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By Ray Villalobos | Saturday, May 12, 2012

Why you should learn PHP after HTML, CSS, and JavaScript

PHP in Action using my iPad

PHP in Action using my iPad

Earlier in my design career I read an insightful book by Roger Black called Websites that Work. One of his rules of design was that after black and white, red was the third color. White is the brightest color, and black has the most contrast to white, but red is the color that gives you the most bang for the buck if you’re looking to get your text noticed. That three-color premise makes me think back to development languages—specifically, which are important, why they are important, and in what order they should be approached.

I’m a big fan of PHP, and much like red, I think it’s the language that will give you the biggest bang for your learning buck. I propose that after you learn HTML/CSS, the next thing you should learn is JavaScript, and the third thing you should learn is PHP. You might argue that HTML and CSS are two different things, but I see them as the key semantic and layout combination of the web, so I consider them one item bundled together.

So what is PHP, and why should I learn it third?

PHP is a server-side language with files that are processed before they are sent to a client computer. It’s easily available in even the cheapest shared hosting servers and runs some of the biggest web sites on the Internet including Facebook. PHP also serves as the engine for most blogging platforms, including WordPress.

Some may argue that learning something like node.js is an easier transition from JavaScript, and I will admit, the superior object-oriented structure of Python and the MVC frameworks like Rails might be tempting, but to me, PHP is a the language for getting things done. If you already know JavaScript, the syntax is eerily similar so you can get going quickly.

If you’re into an MVC structure, there are plenty of frameworks available for the PHP language. To get started, I’d recommend checking out Drew Flakman‘s PHP frameworks course, MVC Frameworks for Building PHP Web Applications.

Using PHP hands-on

In this week’s episode of View Source, I wanted to show you a technique that I use often with PHP—creating a folder where people can drop photos, and then using PHP with jQuery to build a slideshow of the photos dropped into that folder. When it’s done, all you have to do is drop a new photo into a folder to update your slideshow, and your site will automatically update with the new content. It’s how I update the photos on the blog for View Source, and I’ve used the same technique to add elements like audio and PDF links to web sites before. With this technique, you can easily teach someone how to update a web site by simply dropping files into a folder.

Interested in more? • The full View Source weekly series on lynda.com • All web + interactive courses on lynda.com • All courses from Ray Villalobos on lynda.com

Suggested courses to watch next:PHP for Web Designers• Create an Interactive Video Gallery with jQueryPHP with MySQL Essential TrainingDreamweaver CS5 with PHP and MySQL

By Ray Villalobos | Saturday, April 07, 2012

Three tips to help you get started on a new web development project

View Source series table of contents as seen on lynda.com

Recently I received a message from a member inquiring about how I choose the topics I cover in my weekly View Source series. If you were to look at the index for View Source, it may look like unrelated topics, but all the tutorials do have a common thread—they were all made to focus on 10-minute tips that are useful to self-starters. For many years I designed websites, graphics, icons, and multimedia projects for a large newspaper and felt somewhat like a small cog in a really big engine. It was at that job that I learned how to code with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but ultimately I knew there was a lot more to making a site successful than coding. It’s those ‘other’ skills you need to be a success that I try to touch on as often as possible in my View Source entries.

Today’s blog entry stems from a post-newspaper job I was offered making a network of radio station websites from scratch. Since I have a natural love for learning, the thought of putting something brand new together was irresistible, but with knowledge of only the core trifecta (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript), I really needed to focus on what real-world techniques and skills I needed to accomplish this job.

What comes next? What skills do I have to develop ? What techniques do I have to learn? These are some of the questions I regularly asked myself when I was facing the radio station build, and questions I often ask myself now when I am coming up with View Source topics, so I wanted to share three things I learned in my early transition that helped me to move on and start a new project.

1. Analytics

One of the first things that caught my eye even while working as a small cog in the newspaper industry was analytics, and in particular, traffic patterns on web sites. My first experience with analytics was learning how to use a program called Urchin, which was the precursor to Google Analytics. Working in Urchin I learned that web sites, like most things, obey certain patterns. For example, web sites tend to have more traffic on weekdays than weekends, and traffic goes down dramatically on holidays. I learned that it’s important to track your web apps as soon as you launch them, and then to make your future plans are based on how people are interacting with your product.

