Starting in our field | Christofer Sandin

Starting in our field

I’m getting older, I guess, but at the same time, I’m starting to pick up quite a bit of experience from running a business for almost 20 years. I started with my little firm, freelancing, doing some small projects while in school, and in the last 15 years, I’ve been running a small development and design company working with clients big and small.

One of the most common questions when meeting students looking for internships or people starting in our line of work is, “what should I learn?”. That is a good question, of course, but I feel many people give bad advice.

Whether you are a talented developer or an aspiring designer, I would strongly recommend starting with the basics.

By that, I mean the technologies that may seem a little too simple to you but still rule more or less the entire internet. I’m talking about HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. One step up from protocols and requests, these are the three basic things that make every web page, every web app, and all custom-designed systems on the internet work. Make sure you understand the basics unique to the web, such as content flows on different screen sizes, zooming in and out, and things like that, before jumping in and trying to learn React.

All server-side programming languages, sooner or later, spit out HTML for the user to view, browse, and interact with. Even if you are going to spend most of your time in PHP, Phyton, or Microsoft’s .net, you still need to understand the result you produce. I’ve met far too many developers with five or more years of experience working with the web who are still not clear about how to write simple markup or CSS rules.

There are countless HTML frameworks, even more CSS frameworks, and a million JavaScript frameworks to look at. Put in a task runner like Gulp, or a tool like Vite, and you start complicating it even more for your first project. And I won’t even mention Webpack

But, after spending time looking at and understanding the basics, it doesn’t matter if the site uses Bootstrap or Foundation since you know CSS.

  • Take some time to understand semantic HTML and how to mark up content.
  • Spend time looking at CSS and understand both the selectors and the cascade.
  • Dabble with native JavaScript to get a feel for the language.

After that, you’ll be much more efficient and hirable and can pick up Bootstrap, Vue, or React in a few hours if you need it.

To be clear, I’m not saying “don’t use frameworks”; I’m just saying start by learning the basics before you do, and then make an educated choice when choosing the one(s) to use.

By the way, learning to write good HTML and use styles and scripts effectively also helps you write more accessible content and makes it easier for search engines to index your content. Customers pay for that, which is a good start if you want to make a living working in this field.

And have fun. Learning new things is great, but you don’t have to know all the new stuff all the time. That is another common misconception of how the web works.