I became a designer and developer by baking bread.

Wait… let me start over.

I accidentally became a web designer/developer by baking bread.

Here’s how it happened:

  1. Get a BA in Creative Writing and an MA in Elementary Education
  2. Learn how to make great sourdough breads
  3. Sell bread and my wife’s granola bars (best bars this side of the Mississippi) at the Farmer’s Market
  4. Make a legit business and call it The Covert Cupboard
  5. Illustrate a logo of a bird wearing Groucho Marx glasses and a mustache
  6. Check out a book on HTML/CSS from the library
  7. Stay up until 2am every night trying to figure out what all these acronyms mean (CSS/HTML/JS/FTP)
  8. Have someone see the site, and say, “Hey! Can you make me a website?” and respond with a resounding, “Um… Maybe?”

You can try following these steps if you want, but your mileage may vary. If you want more reliable results, try some of these tips instead.

Learn the Basics

There are a lot of tools and frameworks (like WordPress) that make it easy to get a website up and running with very little knowledge.

Don’t use one of those.

I can’t stress that enough. Don’t learn a framework, learn code.

From the beginning, I decided that I wasn’t going to use a site builder (like WordPress or Squarespace), because if it broke, I wouldn’t know how to fix it. When you learn how to build a website using a framework, you don’t really learn how to build a website. You learn that framework.

It’s more of a challenge up front to learn the basics and write all your HTML and CSS from scratch with just a text editor, but you’ll be far better off in the long run. When you know the core concepts and can write code from scratch, then you can build anything and learn any framework you want.

Create Something Real

Places like Code Academy that guide you through building a site can be great for getting an overview, but the best way to learn is to create something you actually want to build that people can actually use.

If it wasn’t for building a website for my bakery, I probably wouldn’t have stuck with it. The combination of determination and deadline goes a long way towards learning.

Learn One Thing at a Time

Your first site isn’t going to be a masterpiece. That’s OK. If your first website works well to you on your computer, then that’s amazing. It’s a big achievement, and you should be proud of it.

Every site you build will be a little better than the one before it.

For your next site, maybe you’ll make it look great on your computer and a tablet. Then, make it look great on a smartphone. Then, make it load faster. There’s no perfect website. The important thing is to keep learning and improving.

Get Stuck

Every developer has lost countless hours of their lives staring a line of code that should work but doesn’t. A forgotten semicolon, a typo, extra whitespace. Anything.

I would get so stuck that I wouldn’t even know where to start. I didn’t even know what words to use to describe the problem.

It’s going to happen to you. And it’s going to keep happening to you. Everyday. Getting stuck is a great opportunity. On your quest for the answer, you’ll learn five new things before you finally figure out the solution.

No One Knows It All

It’s easy to get discouraged. There’s so much to learn, and so many smart people that will seemingly always know more than you. But that’s a great thing.

We all know what it’s like to be overwhelmed and stuck. There are great communities of developers helping each other out, like on Stack Overflow. If you show that you’re doing your best to figure out a problem, but you’re stuck and have questions, people will gladly help.

There’s No One “Right” Way

People learn in different ways, but these tips are how I became a web designer and developer.

Not only do we all learn and take different paths, but every coding problem can be solved in hundreds of ways. There’s no one right way. If you give ten developers the same site to build, you’ll end up with ten different solutions to the same problem.

Just because you don’t code something perfectly the first time, remember, there is no perfect way. If it’s working, then it’s working. Be proud of that. You’ll keep improving and learning, and before you know it, you’ll be writing an article on how to get started as a web developer.