One of my tasks I preformed on the radio station web site was to build a small 1-10 rating system feature that I didn’t think much about. The rating system worked by letting you give Kudos and ratings to your friends directly on your friend’s pages. It didn’t take me that long to program, and I had no real plans for doing much else with it, but people went nuts over the feature. Soon rating wars and a reciprocal rating requests (‘I’ll give you a 10 if you give me a 10′) starting breaking out as people wanted to make sure to always have a lot of votes and a perfect 10 rating. I didn’t see it coming, but using analytics to study the usage of the network allowed me to adjust my programming accordingly.

Learning how people use your products is even more important than your road map. Your users are the most important thing, so it’s very important to make sure you know how they’re using your product, and using analytics allows you to really track what is working (and what isn’t).

In this video from chapter two of the Google Analytics Essential Training course, author Corey Koberg discusses the concept of web analytics as not only a tool, but also a process.

2. Jumping into back-end technologies

On the web, developers talk about front-end versus back-end technologies. Front-end refers to technologies that execute on a user’s browser—the aforementioned HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are all front-end technologies. To build web sites that serve up different information to different users, you have to learn back-end languages, which tend to be more complicated. When I left my first job I already knew that no site gets built with only front-end technologies, so I started right away with PHP, which is still a great way to learn back-end development. PHP is a great language for solving problems. Do you need to submit a form? Talk to a database? Upload a File? These are all things PHP can make easy.

In the coming weeks, there’s going to be more discussion of back-end technologies on View Source. In this week’s episode, seen below, I focus on showing you how to parse XML from a YouTube channel.

Why YouTube? Building a YouTube Channel lets you tap into YouTube’s huge audience which views about three billion videos per day, and sees about 800 million unique visitors per month. Creating a YouTube channel is easy, free, and allows you to incorporate video into your site without any bandwidth costs.

3. Using jQuery and AJAX

One of the other technologies I committed myself to learning after leaving my newspaper job was jQuery. I wasn’t particularly interested in jQuery, but I was interested in what jQuery could do for sites through AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML). You see, there is a problem with JavaScript, and it’s the same problem that many web languages encounter—the way the language works on different platforms is inconsistent. This is really evident when you start working with AJAX as a way to have sites update content without reloads. jQuery takes care of the cross-platform issues and allows you to build things that would be really hard to do using only JavaScript. jQuery also helps your site feel modern and, because it handles cross-platform issues, it will make your life easier.

If you’ve got seven minutes, take a look at this View Source tutorial that shows you how to build a photo rotator using jQuery:

Every week, I plan on expanding the list of technologies featured in the View Source series, including a focus on mobile, CSS, CMS, and others. I will also continue to focus on tricks I’ve learned along the way, and emerging technologies like jQuery mobile. As always, if you have an idea for something you’d like covered, please feel free to let me know in the comments section below!

Interested in more? • The entire View Source weekly series • All developer courses on lynda.com • All web + interactive courses on lynda.com • All courses from Ray Villalobos on lynda.com

Suggested courses to watch next:Mobile Web Design & Development FundamentalsGoogle Analytics Essential TrainingWeb Site Planning and Wireframing: Hands-On TrainingWeb Form Design Best Practices

By Ray Villalobos | Saturday, March 31, 2012

How to become a web developer: Tips for those with a print background

I meet a lot of people who come from a print background and are interested in learning new web skills. Learning to make that transition doesn’t have to be scary—I know because I was one of those people who learned about designing for print first and then moved on to the web. I went through my first few jobs working for commercial printers learning about paper, inks, imageSetters, imposition, trapping, film, and typography. When the web came around, I realized that it was the next big thing and I needed to learn as much as I could about it in order to survive in the long run. Eventually I managed to learn what I needed and move on to work on the web full-time.

The web can be scary, but learning new web skills doesn’t have to be hard. It’s like trying to eat an elephant…you have to do it one bite at a time. In this post I will share some of my learning experiences and offer some recommendations for those with a print background who are interesting in learning more about web development. I encourage you to share your print to web journey, and to ask questions, in the comments section below.

Overcome the experience deficit

Every job listing will ask for years of experience. Whether it’s two years or five-plus years, I’ll let you in on a secret—the years are not as important as your portfolio. If you come from the print field, you know what I mean. Generally people get hired based on what they’ve accomplished, not how long they’ve been doing it. I know because I landed my first online job with zero years of experience in the field, and I did it by building a portfolio of work that was equivalent to years of experience. Although I hadn’t worked in the industry, I had projects to show that I knew what I was doing. So, your first step in the print to web development migration is to start building websites as soon as possible.

