Communicating with Programmers

So like many other people here, my skills are limitted to html/css and just digging into php/mysql. And of course my web application ideas are much more grand than my current programming skill. So I have taken the plunge and hired a developer from elance. Currently I’m using linda videos and sitepoint books to learn php/mysql mostly so I can be slightly literate when speaking to a developer rather than actually program myself. But the programmer with be using javascript/ajax etc…

So the question is, are there some good resources out there for people who need to be involved in the development process but won’t be doing in the actual coding. I really want to understand the technology and be able to address issue, but don’t know that my time is best served by getting bogged down with the struggle of learning the basic syntax of code.


Talk to your programmer get them to explain what they are doing, the approach they are adopting an why. Ask them if they feel other approaches might be appropriate or beneficial.

Secondly have a look at the web, particular at sites that are similar to your own.

Thank you for the reply,

Good suggestions, I was thinking however to go a bit deeper in my understanding. For instance, in learning about MySQL. It’s really helpful I think to understand how a database is structured, but not really necessary to know how to do the PHP-MySQL queries themselves. That way I can be more helpful to address needed elements with design, rather than see a final product and say, “no this wasn’t what I intended.”

understand how a database is structured, but not really necessary to know how to do the PHP-MySQL queries themselves

Am I right in thinking that your programmer is not just cutting code but rather is taking a requirements specification from you and doing everything to produce the final product.

If this is so then there is many aspects, such as how the system interfaces with users, you will need to be involved in not just the database.

The database is an important component it will be the repository of all the information that is recorded; as such it is important you understand the structure so that you are in a position to interrogate it by sql queries independent of the interface the programmer develops for you. You will then be in a position to get real value out of the data itself.

I do not know what arrangement you have with your programmer, namely whether they are working to a fixed price or you are just paying for their time. If the former there may be a reluctance to expend valuable time trying to educate you and keeping you in ignorance may be envisaged as a l lucrative on going revenue stream (Human nature I’m afraid).

But as I said before sit down with them and get them to explain the database structure, the tables involved, which fields are in which tables and the interrelationship between the tables. They may even be able to produce a diagram for you.

If your database is located on a machine on your own network then I would recommend that you get hold of a copy of Microsoft’s database product, Access, or Open office’s database product. They are good learning tools about databases, and you will be able, in time, to use them to interrogate the database your programmer is creating by using link tables and an ODBC connection.

Much thanks again for such a thorough response. These most certainly are the qualities of a developer I would want to work with and hire. But as a client I also want to be knowledgable. I don’t want to rely on my developer to educate me on everything necessary or expect they will come up with all the suggestions about new options. The database was just one example. Another example, I went to a meetup last week on the Semantic Web, I had no idea what the semantic web even was prior to that. But after going to the meetup I can see how it would be very helpful to incorperate for the website of a brick and mortar business. So say I were the owner of a hair salon and were hiring to build my website for my local business, how many developers at this point would be incorperating this into the site? Maybe I do a good job of hiring and get lucky, maybe I don’t. But having gone to that seminar I at least know this is a technology I’m interested in (or at least would be if I had a local business).

I actually work in health care and I think this dynamic is very similar to that of the doctor patient relationship. Some people come in and simply say, “What ever you think doc.” and thats it. Others are active particpants in their or their loved ones care. They spent time learning about the disease affecting them and the treatment options available. It is widely believed these patients get the best care out of the medical system. They are the ones who go on WebMD and look up the surgery and have appropriate questions to ask when they walk into the doctors office. WebMD doesn’t teach them how to do the surgery, but does inform and help to educate them about the process, outcomes and what to expect. They are better prepared to be a partner with their doctor. I want to be a partner with my developer and don’t want to rely on them to teach me about everything. Especially given there are so many technologies available. If the best technology for my goal isn’t within the skill set of my developer, can I rely on them to suggest that approach given it may mean bringing someone else in to the process?
I want a WebMD for web application development. Right now I feel like I’m in first year medical school, but I don’t intend to be a doctor, I just want to be a really smart patient.