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Thread: Where to begin?

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    Question Where to begin?

    I really want to become an advanced web developer. My design skills are excellent and my html and css is intermediate, but I want to learn to develop cms sites. I love to code and have dabbled with php, javascript and wordpress. I have a basic understanding of these but would really like to extend my knowledge in these areas. I purchased the Wicked Wordpress and JQuery books to go through but I was wondering if I ought to begin with the Build Your Own Database Driven Website, then the Wordpress and finally the JQuery book? Where would you begin?

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    While experience in all the above is very handy, many advocate some kind of specialization. You can make a good living specializing in Design (= web designer), or CSS, HTML, JS, Accessibility (front end developer) or PHP etc (back end developer). It's up to you and your nature which you incline towards. Sounds like the middle option is best for you, but it's your choice. With the rise of wonderful CMSs like ExpressionEngine, you can create very dynamic and sophisticated sites without knowing a jot of PHP, which is why the middle option is most attractive to me.
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    Thanks Ralph for your response. If I were to go the route of a front end developer would you recommend learning JS or a framework such as JQuery? Not so sure I even understand the difference yet.

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    The best way to go it to learn JavaScript, but it takes a lot of work and time to learn it properly. jQuery is a collection of complex bits of JS code pre-written for you (and optimized to work on all browsers), making it much faster to get complex behaviors happening. The downside is that you are less likely to know how it all works. It's not a bad tradeoff, though, at least in the short term. If you want a sliding gallery on your web page, for example, you'll find that someone (or many people) have put one together for jQuery, and you can just plug it in and hey presto. If you had to write the code for that yourself, you'd be working for days or weeks.
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    I truly appreciate your responses as they have helped me to clarify some things. It look like jQuery/Javascript is my next goal.

    Any recommendations for accessible Javascript sources or reading material?

    Thanks again.

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    There's always SitePoint's JavaScript Reference and the Sticky threads in the JavaScript Forum have some helpful information.

    And there's the JavaScript Live course.

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    SitePoint Addict Parafly9's Avatar
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    I'm kind of in the same boat. I'm a jack of many trades, and a master of none

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    Quote Originally Posted by Parafly9 View Post
    I'm kind of in the same boat. I'm a jack of many trades, and a master of none
    Yep, same here. Mostly due to my job as it requires me to wear many hats. In fact my main job is to produce print projects, such as catalogs and fliers but my passion has always been web which I luckily get to be a small part of now.

    I hope to change that and become a front end "ninja".

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    I think your biggest immediate decision is which tier to focus on: front (as in browser), middle (as in PHP, JSP, etc., where business logic is usually coded) or back (database, generally, but also other components). It sounds like you want to focus on the front end.

    In that case, Javascript and jQuery are two great places to start. There are several other Javascript libraries: Prototype, YUI, Dojo, MooTools and others (a bewildering array). But jQuery is probably the most widely used, so it's the first one to learn, in my opinion. I think your Javascript learning can proceed in parallel with jQuery. Sitepoint has an excellent book on jQuery that also tries to introduce Javascript topics along the way.

    Another great book is O'Reilly's "Javascript: The Good Parts" but this is not a book for Javascript novices. Mark it down for future reference. I also recommend "Murach's Javascript and DOM Scripting," it is a pretty good introduction to the Javascript language, and all of the books in that series proceed in small, bite-size sections, an approach I like.

    Both the jQuery and Murach books also devote some time to Ajax, which is a fundamental skill these days, and which is also blurring the line between the front and middle tiers. The jQuery book of course concentrates on the way that jQuery encapsulates Ajax calls. The Murach book shows you more of the rubber-meets-the-road view. I am all in favor of handling Ajax entirely through jQuery, but it's still a good thing to learn about the ways to make Ajax calls directly in the different browsers.

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    Excellent and informative. I greatly appreciate it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rick yentzer View Post
    Any recommendations for accessible Javascript sources or reading material?
    By far the best book on JavaScript I've ever read is DOM Scripting by Jeremy Keith - it's aimed at intermediates and is all about producing quality scripts without any of that fluff which is obtrusive on the page. And Bulletproof AJAX (by the same author) is a great crash course guide on that interactive JavaScript AJAX mojo. I'm guessing you're already aware of Accessibility / Usability principles in design (as there's plenty of books there which are worth reading).

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    Before I say anything, I've never done CMS work so my opinion could be way off. The way you're tackling the WordPress seems right to me. Get wordpress book and learn the technology needed to create extention/plugins. I'm guessing that's the reason you're thinking of using jquery. From what I've seen, people who can create AWESOME design templates are the one who has the most client. So, you may want to learn photoshop or such to create great logo's and such. G'luck!

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    You won't need in depth PHP knowledge to customize a WordPress installation. If you want to write a plugin, you'll obviously need more, but for basically using the WP "API" the PHP skills are basic. Calling functions, passing arrays etc.

    Similarly jQuery will abstract a lot of the complexity of JavaScript away for you. You'll want to be familiar with how the DOM, events and XHR calls work, so you know what jQuery is doing when you ask it to do that stuff. jQuery is massively convenient, and can make your code more robust because of cross browser issues, but you should have an idea of what jQuery is doing (and not just think of it as magic).

    HTML can be related because it creates the DOM that you'll interact with with JavaScript.

