual, just to get a piece of paper with my name on it. I would like to make it worth my while, and worth my money, by actually learning a useful set of basics. I also don't want to pay a zillion dollars to study every single possible jot and tittle of stuff that I'll rarely use in the real world (and could easily learn elsewhere when I do need it). I'm not worried about squeezing in everything; I just want a good solid intro to the architecture of the web.

Is there any sort of a reasonable general consensus - or even a few clashing educated opinions - on what constitutes the best "basic preparation"? HTML obviously... CSS... but what about Perl? Flash? Java? And so on? I have some experience, but not enough yet to know what's really necessary/useful and what just gets a lot of lip service.

Thanks in advance for any help on this!


6:03 am on Aug 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

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One measure of the importance of different technologies is to go to forum index and observe Post counts.
6:14 am on Aug 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Welcome to the forums Valstarr!

As you're already well aware, it's an open ended question. What you 'need to know' depends on your goals, and your role.

Personally, in my role, I know mostly about HTTP / Server Side Scripting / Database design, and a smothering of SEO, but I work with other people who are more marketing orientated than myself. We outsource design. I can write HTML and
CSS but can't proficiently use CSS, and I'm rubbish at design :)

Taking the slightly archaic role title of 'webmaster' you could look down the forum index of WebmasterWorld [webmasterworld.com] and produce reasons for having 'need to know' information on each topic
. Anyone who has been working in webmaster related industries will know why each of these forums exist.

From your examples it looks like you're erring towards coding, both the server side and client side.

Aside from coding the site (which covers a very large topic area)... you're going to have to be aware of information architecture in general, which touches upon site navigation and usability. If your site is going to be in multiple languages, how would it be laid out?

There's also the consideration of hosting. Which OS to use, which web server, which scripting technologies, add-ons... the list goes on. A question of who maintains it (time and knowledge) is also a factor.

An SEO may want to tell you which country the server should be hosted in, why the layout of the site should have clean SEO friendly URI's, no session ID's, vanilla HTML hyperlinks, lots of text.

The SEO will also want a say in the content of the site, particularly page title's, headings and links. The SEO may (not) be the same person who writes the content, which can be a job on its own.

When a site is built, the visitors will need to come from somewhere. This will inevitably involve lots of online marketing, and some offline (perhaps suited to someone with those skills?). This can involve link campaigns, PPC, buying paid links, affiliate programs.. the list goes on.

Progress should be measured after taking the initial industry research (keywords, target market and the like)... so someone who is interested and knowledgeable in analytics will need to put some time in there.

Customer care/visitor support is also important, and is taught in a number of degrees as a module.

Finally, a basic knowledge of OS's is good, because your friend won't believe you're doing well in your new job if you can't fix their printer ;o) ... not good for the image.

I think, all things considered, you want to know the kind of things that get you 'excited' about work, where you're working towards something you think is of value to people, or will get you rich.

If the plan is to go it alone and attempt to carve out an income 'by making websites', I'd say that focusing on SEO and content would be the priority. There are so many good content management systems out there that have dealt with historical woes like bad URI's and the like, you can focus on providing valuable content which will be highly visible.

My 2 cents. Always a great question and always a number of answers.

6:16 pm on Aug 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Welcome aboard ValStarr.

I've been doing this for over 16 years; the more I learn, it seems the less I really do know. I program server side in Perl, PHP, ASP, a dab of cold fusion, clinet side in all (X)html flavors, Javascript, VB, Flash, design work.

I have, out of curiosity, reviewed college syllabus outlines, and sorry to the instructors that may come here - like many courses, the curriculum is filled with a lot of information that will secure a winning category on Jeaopardy but will be of very little use in the real world. Most of this information overload serves only to confuse the real point, what you are looking for:

a realistic "bottom line"?

Over the years I have discovered one basic truth, and that truth clobbered me in the least likely of pages - WebPagesThatSuck.com. There is an article there that describes fundamental truth, a truth so obvious it seems impossible any developer could overlook it. Yet I did, as many (dare I say most?) web sites seem to demonstrate. Paraphrased,

Your web site must solve problems of it's visitors. If it doesn't solve problems and solve them better than any other web site, it is destined to fail.

If there is a bottom line, a prime directive, a recipe for success, it is this. Doesn't matter if the problem is boredom (entertain me) consumer concerns (I need to buy/sell a...) or what. This is the "bottom line" IMO.

How you get there - two examples.

There is another thread here about a developer who doesn't know a lick of programming and has built a small fortune on open source and purchased programs. So you can re-invent the wheel and do it yourself (my mistake) or build your empire on the talents of those who have these tools in place.

The second example is a friend of mine who I initially met at a previous job. He was working for minimum wage in tech support. But he had an idea, and it was a deceptively simple one, but a good one. His web programming skills are minimal (but a genius applications programmer) and his design sense is zero. He just finished building his house and is a multimillionaire, in a space of less than three years.

Both seem to understand the least considered point of a web site, and have launched it into motion.

So the "bottom line" of my blathering is this, it doesn't matter how you get there, it's what your directives are. Program in whatever you like, it seems PHP/mySQL is the hot technology these days if you want to pursue this path, combined with staying up on W3C standards, etc. But at this stage of the Internet, you don't even need to.