As web developers, it is paramount that we educate ourselves on the latest techniques, trends, software, and coding. If you don't, you will not achieve being an in demand designer/developer. Your skills will fall behind, and it will reflect in the websites you build. As much as we all like to think we are in some big happy family of designers and developers, we are all competing with each other.
Just keeping up is what everyone else is doing, so how do we get ahead?
Image credit: Mikebaird
Blogs, Blogs, and More Blogs!
Obviously, there is a ton to read online about the latest and greatest techniques. If you looked at the RSS feeds we all subscribe to, it is probably a good bet that most of us have quite a few in common, like: onextrapixel, webdesignerdepot, css-tricks, net.tutsplus, sixrevisions, and smashingmagazine. If not in your RSS reader, then maybe you just visit them occasionally. They are all a great source of information, but what about the lesser known blogs? The ones you have never heard about, being written by people like you.
There are a lot of great tutorials written by people in the web development trenches that don't get any recognition. How do you get to them or find them though? Easy, just go to the blogs you normally visit, and start clicking on their links in the comment sections. You will be amazed by the quality of tutorials, tips, and general articles written by people you don't know yet. Don't just stay focused on the most popular blogs, because everyone else is already doing that. We want to get ahead of them, remember?
Starting your own development blog is also a great way to step it up a notch. Writing your own tutorials will make you not only better at communicating, but give you a better grasp of what you are trying to get across to the reader. It’s hard work for sure, but you will find you are more in tune with what is changing, what is new, and start hunting for things people might not know about. I know I have learned a lot just by doing research for topics to write about on my own blog.
Find something you don't know how to do, learn it, and then write about it. Others might enjoy your article, and you will possibly have gained a skill that puts you slightly ahead of the people you are going up against.
Blogs Are Good, Books Are Great
You say you read tons of blogs already? Great! Now go out and get some books. The web usually only goes so far in teaching you something. Mostly it’s what we need to know right now, or how to do a specific thing. What will set you apart from the next web developer/designer, is a more in-depth know how of what you are doing. Once you have read one on a specific subject, go and get another because you can never know too much.
Image credit: Erik
A book also offers something that can be hard to do on the web - a place to take notes, and quickly reference them. Go buy a bunch of post-its, and mark the pages that contain information that is important to you. Don’t forget to write the main topic on the post-it, otherwise you will have a mess on your hands. If you don’t want to do that, fold the corners and heck, write all over the book (assuming it’s yours). By the time you are done with the book, you have all the important parts marked!
Don't Be a Freeloader, Do It Yourself
Image credit: wiseacre photo
Find out how they did it instead and write it yourself. That way you will have the knowledge of how to create it, and be more prepared to deal with things when they go wrong.
Go and put some money into yourself and take a course or two, you deserve it! Don’t just get stuck on coding and design classes either, as there are plenty of other areas that come into play in web development. Maybe you are really terrible at public speaking, like having to do a presentation on some up coming project. Well then, there would be a good class to take! What about writing? Anyone that doesn’t have a writing background, but has a blog, knows that it is not as easy as one would think. It’s actually quite hard, as this author has found out.
Image credit: Zack Ahern
Marketing anyone? There is a subject very closely related to web development, and a topic most of us probably ignore. What else are you doing besides trying to get people to notice your site? We could probably all take a course on this and be better for it. The point is to be ahead of the crowd, so why not take a class that will help improve your skills in other areas?
That’s Great, But What Should I Learn?
Good question. Find an area that you don’t know well, and start from there. Don’t know anything about content management systems? Go do some research on what is available, what is popular and why, and then dive in and start soaking up the knowledge. There are plenty out there: WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla just to name a few. Or if you already know one of them, pick another. That way you will have two under your belt and it will look more attractive on your resume.
Image credit: MischievousRagDoll
Another good route would be figuring out an ecommerce platform. Magento seems to be all the rage recently. From my own experience, the installation is a snap, but be prepared to spend some time just tooling around in the admin panel to get a handle of it. Then, the next time a client says, “Hey, put my products up there on the website”, you will be prepared to do more than just throw some PayPal buttons on a page. Everyone is getting into selling things on the web, knowing how to set up a store for them will put you ahead.
Nobody can tell you exactly what to learn, only you know what areas you lack in. The important part is that you do pick something and go with it. When you feel like you have a good grasp on what you chose, pick another, and keep going. Clients expect more out of us than just being able to write HTML and CSS. They want to be able to edit their sites themselves, sell their product, have things animated, and a score of other things. Learn how to do them, and you will be closer to landing that job than the next person.
A Never Ending Story
Being in web development means you have to be constantly learning. There is no end, and the minute you stop you might as well call it quits. The good thing is, if you love web development the learning process can be fun. Only you can motivate yourself to do it though, and the ones that do, are the ones that are on top. We don’t want to just keep up with the next person, we want to get ahead and stay there. Now go and do it!