This blog post is about advice I'd give to aspiring webmasters. I'm going to try to lay down my honest thoughts here. If you are an aspiring webmaster, you might find some useful nuggets. If you are in a position to give advice to others, you might also find this interesting, if only to spark of discussion or actively and violently disagree with me.
I'm sometimes asked what advice I give to aspiring webmasters as they learn how to code and design. I always try to make up a new answer on the spot so that I can look smart, but the truth is that I don't really remember what I say from one time to the next. When I lecture and/or teach, I tend to fall into a stream-of-consciousness speaking style, and I don't really have a set script I follow. But today I had a unique opportunity to really gauge myself, and listen to what I said; today I started instructing the next cohort of Toronto webmasters in the art of code-fu...
The first day is always an interesting time, because what I invariably see are 15 or 16 highly gifted people, but they're clean slate in the sense of prior experience and expectations. They don't know who the W3C is, but they also don't use the <font> tag. They don't know about the Web Accessibility Initiative, but they also don't layout their pages in a soup of <td> elements. In short, they are starting their education without the baggage of years of bad habits and mis-information.
So today I made a concerted effort to not censor myself, and keep track of what I said. I wasn't totally successful, but I made a series of notes at the end of the day, which I present here for reference, review and general interest.
- Learn the meaning of the elements first. Don't concern yourself with specific technical implementation in the beginning, you can validate later. What you can't validate is that you're using code properly. Learn that first.
- Some elements and attributes that don't get really useful until you've lived with HTML for awhile: the <div> element, all the headings, unordered lists, and the class attribute (for both its CSS uses, and equally for its semantic potential).
- Some elements that seem really useful at first, but I really don't use very often: <br />, <img /> and <hr /> (although its not without its charms). Yeah I said image. I'm not saying images aren't useful, but used for decorative purposes background images are so much more flexible.
- Keep rebuilding things. Go back and re-build your personal site. Three times. Experience builds skill and speed.
- Communication skills and a love for learning are more important then raw talent. Note: That might be what I said - but I don't actually believe that last line. What I meant was that all other things being equal, I think a communicating learner will succeed more then someone with only raw talent.
- Standards matter. So does knowing their limits. Learn about the movement for HTML 5, and why some very smart people don't validate their sites.
- Learn how to learn. Your industry will change, and you'll need to change with it. I expect all skilled trades to be constantly learning. Could you imagine if your car mechanic hadn't updated their skills in 10 years? Learn to identify trends and industry leaders (blogs and RSS feeds are great for this) and learn to keep yourself up to date.
So there you have it. A few gems, straight from my stream-of-consciousness to yours. Oh yeah, one more thing... the title of this blog post? It was an homage to Hans and Franz ("We're going to PUMP - YOU UP!"). What advice would you give?