One Book to Rule Them All

You would think that with all the resources online to learn how to code it would be hard to find a book that could compete with the immersive experience that the web offers.

And you would be wrong.

If any newcomer wanted to learn HTML and CSS  and they asked me where they should start, I would point them to a handful of online resources (Hello Treehouse, Codecademy, Shay Howe and Dash).

I would also include a book.  Yes, a book.

Jon Duckett’s HTML and CSS: Design and Build Websites is unlike any other book I’ve read on HTML and CSS.

It is beautifully laid out, presents information at an even pace and makes use of colors, typography, layout and all the attributes that HTML and CSS make possible on the web to make learning front-end skills a pleasure.  And it’s a book.

But wait, there’s more…

Mr. Duckett just released his next book that covers Javascript and jQuery.

Which means once you get your HTML and CSS ninja skills you can jump to Javascript and jQuery and make your beautiful sites truly interactive.

I just received my copy today and I’ll be sure to share a review once I finish it.  Stay tuned.


Contact Forms with PHP

I’m in the middle of the WordPress Development track on Treehouse and so excited to get a proper introduction to PHP.  I had started the PHP track on Codecademy, but stopped mid-stream to switch to the Javascript module I’m currently in on that site.

PHP is my first introduction to a server-side language and luckily for me the syntax makes sense, so far at least.  That is one benefit of having already completed the Web Design and Front-end Development tracks on Treehouse.

I had always wondered how an HTML document “sent” its information to a server and luckily for me I learned how when we recently covered adding a contact form to the t-shirt shop website we are building.

The proverbial light went off and another small part of the front-end suddenly made sense to me.

I covered forms while learning HTML, but seeing how a small HTML snippet made up of label tags, input types, names and id’s could connect to a PHP snippet that Posts that name information filled in some huge blanks in my code knowledge.

Sorry if my code example is janky, I promise to get on Codepen this week and start showing some classy code examples.

Nonetheless, seeing how plain, old HTML “connects” with PHP really got the gears moving for me and made me even more exited to keep building on top of the HTML, CSS and Javascript knowledge I’ve accrued so far.

It’s great when one language you are familiar with gets built upon or connected to another you are just learning.  It reminded of how I felt when I learned that classes and id’s from CSS could be used in jQuery.

I know I have a ton more to learn, but little achievements and connections like these really make learning to code exciting every day.

Learning to Code – Inspiration

Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.

-Jim Rohn

Sometimes all the fire and motivation in my learning to code journey seems to ebb.  It could be a long night taking care of our 9 month old son, it could be a rough day at the office or it could be just one of those days when I have a case of the Mondays (HT Office Space).

When I hit those rough patches it helps to take a quick break and find some coding inspiration.

If you are like me it just feels good to read about other people who were once in your position who learned how to code and are finding success in the industry.

Below are three links that I think will help anyone dream of better days and get back to the business of changing their life through learning how to code.

1.  Riley Hilliard – How I Learned to Code in 10 Months

I don’t remember how I came across Riley’s site, but his detailed explanation of how he learned to code is always motivating to me.  He talks like someone who cares about the success of others and is using his knowledge and skills to help those who are coming after him.  I’ve never met the guy, but I consider him an inspiration and role model.

2.  Joshua Kemp – How a Blacksmith Learned to Code

Imagine getting kicked by a horse and 9 months later getting a junior developer job.  Joshua Kemp did it and his story is not only inspiring, but full of helpful hints for those focusing on Ruby and Ruby on Rails.  Reading his blog almost makes me want to change my learning plan and jump ahead to Ruby.  Almost.

3.  Codecademy – Codecademy Stories

When I first found this page on Codecademy’s site I spent the time to read every single story.  Reading about people just like me who changed their lives by learning to code motivates me every single time.  I’ve also gotten into the habit of following other learning sites RSS feeds just so I can read stories like these.  I recommend you do the same so that when you need that burst of motivation you know where to look.

Those are just three of the sites I go to when I need some inspiration in my learning to code journey.  I plan on creating an Inspiration/Motivation page on my site so others can have a place to come when the motivation engine is running low on fuel.

In the meantime code on and if I can help in any way just reach out to me here or on Twitter at @feardatree.



Popping a Wheelie

One of my favorite podcasts is Reuben Ingber’s How to Hold a Pencil.  He continues to deliver interesting interviews with web designers and developers with a focus on how they got started and how they learned the skills they have today.

I highly recommend it to my fellow coding beginners.

I was listening to his latest episode with Aubrey Johnson and heard them talk about an issue I faced when I began learning how to code.  And still do to some extent.

Aubrey called it a “Pop a Wheelie” moment.  He went on to explain that when he was so excited to learn to code and his motivation was at its highest the problem with the resources he was using was they showed you the basics of how to ride a bike – whichis boring if not terrifying in my opinion – when they need to show you how to pop a wheelie.

