Web development is easy, right?

There’s an old meme that surfaced on my facebook feed (above) not so long ago that basically sums up how (many) people perceive web development. It’s funny in that it probably should be (and who knows — maybe someday will) just that easy.

Part of this cognitive dissonance stems, I think, from the programs we’re used to and have grown up on. We’ve all used a program like Microsoft Word, or Google Docs — formatting and markup is made pretty simple — so we’re led — quite intuitively to think the web should be the same. And in someways, it is.

A lot of my friends for example know some basic HTML and some even with a bit of hacking around, or google searching have even put together a basic Wordpress site, or coded a cool addition to their mySpace way back when.

<p>Making websites is so easy!</p> <!-- Simple, right? -->

Only, as with about a billion other things in the world, the more you know, the less you know, you know.

I coded my first basic website in high school with some simple HTML that was available on the school intranet. That in itself felt like a triumph, but a lot had been done for me. I didn’t have to worry about things like servers, or routes, it was just a simple page. It had no Javascript, (Javascript was very nascent) and used no CSS. Style was inline in each element, where needed. It was fun, but it wasn’t extensible, and it was ultimately pretty limited. When I’d completed it, it was nice, and flashy, but it didn’t look that different to a well-formatted Word document and had been significantly more finicky to put together.

I lost interest in looking into it further. It didn’t seem that hard, it just felt tedious. Why bother?

It wouldn’t have been until the late noughties that I began to re-examine the foundations of the web after working in online journalism. Here I was once again, coding some basic HTML, but the web, and the possibilities it afforded had grown immensely. Javascript had evolved and changed the game — websites serving complex applications that looked slick were popping up all over the place, and my appetite to dive in again was well and truly whet.

I dabbled around and made some progress in my spare time but progress was slow and I was busy with work. I found the initial forays surprisingly challenging. I say surprising, because it had never appeared that it would be so hard from the outside, and the early strides had been smooth.. But then I kept getting stuck.

I got stuck in the mountains of documentation, in the dime a dozen tutorials that promised results in weeks — in the forums, and discussion boards explaining why one web development language was better than another, or about build systems, compiling your code, minification and automation — the list went on — and on — and on. After about 18 months of playing around on the side I gave up again. I did have a fresh appreciation for what the web was, and some of its tools, but I didn’t have the time to further pursue.

Until I did. I’ve often found that time apart from something allows you to properly reflect and think about what you’ve learnt. For the knowledge to really sink in. For me it was the kind of bug that pushed me into a decision to retrain as Software Engineer — just shy of a decade into a prospering journalism career. It’s a decision I don’t regret for an instant, it was purely a gut, intuition type thing but it was 100 per cent the right thing to do.

Without the distraction of a full-time job I began studying in my daytime, and programming in my evenings. What I quickly came to learn was that our instincts of programming, and the web are mainly correct. It is simple, and need not be so complicated but it’s a far deeper rabbit hole, in time, information and expertise than is easy to do justice when you’re just getting your feet wet. It’s undeniably a jungle out there, but it’s the kind of jungle that with a little consideration and perseverance, can be navigated.

Some three years on and I now understand enough at least to make camp for the night and survive. I know I don’t know a lot, but a know reams and reams more than I could verbalise not so long ago. I’m still fascinated. If anything my fascination has deepened and progressed, and taken me down pathways I didn’t know existed.

I’ve just completed a website (my own in fact) with a framework called Vue.js (will be writing about that more soon). It’s nothing special, but pulls together a lot of web knowledge I’ve picked up over the past 18–24 months. It was a massive learning experience. It’s taken me upwards of 80 hours to put together from scratch. This is perhaps slightly exception given it’s my own website and I’m liable to tinker unnecessarily, but it should put into perspective the grift required.

TL;DR — Becoming an web developer takes skill time, and dedication and it won’t happen overnight..



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Al Hinds

Al Hinds

Write about all sorts of stuff. Dev. Sport. Life.