Trying to Run Before You can Walk

One thing I see quite a bit on forums is people asking for help with getting some quite complex things to work on their web site. Many of these requests have several things in common.

This makes it almost impossible to actually provide any assistance to the person asking the question. They have started out by saying that they don't really know the language they are trying to use and are not giving any indication as to what parts of the complex process they have actually managed to get working (presumably none or they would be asking a more specific question).

Well actually there is one answer that can be given to all these people and since it is the same answer for all of them I am going to answer all those questions here all at once rather than answering each one individually.

To produce any complex script you first need to properly understand all of the different languages that you need to use to build your solution. For something involving web pages this means that you need to know HTML, CSS and JavaScript to build the front end and the programming language and database you are going to use on the back end (often PHP and mySQL as that's what most web hosting provides). If you are only just starting to learn one (or all) of these languages then you are a long way from being able to write the complex script you want. If you don't want to spend the time to learn all of these then there is one alternative and that is to pay someone who does know all of the languages sufficiently well to build the script for you.

If you definitely want to build it yourself then you have to learn to walk before you can run. The first step in learning any language is to gradually learn the syntax that language uses and to build simple web pages and scripts that use what you know. As you gradually learn more you can create more complex pages or update the ones you already built to do more complex things.

There are some other things you need to learn as well such as how to properly design a normalized database, how to make web pages responsive, and progressive enhancement. While you might get your script to work without learning these things what you will have will be a user unfriendly mess that cannot be easily maintained when the requirements change.

Another useful thing to learn in order to become a good web developer is to learn how to solve problems. There are not many classes around that actually teach this because it is more of an art rather than a science and either you have a talent for seeing simple solutions to complex problems or you don't. If you are not someone who is good at problem solving then you will still be able to get your script working but it may involve a lot more code than someone else might have used to produce the same result.

Only by learning all of the languages properly first are you going to be able to get even close to getting your complex script to work.

Of course even if you do know all the languages properly you may still have problems and not be able to get it all to work. At this point there is a difference though. You will actually have written a lot of the code that you need and you will be able to be a lot more specific as to what the problem is that you are having. At that point you can then post a request for help on a forum and be able to actually provide enough information for people to help you to fix the last few outstanding issues with your code. Of course you need to be prepared to share your code with them in order to get help in fixing it.


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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