I couldn’t agree more.

Software is eating the world and there is a huge gap between what companies need (more programmers) and what those learning to code need (some inspiration) and if we solve the second problem we just might start solving the first.

I’m not arguing that every new student of code needs to think they are the next internet hero, but if code is beautiful beginners need to see how that beauty can come from them if they learn the skills to master it.

The wheelie might not get us through the dark times (and here I equate dark times to searching for that missing ; or ? or / or #), but it would help stoking that passion when it is most needed – in the beginning of our journey.

I’m still trying to learn to ride the coding bike, but I know I have a few wheelies in me and I think Threehouse and Codecademy and CodeSchool and Skillshare and all the rest would be well served to remember that a small push in the beginning can pay huge dividends down the road.  For them and their wheeling-searching students.


Resistance is Futile

I read a great book a couple of years ago called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  In it he talks about Resistance.  He defines Resistance as anything that keeps us from achieving our dreams.

The beauty of his argument is that Resistance is not an exterior force, but all the thoughts, emotions and millions of excuses that we create ourselves that keep us from achieving our goals.

I thought about this book recently because I can feel the Resistance building in me when it comes to my learning to code journey.  I know enough HTML/CSS, web design best practices and even Javascript that I could technically build a website.  I’m not talking about a massive responsive design behemoth, but rather a small multi-page site that I would be proud of.

But I haven’t.

And I like to think that I have so much more to learn (I do) and with all my work, family and social commitments I can’t squeeze the time out of an already hectic schedule.

The reality is though that I’m afraid to build something and have it look amateur.  The truth is I am an amateur and until I build things (and break them?  No, I’ll leave that to FB), I will be doing myself a disservice by learning all these great skills and letting them atrophy and wither away.

I’ve learned three cool things in the last ten years.  Golf, poker and Crossfit.  All very different and all opened up new and exciting worlds to me.  But I wouldn’t have learned anything about any of them if I didn’t try.

A golfer who doesn’t golf isn’t a golfer.  And a coder who doesn’t code is what, a project manager?  Kidding.

So along with my regularly scheduled Treehouse and Codecademy lessons, and my reading sessions and my late night surfing of Medium, Zite and Feedly, I need to make the time to build.

A goal without a date is a dream and another chance for Resistance to win.  So by the end of this month (July 2014) I will have my personal site at up and ready to show off.

It’s time to Build!  Resistance is futile and I won’t let it or me stand in the way anymore.

Learn to Code HTML & CSS

One issue I had when I first started learning how to code was where to begin.

To hear the old-timers tell it back in their day you didn’t have all these free resources and learning videos and electricity like we do now.

That may or may not be true, but having too many resources can deliver a set of problems just as frustrating as having too few.

In order to deliver some value to my millions of readers I’ll cover some of the resources that I’ve found the most helpful in my coding journey.

Your situation may be 180 degrees different from mine, but having limited time and money is a universal problem and these free and/or low-cost resources are perfect for those bootstrapping their own coding education.

One great resource I came across when I first started learning to code was Shay Howe’s Learn to Code HTML & CSS online tutorial.  I’m such an old-timer myself that when I read the lessons (they are all in text format) there were 10 lessons.  He has since added 2 new lessons for a total of 12.

The lessons are quick reads on different topics in HTML and CSS and are perfect to read during a work break or lunch hour.  And he includes helpful links at the end of every lesson for further study.

Once you finish the beginner module there is another module of 10 lessons on advanced HTML & CSS in Learn to Code Advanced HTML & CSS.

I just started this module but expect more great content from Shay.  I see he wrote a book as well called “Learn to Code HTML & CSS”.  That is what makes this community so great.  He has already delivered a ton of free, useful content and knowing his lessons are so beneficial makes me want to buy his book even more.

You can’t go wrong with reading these tutorials and they won’t cost you a dime other than a half hour here and there.

My learning style is to immerse myself in whatever skill I am learning and Shay’s HTML & CSS tutorials are a perfect fit as I began to make sense of the nuances in HTML and CSS.

Before you shell out any money for books, videos or any kind of learning technologies go old school and read the great content Shay has delivered.  You will not be disappointed.




Learning to Code Journey

The first of July 2014 is an appropriate time as any for an update on my coding journey.

I’ve finished two tracks on Treehouse, Web Design and Front-end Web Development.  I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time the only way to properly describe it is using the following metaphor (or is it an analogy/simile/oh, who cares…) – I’ve come a 100 miles in the last month and a thousand in the last six months, but I know now I have a million miles to go.

I’ve started the WordPress Development track which means I finally started looking at some server-side language in PHP.

