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October 6th, 2015

Getting Started...

Hello there! This being my first post and first attempt at blogging, I’ll introduce myself. My name is Philip Bowles and I’ve decided to record my journey to becoming a web developer. I’m 30 years old and have been in retail management for the last 8 years. Looking for a career change, I began playing with websites about 3 years ago on the side because I remembered how much I enjoyed it when I was younger. I think back to middle school where I was tinkering with html table layouts that I would use to build simple hobby websites on my free Geocities account.

So when I came back to this world of web development, I was surprised to find how much had changed with the introduction of CSS3 and all the JavaScript that was in use. Blinking text and marching ant borders were a thing of the past and responsive web design was gaining steam. It seemed like a very exciting time to be involved in this community. When I say community, I almost found myself using the word industry instead. The web development industry is most certainly a community and one of the best that I’ve experienced. The openness and willingness to share information and technologies throughout the community is simply amazing. It is such a welcoming community to newcomers that it makes is almost too easy to get started.

So I began my journey in June 2012 starting out on Team Treehouse and a number of books that I quickly purchased on Amazon. I was reading and watching everything I could, much faster than I could possibly absorb and retain all of the information. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. I was in full on “learn everything” mode and unfortunately forgot to learn the most important thing that I love to hear Chris Coyier and Dave Rupert say on the Shop Talk Show podcast: “Just build websites”.

My First Opportunity

Roughly six months into my smorgage board of learning, I finally began to work on something. My wife works for a small local chain of restaurants and their website needed a facelift. My first opportunity! I quickly realized something about myself that I would struggle with repeatedly up until now - Not having content to work with makes it very difficult for me as a person to create a website (I’ll come back to this later but it is an important point in my experience). I was able to come up with something that I was proud of while creating it. With limited resources, limited knowledge, and limited content I felt like it was a significant improvement over the previous site.

Shortly after pushing the site live though, I changed my mind. I had built something that wasn’t responsive. Having just learned all about responsive design and the importance of it, I decided right then and there that I was only going to build responsive sites. So I scrapped the whole thing and started over. A few months later I finished up and was much happier with the final product. After completing this project, I went back to my binge learning. This time with PHP, Javascript, and anything else I could wrap my brain around at the time. I learned a lot, and I’ve retained some of the concepts and material, but overall I did not learn enough of it to be useful because I was not building websites with it. I would jump from book to book, tutorial to tutorial, whatever I could get my hands on. (Note: I will add links to both websites soon when I get the portfolio site live).


Then there were the tools…Oh how I love tools. This is something that oddly enough, I find carries over from the digital world to the real world quite accurately. Having begun to learn woodworking in the last year, I find myself overwhelmed and in love with all of the many tools available. There’s literally a tool for everything! I had what Dave Rupert likes to call FOUTWT: Fear Of Using The Wrong Tool. Trying to learn all of the tools for the job had sidetracked me from actually building websites. There are new tools being introduced every day to fill someones need. While it is a wonderful thing and the tools can be extremely useful and time saving, they can also be a huge deterrence from someone just getting started. All of the many tools available can keep you from just building websites. It took me a long time to learn from this mistake as well…

There’s literally a tool for everything! I had what Dave Rupert likes to call FOUTWT: Fear Of Using The Wrong Tool.

Eventually, I stopped trying to use the latest and greatest tool for the job and just went back to using plain old html and css. I had forgotten how simple things could be and how much faster it would be to just throw an index.html and styles.css together into a folder and start creating something! While I’ve since become much more comfortable with things such as the command line, sass, and git, learning these tools set me back on learning the more important basics of web development. After finishing up version 2.0 of the NBN website, I did not create anything else for awhile. Work interfered, life interfered, and I just casually toyed around with things now and then. During these years leading up to today, I had learned quite a few web technologies through many different avenues.

Team Treehouse, Codeacademy, Pluralsight, Udacity, Udemy, and countless books. HTML, CSS, SASS and LESS, Javascript, jQuery, PHP, Wordpress, Git, CLI, Photoshop, Illustrator. I had learned the basics of each but never really solidified any of them other than HTML and CSS. So after a three year journey of learning as a hobby and not really building much, I decided it was time to get serious about things if I really wanted to switch careers and become a web developer full time.


That brings me to where I am today, beginning the Front End Web Developer Nanodegree program at Udacity. I had read about this program when they first launched it nearly a year ago. I almost bit the bullet then, but I was weary of investing anymore money into learning when I was already paying for a Team Treehouse subscription and found many free resources to be just as valuable as the paid ones. Something I had learned through my three year journey was the importance of structure and consistency (or in my case, lack thereof) in learning.

So I decided that if I was going to really get serious about this, I would need some structure and consistency to guide my learning and Udacity would be the program to do it. The reviews that I had read so far had proven to be positive and the fact that Google was endorsing it was a huge plus in my book. The $200 monthly price tag wasn’t the most attractive but it was a nice incentive that they began offering 1/2 your tuition back when you graduate.

I hope you find my posts useful as I outline some of my past experiences with web development and chronicle my journey through the Udacity Front End Web Developer Nanodegree.


Philip Bowles