Image of Grace Hopper, an American computer scientist and U.S. Navy rear admiral.
There was a time when I was underemployed and incredibly bored with my job. Often I found myself looking for things to do and creating projects to pass the day. The company that I was working for had a very old and outdated website that I volunteered to update. I downloaded a free text editor and FTP client (SublimeText and WinSCP) and was handed the login and passwords to the company website. This is how I became the company’s go-to web developer. I used W3 schools’ tutorials to get started learning HTML and CSS. Luckily for me, my husband is a developer so he gave me valuable tips such as “I don’t know, Google it” and “Make backup pages before you change anything.” Also, I could find him on gchat when the page suddenly loaded all wrong (or didn’t load at all) and he could usually help me walk through my mistakes. Unfortunately, not everyone has personal 24/7 tech support. The good news is that there are tons of resources out there to start anyone in coding (which can be overwhelming), ranging in price from free to somewhat expensive, and a large online community of coders who have all started at the beginning to support you on your journey.
I think coding is incredibly useful because it’s a marketable skill that you can do part time or at your own pace from home and you don’t necessarily need a degree to do it. You can start from zero and pick it up when your schedule permits. But first of all, it’s helpful to understand that there are several distinct disciplines in web design and development and each discipline requires certain skills and abilities. Having even an elementary understanding of these various disciplines will help when considering the best resources and tutorials to use. Also, women who already have some basic coding skills may be interested in furthering their knowledge and expertise in a particular area.
This is the graphic design or look of a website. Many people get started with building websites in Drupal or WordPress. The advantage to these types of builds is that it’s a great way to get your feet wet. You can go in and tweak the code and learn a little about HTML and CSS in the process. Another advantage is that these pages generally have search engine optimization (SEO) built in. This enables Google and, uh…Google, to find your site more easily and automatically boost your rankings when people do search for your topic. A disadvantage to using templates is that they are limited to designs that someone else has already made.
This refers to the structure of the content within a site and interaction design. It may also be referred to as User Experience or UX, meaning how a user interacts with the site to find what he/she is looking for.
Once a website is up and running, it’s useful to understand how to maintain the site. This can includes security upgrades, content editing and development, and SEO, which changes periodically as search engines update their search algorithms.
This is a rapidly developing field. Since much of the Internet’s traffic now comes through smartphones and tablets, it’s important that web sites look right on any size screen and adjust the user experience accordingly.
With a basic overview of web design and development, it’s a bit easier to examine resources, especially when there are a number of resources with costs ranging from free, to reasonable, to very expensive. Many thanks to Natassja Lindzau for providing the bulk of the following information. These resources will help you learn the art and science of web design:
One of the things I love about the web community–and Women Who Code in particular–is their willingness to help newcomers learn the ropes. You will also find many online forums for developing web expertise and many very experienced web designers will offer advice and even help with debugging your code. As coders, we’ve all been newbies and this is one of the few fields where the “volunteer ethic” is still alive and kicking.
*Read about early women computer programmers here–the individuals who were the pioneers of the field.
Kristina Giantsos Adams earned a BS in Chemistry and PhD in Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Utah. She completed postdoctoral training at MIT in Mechanical Engineering and is a chemist with the US Food and Drug Administration where she reviews new drug applications and advises industry on policy. Besides having a nerd crush on Neil Degrasse Tyson and knowing just enough programming to be dangerous, she enjoys kayaking, baking, sewing, drawing, and road trips with her husband. They are expecting their first child in the summer.