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If you are a novice developer, it might be confusing about where you should start, because the field is broad and provides many options for you. There are so many questions you might ask yourself, such as “What programming language should I learn?” or “Should I also know front-end, or only back-end?” And I am sure there are much more than that. Well, in order for you to be able to start with an advantage against the others, I’ve decided to help you start your career as a developer with the following list of tips.
When starting out as a developer, you really need to focus on something and avoid being too much of a generalist. There is nothing wrong with knowing more programming languages, but it is always an advantage if you are outstanding in one of them. There is nothing wrong with being outstanding in all of them either, but you can’t really do this in the beginning, therefore focus all your efforts on learning a skill and market yourself as an expert in that field. It can be PHP, Ruby on Rails, ASP.net or C#, but be good at it…really good! After you master one of them, you can obviously move on, but don’t do this until you have strong knowledge in that field.
Image by: zerolein
Now because you are a beginner and do not know anything about hardcore programming languages, it might also be a difficult choice for you, but there is a solution. Think of what you want to develop – if it’s WordPress themes, then dig into PHP; is it custom management systems, then try ASP.net; is it iPhone games, then learn C# and so on. Just do a bit of research about what each language can do and start learning.
Another tip for you beginners out there is, regardless of what language you choose, to learn it correctly. If you learn HTML by coding with tables, it is just not right and experts will for sure agree with me. Coding using the latest web standards seems useless to some, but it is really important and I advise you to do it. It will not only improve the loading speed of your product, it will also be easier and it will make more sense.
It doesn’t really matter what kind of problem you have, I am sure Google can solve it. I am also a very big fan of Coding Forums and I strongly recommend you use it if you encounter problems – and you will, believe me. But before posting a question on the forum, try to search for a solution on Google, because most of the time you will find an answer to your question, or at least an answer that will guide you to solving the issue.
Image by: ahmetbroge
This goes mostly for designers, but sometimes developers have knowledge of front-end design and make their own layouts before starting to code them. I encourage you to look through other pages and how they are coded. If you like the style of a container, look at its source and analyze it. Firebug works just great in this case. Let’s face it, this is the way most people learn how to code. What I don’t advise you to do is to steal the design. This matter is unforgivable and shows a lack of respect, but I don’t see any problem in borrowing snippets of code from here and there. If a design can be copyrighted as someone’s, code can’t, so you are not doing anything illegal either. I might stir some controversy with this one, but I will stand by what I said: copy code from here and there, this is the way to learn how to do it properly – but don’t ever steal a design.
Another important thing is to have a network within your field of knowledge. It never hurts to know fellow developers and designers – worst case scenario, you have to go back and search Google for the answers you need, best case scenario you have some interesting discussions and can get help if you need it. You may even collaborate with your fellow developers on bigger projects, which will probably be good for both of you.
My design teacher always told me to have a network and recommend each other. Are you close to landing a project but you are not sure if you can handle the type of work that’s involved? Recommend your friend! He will probably do it better than you (if he is an expert in that specific area) and you might get clients or work from him too at some point in time. Get a network and keep it close, there is always need for a fellow developer around.
I advise you to understand designers in case you have no idea how they work. I am talking about both graphic designers and front-end designers. It is always good to learn how they work and why they might deliver static pages that can’t really be coded according to the latest web standards. Learn how to talk to them and explain what was wrong and nicely ask them to fix their mistakes. This way your working relationship will be closer and your results better.
Although HTML and CSS can be used with notepad, I don’t recommend it. And if I don’t think that you can code properly in HTML and CSS using notepad, then I definitely don’t think you can use this default tool for PHP, ASP.net or Ruby. Get yourself a professional tool, which can be Dreamweaver, Coda or anything else, but use what professionals use, otherwise you are not one of them. They check errors, help you with auto complete and give you suggestions. There is a reason why Dreamweaver and Coda are the two most used IDE’s (integrated development environment) in the World – they get the job done in style. So go right now and get you the right tools if you don’t have them.
It is always good to stay informed about what is happening in the field. You can do this either by reading news feeds, online blogs or even books and video tutorials. Stay updated and make sure you are one of the first to go out there and offer products developed with the latest technology. In the beginning it might not work that much (people might want to keep the “old” technologies until the new ones show their worth), but I am sure there are also people who want to own a brand-new product developed with the latest technologies – this will give you an advantage and will make you known in the field.
After you become a master in the field you started with, work your way up with other languages. There are so many of them and knowing more than one will always be beneficial in your career. Keep an eye on the most important languages and learn the one you think is more interesting. When you master two, go on with the third and so on. Continue this until there is not much else to learn – although this is quite impossible. This is the way to success.
It is quite common that beginner developers have a rough time starting in this deep field, but I hope these tips help you find your way around. It does not even matter that much where you start from, all that matters is that you actually start. I think this usually takes the most time, so don’t waste these precious days and head off and find your first developer book right away!
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Christian Vasile is an enthuziastic Romanian web designer currently living in Denmark. He is passionate for the industry and writes about design, usability, coding and freelancing and is a regular publisher here at 1WD. You can follow him on Twitter at @christianvasile or visit his web portfolio by clicking on the link above.