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    I hope to change that and become a front end "ninja".
    Apparently the term "ninja" seems to be appropriated by jQuery itself. "Rockstar" also seems taken, but since you don't want to kill people in the night-time or spend all night drinking, partying, doing drugs and sleeping all day, you might have to settle for "front-end engineer" (term used by PPK) which has the utility and skills mentioned without the pretentiousness of "expert" or "superstar".

    Though "code nazi" is always appeeling. Like bananas.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stomme poes View Post
    you might have to settle for "front-end engineer" (term used by PPK) which has the utility and skills mentioned without the pretentiousness of "expert" or "superstar".
    Hmm. Also without the pretentiousness of poetry. That title doesn't roll off the tongue. Two words in a row starting with "en" is a bit awkward.
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    om nom nom nom Stomme poes's Avatar
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    Two words in a row starting with "en" is a bit awkward.
    Which is why it's shortened to "Fronteer" :)

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    Hmmm. Fronteer vs my current title of Sr. <strike>Graphic Designer</strike> Puppet. Fronteer is mystical. I like that.

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    BTW, I've ordered the Simply Javascript book, and signed up for JavascriptLive while also going through the Jquery Sitepoint book. Sitepoint certainly has some great material.

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    You'll find one big difference between the SJ book and the Live course: in the book, they use a custom library called Core to handle all the hairy IE stuff... in the course they use jQuery.

    I've been using a version of Core for a few sites now and if you can avoid loading some large library (because you don't need one for some small amount of JS you want) then it's nice to have (you can take the basic default and remove lots of it and add in your own helper functions).

    However when one of our sites was switched to jQuery, the Live course was good for helping me get started with jQuery with the code style I already had going.

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    The only way to become a true expert in a field or advanced overall developer is to have every next project more demanding than your current one. And that your projects aren't simple websites used twice a month by a person disguised as a "client" paying you $10 every leap year.
    Innovation comes because of necessity, not desire to be innovative. Every advanced developer out there became advanced due to tackling problems others haven't found yet. I don't want to discourage anyone, but a lot of book authors are biased or skip certain parts that would fall into "advanced" category.
    I'm sorry to say this, and I'd be glad if I were wrong in your case - just by reading the books you won't get to the advanced level you want.

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    SitePoint Guru Chroniclemaster1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Parafly9 View Post
    I'm kind of in the same boat. I'm a jack of many trades, and a master of none
    Quote Originally Posted by rick yentzer View Post
    Yep, same here. Mostly due to my job as it requires me to wear many hats.
    It depends on what you're looking for. I would say that if you're looking at developing a career in web development, then it definitely helps to specialize. I have a lot of experience in front-end design and middlewear, and I know I've lost job opportunities because my interviewer had difficulty categorizing me; that's one of the reasons I try to find out exactly what they're looking for in advance so I can pitch my skills the right way.

    If you have more flexibility than that, then my advice would be different. Follow what interests you, get out there and build projects for others and / or that interest you. Nothing helps to push you to learn new things (which obviously motivates both of you), like trying to build something you've never done before. Sometimes this can be part of work, but most clients I've found are not interested in projects just because they'll be fulfilling for you. So don't be afraid to jump in and build a project that interests you.

    Re: JS vs. jQuery.
    IMO you need to know Javascript no matter what, but jQuery has almost become a part of mainline JS at this point. I don't think you can call yourself a JS programmer if you can only string jQuery actions together. jQuery automates some great stuff, but at the end of the day it gives you functionality and you have to be able to program in order to do anything really useful with it. On the flip side, I don't think anyone would take your JS skills seriously anymore (especially if you're looking for a job), if you don't use jQuery.

    Many times this kind of popularity happens because of a fad, but I think jQuery will stick around (look how long it's lasted already compared to it's original rivals). jQuery is not really a framework the way I understand it, though there are a lot of plug-ins that do provide some software architecture. jQuery is really just a function library; that's why it's been so successful. Instead of locking you into a particular architecture, jQuery lets you roll your own custom code as you like, or you can call a jQuery function if that will get the job done for you. It's not like the .NET framework or a lot of the Java / PHP open source frameworks out there that provide you a lot of structure, but eliminate an equivalent amount of flexibility.
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    I'm curious, what are the qualifications for advanced developer? In all the job listings I have seen not once have I seen that combination of terms. Titles are more less a derivative of expertise and experience, not what you think you know or how many books you have read. Stop focusing on the title and learn what you want to achieve the position you would like. Titles are pretty much worthless. You can either do the job or you can't – its really that simple.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dnuttle View Post
    I think your biggest immediate decision is which tier to focus on: front (as in browser), middle (as in PHP, JSP, etc., where business logic is usually coded) or back (database, generally, but also other components). It sounds like you want to focus on the front end.
    I prefer front end aswel. For me it's the most visual part and that's fun.

    I always wondered where back-end people get their kicks.
    It's fun to make interactive things with databases, but setting up the visual part afterwards is more my cup of tea. Or making the whole project is fun aswel, but than you have to be good in everything. I'm not good in anything I guess

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    Quote Originally Posted by bulevardi View Post
    I always wondered where back-end people get their kicks.
    The very tiny, tiny experience I've had of it makes it easy to understand. You want to create some kind of complex functionality, and it's very exciting/satisfying when you've got it working.
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