The absolutely amazing thing is seeing how HTML, CSS and Javascript fit together.  Then you throw in some Sass, along with jQuery and you start going.  But wait, there is more.  How about working from the command line and getting your Git on.  And then boom here comes PHP to build it out.

I’ve decided that my big picture learning plan will combing front-end (HTML/CSS/Javascript/jQuery) and WordPress in the middle (which I’m doing right now and will help me with some other blogs I manage) and close out with back-end stuff in PHP, Ruby (Rails), Python and touch on some MySQL and API work.

I know I should focus, but I’m a generalist in life and I figure why not shoot for that full-stack unicorn status. Maybe one bed will be too lumpy, but I have to sleep in it first to find out.

The main driver is just the wealth of resources available on Treehouse, Codecademy and the internet.  Google is indeed my friend.  I will consume everything they have to offer first and see what speaks to that little programmer in my head who whispers for loops in my head like “You can and will do this”.

The reader paying close attention will notice I left out mobile (Swift, anyone?).  I think I’ll get there, but I have so much to learn that I’m taking the tortoise approach and hoping slow and steady will win the race.

I also need to start building stuff, using Codepen and Github to show it off.  I won’t be that life-long learner that consumes knowledge, but doesn’t do anything worthwhile with it.  And the whole purpose of this exercise is to make a career pivot and that means building up my portfolio.

Finally, getting a feel for the rhythm of coding and seeing how the languages work together has been amazing.  Wait, I can use classes and id’s in jQuery???  Mind = blown.

At the same time I want to leave a learning road map behind me so anyone who wakes up one day at 40 (or 20, 30, any age really) might not make the mistakes I made and go down the wrong alleys I did as I create this part of my life.

And now, a story.  I played in a poker tournament once when I first started learning how to play cards and I won the thing.  The funny part is years later after I learned the “right” way to play poker I realized I would have never played the way I did in that first tournament.

I had forgotten what it was like to be a beginner and this site and these posts will be my breadcrumbs to not only those that come after me, but to my future, wise programmer self on what it took to learn a valuable skill with life happening all around me.

Speaking of life happening, the baby is crying, gotta go…



Nobody Cares

I finished Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers a few weeks ago.

I can usually judge a book by how many sections I highlighted.  1-10 highlights, just OK.  More than 30, great book.  I probably have 50 from this book.

One section that caught my eye was some advice Al Davis, one-time owner of the Oakland Raiders, gave a young Bill Parcells after Parcells told him he didn’t know how he could win with all the injuries he had on his team.

Davis told him, “Bill, nobody cares, just coach your team.”

Horowitz goes on:

That might be the best CEO advice ever.  Because, you see, nobody cares.  When things go wrong in your company, nobody cares.  The media don’t care, your investors don’t care, your board doesn’t care, your employees don’t care, and even your mama doesn’t care.  Nobody cares.  Because in the end, nobody cares; just run your company.

I’ve been sick the last few weeks, work is getting tough, this blog has suffered and most importantly I haven’t been working on my coding skills.

But nobody cares.

And that is OK, because I want to learn how to code, make this a great blog for those starting their coding journey, be great at my job and feel healthy for myself.

It’s OK that nobody cares, because I care.  And if I care enough to fix things and keep my eye on the long-term benefits of learning to code I’ll just see these past few weeks as a blip in my journey.

Just run my company.  And that company is me.


Learning to Code – 4/12/14

I finished the HTML piece of my Web Design track last Friday.  So long @nickrp, you will be missed.  Treehouse is my defacto training source currently, as I’ve been away from Codecademy for a few weeks now.  I think the short (5-10 minute) videos on Treehouse, along with the quizzes and objective challenges are great for those short bursts of time where I can focus, complete something and then move on.

I continue building my library of coding books, technology books, design books and business narratives.  I finished 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know last week.  I’ll try do to at least a short review of every book I read.  97 Things seemed more geared toward an experienced programmer, but as part of my immersion program I’ll read everything and anything I can get my hands on.

I’m going to try to build out my lesson plan section of this site to include all the websites, tutorials, books, podcasts and whatever else I’m finding useful on my coding journey.  I know personally that there is so much material out there that just knowing where to jump in is a big decision itself.  I want to make that decision easier for others.

Finally, I heard a great interview on Dann Berg’s Novice No Longer Podcast with Steve Young (no, not that Steve Young sports fans) from Mobile App Chat.  Steve talked about wanting to start a podcast for a long time, but it wasn’t until he just booked a guest that he figured out what he had to do to actually record a podcast.  I loved that he just jumped in and it was either sink or swim.

He also talked about going from someone with a passion for a subject to an expert just by hanging out and interviewing other experts in the field.  I have no designs to start a podcast, but that mindset can be helpful in so many ways when we are trying to go from beginner to pro.

That’s it for now.  I’ll try to post more, even if they are shorter updates.  

My coding journey continues and I wish you all the best on yours.