Ten Things Every Beginning Developer Should Know

In the world of web development, there’s so much to look at and do, it can be confusing to decide where to start as a beginner. If you’re wanting to be a back-end developer, what languages do you learn? Do you learn HTML and CSS if you just want to work in PHP and Ruby? Should you learn basic design principles as well? Or, should you learn a little about everything?

A lot of people are afraid to jump into web development because of this choice paralysis. Depending on what they want to do, they hear endless opinions about how and where one should start.

I’ve been a front-end developer myself for over ten years, since I was in the sixth grade. So I’ve definitely been there at each language’s beginning. I was there when there were no standards or CSS, and I’m here now to tell you what’s really important to know if you want to be a developer.


1. Figure Out One Language (and just one!)

Forget about what everyone says about being a generalist, or knowing as many languages as possible. When we’re just babies, we don’t try to learn English, Spanish, French and Italian at once. We start with one language and we master that first. Then we move on.

The web is just like that. If you’re wanting to be a front-end developer, start with HTML first. Then learn CSS, then move on to Javascript or wherever else you’re wanting to move to.

If you have absolutely no clue on what you want to learn, you might have a bit more of a difficult start. There are tons of web languages out there and they all do something different. I would suggest finding something you really like online or on your computer, figure out what it’s written in and learn that. For example, if you’re a huge fan of iPhone games, figure out what language it’s written in and learn it.

Otherwise, just do a bit of research with each language and figure out which one looks cool. Yep, you can do that.

2. Web Standards & Best Practices Are Your BFFs

No matter what language you decide to learn, make sure you learn it correctly. Don’t start out learning HTML by coding sites into tables. Read up on the best practices and standards for your language and follow them to a ‘T’. It may feel like extra work in the short run, but I promise in the end it’ll make your life a lot easier–and the web a much better place.

3. Save the Flashy Stuff for Last

Yes, each language has something super cool. CSS has CSS3, HTML has HTML5, Javascript has jQuery and AJAX….however it’s important to start with the basics first and work your way up. No way should you be learning how to code the next Facebook if you can’t even figure out the standard “Hello World” echo.

4. Find Something You Like–and Copy It

No, I’m not suggesting that you steal. The way people learn is to emulate others. Babies learn to talk and smile and cry by imitating their parents. Artists learn how to draw by copying favorite drawings, and sometimes even starting out by tracing (that’s how I learned!). When I first learned HTML, the internet was still new and there wasn’t anything online to help. So, I found some websites with layouts I liked. I viewed their source and copied and pasted on to my own site. From there I changed the graphics and began by changing their HTML (coded tables!). This quickly taught me what happened when I moved a TR or a TD, or removed┬áproperties┬álike cellpadding.

Emulating sites for the sake of learning is the quickest way to learn any programming language out there. So just try it!

5. Soak in Information

Soak in as much information as you can about web development. Read books, watch videos, listen to podcasts and find articles and blogs online. This will also keep you up to date on new features and prevent your new skills from becoming stale. We all know the old guy who thinks because he knows Visual Basic from the 90’s, that that makes him a ‘webmaster.’ Don’t be that guy.

6. Learn How to Get Along with Designers

There I said it. Websites can’t exist with developers alone, designers are the skin to your developer bones. So many programmers I know can’t stand designers because designers are picky about the minute details and how things look, whereas we just care about how awesome it works. But believe me, you’ll need a designer some day to save your butt with a client. So learn how to get along well with them.

7. Learn to Build the Wheel–But Don’t Reinvent It

You should learn how to code anything in your chosen language, but that doesn’t mean you need to recode it every time you start a new project. Save code snippets and plugins for yourself that you can reuse with each project. Why recode a contact form or login script every time? This will decrease your coding time exponentially and cut down on errors and bugs.

8. The Right Tools Make All the Difference

Technically, you could code a full site on your plain text editor, but I don’t recommend it. Get yourself a proper IDE, whether free or paid. A good IDE will help you indent your code properly, highlight it for easy editing and check for errors. Try to get used to using one that will work with several, or all, code types.

9. Decide What Else to Learn–After Mastery

After you get good enough with your chosen language, now is time to figure out what’s next. If you want to niche yourself into one language, make sure you step your knowledge up and become an expert. If you want to learn another language or two, that’s great as well. Just wait until you know your original language well enough to work alone in it.

10. Just Get Started

I’m here to tell you a secret. It really doesn’t matter what language you learn or what ‘extras’ you learn either. All that matters in the beginning is that you just get started doing it. Now go and do!

Your Thoughts

Any other advice for the beginner developers out there?

Image by Sean K