Start by learning how to build sites with WordPress. It doesn’t require any development skills and it’s pretty easy. You’ll need to know how to set up WordPress and how to set up a server with your own domain name. For help with this, check out Managing Hosted Websites, a course that goes through the process of setting up a domain name and installing WordPress. Once you’ve installed WordPress and set up your server and domain name, it’s time to start building web sites. For this I recommend checking out WordPress Essential Training. Some entire businesses are based on building web sites with WordPress, so it’s a great first skill that will help you gain some of that critical experience everyone is looking for. Plus, it’s a marketable skill that you can use to build a portfolio of work right away.

In this clip from chapter one of the Managing Hosted Websites course, I discuss how to pick the right domain name before you choose your server, since your domain name decision will have an impact on how people arrive at your web site:

Just knowing how to install and work with WordPress is not enough, though. What people will really want to see is how well you can customize a WordPress web site. Go through WordPress: Creating and Editing Custom Themes to sharpen your WordPress customization skills, then dive into Create an Online Portfolio with WordPress (because after you’ve got a few sites under your belt, you’ll need to show off what you’ve done).

Build from your Strengths

Another thing I did when I got started was to focus on building from my strengths. I had a design portfolio, so I started learning software that would let me build on design skills. This was the late ’90s so I began by learning a program called GoLive, a website editor much like Dreamweaver.

I already knew how to use Photoshop, so I worked with those skills and focused on designing projects for the web first in Photoshop, and then transferring those skills to Adobe Fireworks, which is better for preparing online graphics. I knew about formats like EPS, PDF, and TIFF, so I learned about the online formats like GIF, JPEG and then PNG. The point is, when you get started plan to evolve your skills instead of trying to learn too much.

So, if you’re starting with a background in design, check out Designing Web Sites from Photoshop to DreamWeaver. This course will point you in the direction of a quick win and teach you how to build on your existing Photoshop knowledge. From there, move on to DreamWeaver with Dreamweaver CS5 Essential Training.

Find out what the market needs

Even when I was a new designer, I knew that development skills would be very valuable, but that learning development wouldn’t happen overnight. So right away I established learning development as one of my long term goals. I started with HTML since it was the easiest to learn. If you’re just getting into development, I recommend you start with HTML 5 Structure, Syntax and Semantics. It’s a thorough course that explains the basics of HTML. CSS wasn’t as critical to learn when I got started in the ’90s, but it is very today, so I would head in that direction after HTML. If you’re primarily a designer, then this should be an area of focus for you. Start with CSS Fundamentals, then move on to CSS Page Layouts, and plan to go through one new CSS course per month.

In this movie clip from chapter three of the CSS Fundamentals course, James Williamson asks the question “What is CSS3?” and walks you through the answer in detail:

Becoming awesome

Once you’re past the basics, your next skill should be JavaScript—this is a very hot skill. JavaScript is one of those topics that can be tougher to learn, but the better you get with JavaScript, the more sought after you’ll be. Start with JavaScript Essential Training and then move on tojQuery Essential Training. (jQuery is a javascript framework that helps you build interactivity into your projects easily and handling a lot of cross-platform issues.)

Once you’ve got those under your belt, move on to a server-side programming language. I recommend starting with PHP and then moving on to MySQL. Once you’ve spent some time with JavaScript, the same programming concepts apply to PHP and MySQL, so they will be easier to pick up. As you begin looking for development work, you’ll start to notice those two languages featured prominently in job descriptions. Remember, the stronger you are, the more you’re worth. When you’re ready, try out PHP with MySQL Essential Training.

Conclusion

Remember the elephant…one bite at a time. Don’t get overwhelmed with all the technology. Make yourself a plan and remember to be consistent with learning. Even if you watch only one movie a day or a few movies a week, you can make a dent in that virtual elephant and build enough experience before you know it. Using myself as a case study, I know you can do it. There weren’t any special skills I started with, I was a print designer just like you. If I can do it, I know you can. Just remember, even when it seems overwhelming…you can learn it!

By Crystal McCullough | Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Adding dynamic data to a PHP-enabled web site in Dreamweaver CS5

Join David Gassner in Dreamweaver CS5 with PHP and MySQL as he explains how to add dynamic data to a PHP-enabled web site in Dreamweaver CS5. This course shows how to plan and create a MySQL database, define a PHP-enabled site in Dreamweaver CS5, connect the site to the database, and manage and present dynamic data. Dreamweaver CS5 features are demonstrated throughout the video series, including PHP custom class introspection and site-specific code hinting.

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