[thelist] Re: getting back into development

Carol Stein techwatcher at accesswriters.com
Fri Oct 4 13:12:01 CDT 2002

As a person who is PRIMARILY a writer (or trying to be!), and only secondarily whatever else I'm paid to do, I have had at least 3 distinct cycles of "being a developer" so far. What I find most useful is reading current specs straight from the source (W3C), noting in the back of my head as I read them what has changed from how I used to do things. In my case, as well as noting them in the back of my head, I tend to take copious notes, since I sometimes teach others how to design, and have quick reference cards to update! Anyway, reading the newer spec is first.
For me, that implied finding and downloading files (manuals) of both XHTML transitional, plus CSS, to plow through. For you, it might also include php (or another new language), or a revision of an older language you used to use. I'll admit I'm probably weird in being able to learn a new language based on reading its manual. That comes from my 20+ year career as documenter (and sometimes, mostly unwillingly, programmer, with about 6 languages under my belt already). If you need to learn a new or revised language, search for good scripts/programs, too, and then practice writing a simple one yourself. Make sure you find an example which folks generally agree is an example of good coding, versus the usual messes we make under deadlines.

Second, look at new (newly designed or revised) sites often quoted or positively reviewed; look at the source, too. I don't necessarily like the current wave of "let's all do things that look like 'tabs,' based on text" designs, but I do sorta know how to do that if a client wants it.
At this stage, it is useful to try rolling your own, using the new features that attracted you in the spec, and maybe seeing if you can pull off something like what you appreciated in reviewing a few sites. You never really know what you understand until you try to apply it yourself.

Third -- unfortunately, in this cycle as in the previous ones, browser conformance is a huge headache. (If anything, it's increasing.) Belonging to a list like this one (and, especially, the CSS list) is a good way to stay on top of these problems, or at least get help from other minds and other eyeballs to spot a problem before your client does. After you've played with a "new" site yourself, see if you can learn to make it acceptable in all the browsers for which you expect to have to design.

Fourth -- this is optional, for those of you with money to throw away: There are some excellent books, as long as you get the ones not yet obsolete. Buy them for your very own library (or that pile of manuals on the floor next to your desk); for example, get Eric Meyer on CSS (he's that list's chaperone). (-8

Cheers --

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