Help! For beginner Web developers
Helpful information sources for the beginning Web developer.
Hockey stick learning curve¶
Once you go beyond these basics, things can turn out to become unwieldly.
The browser is the most prevalent runtime on the planet, but different browsers and browser versions also make it one of the most heavily fragmented. Testing compatibility is possible only within limits. The network introduces aspects entirely outside of your control, such as bandwidth constraints and latencies.
This means that to give the maximum amout of users a good user experience for your site or Web app, you have to consider things like browser support of features, fallback solutions when this is lacking, page load times, device sizes - and as many other factors as you're ready to attack at any given moment.
TMI (Too Much Information)¶
Since there are so many other people developing for the Web, there are countless blog posts, forums, frameworks, libraries and tools out there - one of which might just help you with the challenge you're facing at any given moment.
Add to that the fact that the Web is changing at such a rapid pace, and a solution that was the established norm a year ago may no longer be the way to go, and an article preaching the gospel truth from two years ago may now be today's heresy.
It can all be more than a bit overwhelming - for anybody. Unlike in other, more settled fields, here everybody's scrambling to stay up to date.
It also means that a Google search about a problem you're having will often lead you to about as much outdated and wrong information as current and valid help.
It's good to know some sources which you can rely on, so that you don't waste precious time implementing what may have been an authoritative answer in the Bronze age of the Web a few years ago.
Two high-quality sources are:
WebPlatform.org - run by the W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium - still the guys who have most say about Web standards), this collects a ton of tutorials and reference documentations. Useful to anybody from beginner to seasoned pro, but not necessarily always the most current.
Answers to Specific Questions¶
References can go a long way, but they never cover all aspects of a technology. They also don't concern themselves with what happens in the complex combinations of parts that real-world projects consist of. In short, they'll often have no information about your particular problem.
Again it's amazing what a general Google search can turn up, but your first stop should really be StackOverflow. They are the questions and answers site for programming on the Web.
They have good tagging which helps a lot with finding what you are looking for. Everything is also time-stamped, helping you find whether something is more likely to still be relavant.2 Popular questions usually have several answers, often allowing you to pick an option that best fits your case.
And finally, the vote system for answers usually does a good job of weeding out incorrect answers, the comments help to clarify details, and the reputation system for users serves as a rough indicator for who to trust.
Staying up to date¶
Web technologies and Web development are changing at an extreme pace. You need current information to update you about changes to what you are already using, and to introduce you to new developments.
Unfortunately, a lot of the best content is spread across countless personal blogs. A CSS reader helps here, but then you're quickly in danger of information overload. As always, it's useful to have somebody with more time than yourself take care of the filtering.
When looking for Web development periodicals online, most sites seem to fall into the "10 ways to X" and "55 tools to improve your Website" SEO-hell category. The signal-to-noise ratio is quite low here - and you don't really want to get swamped by dozens of articles every day anyway, no matter the information density.
A few sources which really do contain quality information and won't overload you:
A List Apart - Articles for the general Web developer population, from technical topics to philosophical musings. Always well-founded, and they have published some seminal stuff.
Smashing Magazine - Mostly good quality, tending towards practical tutorials and tips & tricks.
Can I use it?¶
In Web development, the big question then always is: Can I use it for my current project? There is no one answer - it all depends on a lot of factors, most importantly which browsers you need to support, and how far support needs to go.
An invaluable resource for getting a quick overview of where browser support for a feature currently stands is the aptly titled caniuse.com.
This presents a graphical overview of past, present and even (announced) future support, nicely color-coded.
Initially, things may be overwhelming. The thing to keep in mind is that you're not alone - there are legions of web developers out there. For any basic, and most advanced questions, the answer is out there - if you know how to find it. With the sources above, you should be well equipped to start your search.
1. It also keeps you from ending up on the pages of W3schools.com, which ranks surprisingly high on Google despite offering often sub-par, outdated or incomplete information.
2. It's surprising how often I come across blog posts which do not give me any indication as to when they were written. Not providing this information should be considered a cardinal sin!