On Web Education

This month’s #startYourShift topic is “Web Education”.

During my junior year in college, in October 2001, I was hired as a sales associate at a mini Staples located in the Pittsburgh International Airport. Yes, at one point, there was a Staples inside the Pittsburgh International Airport. The airport was a very quiet place in October 2001. People were avoiding flying, and the major airlines had gone through rounds of layoffs as a response. Additionally, nearly all of the airport’s stores were inaccessible to the general public. If you weren’t flying or if you weren’t an airport employee, you weren’t reaching our store. So, I had a lot of time on my hands during shifts.

During those shifts at work, and when I wasn’t in class, I was pouring over two resources: Designing with Web Standards and later, in 2003, CSS Zen Garden. (Business didn’t pick up much during my time at the airport)

I would literally PRINT out the source code from CSS Zen Garden designs and try to match the markup with the CSS, and then I’d try to reverse engineer the designs and rebuild them on my own in an old, pirated copy of Dreamweaver. But: I was learning by doing. None of my friends or family were doing the things I was doing, so I had to teach myself, and seek out my own answers.

Learning in this way made me want to understand every part of the things I was building. I wanted to know the whys and the hows behind the markup and CSS that I was putting on the page. Learning in this way also taught me about patience and persistence: I could spend hours or days not fully understanding something, only to have things click suddenly, and then cause me to want to go over it again to understand the whys and the hows.

As the years have gone by, our tools have become much better. For me, browser developer tools are a Godsend (far better than printing out HTML and CSS, no?). Our resources have become much better (and maybe a little overwhelming), too. But, for the self-learner, there has probably been no better time than now to start learning about building for the Web.

To those self-learners, I urge the following: be PATIENT. Become comfortable with the feeling of not knowing everything. But, always be curious, and strive for continual improvement. When you figure things out: see if others need help! That’s what this community really is all about. Also: go to meetups, read blog posts and forums, read other folks’ code, get lost in web design inspiration galleries, follow inspiring people on Twitter. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a breath and go back to the basics.

You’ll be amazed at what you can learn.