Learning to develop web applications

So, years ago, I learned a little HTML. I checked out a few web sites that showed me the basics and I just barely began to understand. Having absolutely no programming experience, I had no place to start from. This spiked my interest and I enrolled in a community college course on basic web design. It really wasn’t a design course, since we never covered any design priciples. It was just an HTML course. I’ve still got the text book.

Having learned the basics, I had just enough to be dangerous. However, what was most important was that I had learned how to deconstruct a webpage. This was when my learning began. I probably learned more over the next few years, just from “View Source”-ing my way through a page. One big feature I never picked up on was CSS. There were more, but this one has come back to bite me on more than one occaision.

So, things have changed quite a bit. Now everyone is using PHP, or some other tool to make web development smoother. Of course CSS is important, and I’ve been in the dark. To top it off, these whole CMS apps have really emerged as a great tool for organizing information.

Well, back in 2005, when I launched my first podcast, I learned that blogging tools would serve the podcast well. So, I tossed together the easiest WordPress install I could find. But, as time drug on, I decided that I wanted to customize my WP. Not as many plugins existed yet, so I had to do it by hand. I checked out the wiki and slowly began to realize that I had a lot more to juggle this time around. The code I was reading was similar in style, but it wasn’t anything I had learned in HTML. I quickly discovered what similarities PHP had with HTML, and I found a some good online help to learn the basics of customizing WP.

The problem I found was that I had began to learn about just the code that was used in WP. This wasn’t helping me learn how to code in PHP, generally. Since I wasn’t learning good PHP skills, I still had to use help for any problem that emerged with my WP.  This began to frustrate me.

Additionally, I’ve been observing the amazing Web 2.0 shift. Great tools and services are started everyday. I’m a big fan of Zooomr, you know this. There’s others like Zoho, Pownce, Twitter, and Facebook. All of these, being web applications, were developed with some amazing tools that I want to learn.

Am I to become the next Kristpher Tate? Probably not. But much of the bread and butter of web development isn’t on the front page of anything huge. I just want to fit in.

Do you have any input for me? Where do you think I should start? I’m working on a follow up post, one that details my plan of attack. I’ve got a Lynda.com hook up, so I’ll be taking several of their online courses, to get started. Today, PHP basics.


Author: TREVOR

Leukemia survivor. Son of The Most High. Father. Man.

6 thoughts on “Learning to develop web applications”

  1. I’ll be following this topic with interest. After “playing” with HTML/CSS for several years, I’m wanting to learn more about the actual programming of web applications.

    This week I started my programming schooling with the book “Learn to Program” by Chris Pine (covering Ruby). I wanted a book that started at the beginning at didn’t rush though the basics. Even though I’ve been working with computers for almost 10 years (network administrator) I know ziltch about coding). In the past I’ve tried more advanced books only to get frustrated and move on. This book is very basic, but I’m excited to move on to the next step.

    I spent way too much time trying to figure out the “right” language to start with. Since web apps are what I’m interested in I wasn’t interested in C, etc. I went back and forth between Python and PHP and Ruby. Python comes highly recommended as a beginner language and with Django makes for powerful web apps. PHP popularity is a big bonus (any bookstore will have a shelf full to PHP books). End the end I decided it didn’t really matter what I started with, since once I’m comfortable with one, learning another will be much easier.

    In the end I chose Ruby because I liked the book and there is a lot of activity in the Ruby & Rails community.

    Have fun!


  2. I’m probably a little further behind you in the learning curve, but I also share the goal of being able to truly develop for the web, rather than just be a cookbooking super-user of WordPress and other content management systems.

    I’m a fan of online information and courses (which you’ve found) and book-driven learning. Sitting in a classroom drives me nuts.

    Good luck with your pursuits! And – welcome to the NW. 🙂


  3. Wow! These suggestions are great. I appreciate all of your input.

    @Bryan: It seems that you’re pointing me in the direction I thought I’d go. Django has a special place, but that’s only because I love Django Rienhardt’s jazz music.

    I think once I’m moved, Bryan, I’ll have to catch up with you for a photowalk.


  4. I would also suggest a start with PHP. RoR (Ruby on Rails) is very nice and attractive, but since I also am a fledgling I would say stay away from it. I read many RoR tutorials, books, posts, etc… but nothing really prepared me for the pain of a newbie trying to get my new web app live on the web. It was a friggin’ pain. Trust me.

    When I started looking into PHP I could instantly see its downsides. Repeating code here and there (but thats just a copy and paste issue), compared to RoR’s ‘D.R.Y.’ usage, and a few other small things. But for the most part, I am much, much more happy with its simplicity in going live with a web app. Drop the files onto just about any cheap hosted server, and you are up and running. No Mongrel, no stacks, none of the bs.

    My first project with PHP was a DVD cataloging app that I could log into and add my DVD titles in my collection, and then on the front side I could simply search, sort, and display the titles. Simple, but great for learning the basics.

    Start with PHP, then I would recommend something like the Django platform, that is my new hobby. It is also fairly easy to get up and running like PHP, and uses many of the same principals as RoR. Pownce was built using Django. Look into it.


  5. PHP is a good place to start. Once you get one one web development language under your virtual belt then other stuff isn’t difficult. My suggestion is to find something you want to do (like your own blogging app, perhaps) and dig in. That’s how I got started. I’ve rolled my own blogging app. The upside is that I can go in and make changes on the fly and I don’t have to wait for some provider to do it for me. The downside is that it’s a little more difficult to integrate some third-party features into the site. I’m struggling just a bit with coComment right now. It sorta kinda works, but I know it can be better. You can visit my site (plug, plug) and see some of the things I do.


  6. I have actually been investigating Ruby on Rails. I believe a lot of the newer startups have been built on this. I know that the 37Signals group who created Backpack, Highrise, and Basecamp used Ruby on Rails.


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