Advice for Getting Started in Web Design

Yesterday I received an email from a friend of one of my former students. In the email, the young man asked about the best way to get into web design. I took a day to think about his query and also wanted to empathize with his situation before answering—the young man being new to web design and not knowing how or where to start learning. Here was my response…

Sorry for the late reply. If you’ve looked at my resume, you’ll see I’ve been in this field for a very long time. I started out as an HTML producer way back in the day, became a web designer, then CMS developer, front end developer, and now I’m studying to become a full stack developer (essentially a programmer, moving away from front end development). There are lots of jobs within the web industry. There are also a lot of companies that want a jack-of-all-trades and want to pay one salary for someone who is performing duties that really should be done by two or three people. If I were starting out now, I’d want this advice…

• Stay away from “web designer” positions and focus on front end development.

• Take an organized certificate program that requires many projects and check those projects into GitHub. These projects can then be used in an interview as discussion points.

• Always be learning. Once you get a certification, get another one, then another. Spend a couple years getting to know a couple jobs, pursuing interests of course. For example, it isn’t enough to learn just HTML, CSS, and Javascript. You also need to know a CMS, like WordPress. But it isn’t enough to know just WordPress, learn Drupal as well. Then you’ll come to realize that Both of these CMSs are written in PHP and use MySQL. So next learn PHP and MySQL. I hope you get my drift.

Here is what I would recommend when starting out…

1.  Start with either a Treehouse or Udacity micro-certificate course for front end development…

Treehouse Front End Web Developer Certificate
Udacity Front End Web Developer Certificate

You will need to look at the curriculum for each program to get some kind of idea which one seems more intuitive for you and will meet your employment needs. They will take about 6 months to get through, but it is totally worth it.

2.  I would also supplement your education with a few books that will give you a deeper understanding of what you’re learning in the certificate courses. It is perfectly fine to read them as you are going through the certificate course. Here is the list, in order…

• Duckett’s HTML/CSS/JS/jQuery books
•  Learn Bootstrap
•  A Book Apart Series…
– Responsive Web Design
– Designing for Emotion
– On Web Typography
– Git For Humans

3.  Make sure you learn both jQuery and Javascript. If you don’t learn these two things, you’ll be very sorry. Pick up this series of books once you’ve gotten through the ones above…

• You don’t know JS

4.  Lastly, it would behoove you to learn about JS stack programming and how it works—just the basics. Read this book…

• MEAN Machine

My final bit of advice is to not jump around in your education while trying to get by with bootcamps and Codeacademy. I’ve interviewed many people who got their start with bootcamps and Codeacademy. They were all pretty terrible and didn’t make it past the first interview. Bootcamps do nothing but coach you for a test that you have no idea how and where it fits in the larger web design world. Do yourself a favor and finish numbers 1 & 2 above before doing a bootcamp. It will help you to cut through the bullshit. Learning numbers 3 & 4 will make you more desirable to a company that is doing web application development.

That’s all I have. Good luck and work very hard. There are no shortcuts.

This was the entirety of my advice for breaking into the “web design” field, as relayed to the friend of one of my former students. Of course I’m missing the basics of graphic design and CMS development, but I’m sure after going through the various numbers and bullets, he’ll figure out where he wants to work, what is missing, and he’ll adjust his study.

My first blog post for this revised site was Helping People Makes Me Happy. Helping people does make me happy. I have no idea if the guy will take my advice or just do what’s easy. I’ve come to the conclusion that most people don’t really want advice, they just want validation. He may or may not go through the rigors of a certificate program and the material pursuit of related subject matter. Who knows?! The cool thing about my interaction with the young man is that I might have helped him with a simple email containing a few links, paragraphs, and bulleted lists. It was a great way to start off a Monday.