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Why I Geek

I am the penultimate example of the adage: Jack-of-all-trades, master of none. When I told this to a friend of mine, her reply was: ‘That’s a good thing- you’ll have job security where others with only one skill don’t.’

I like that. I’m surrounded by talented people- mostly artists, photographers & musicians, and feel left out of the creative exchanges that take places between likeminded ilk. I’m still in that phase where I need to be acknowledged as a writer by others before I will allow myself to say: I am a writer. These people can rightfully claim: I’m a graphic designer, a painter, a drummer as that is what they do. I do so many damn things I don’t know what to call myself. So just call me Jack?

Anyways, on to the geek segment of this post. The website you’re looking at is driven by both WordPress and a template that I designed with HTML, CSS, and a few other things, using Dreamweaver. I only know how to do all of this because I had to learn how to build websites and newsletters for our various businesses. Why me? Because while there are plenty of artists and photographers and musicians in my town, there is a major geek shortage and I think I know why. But more on that another time. Why didn’t we just pay someone to build a site for us? Well, we’d done that before and needed more control, a less template-y look, and we didn’t have the budget to hire the job out. It became evident that we would need a part-time web designer and for some reason I volunteered for the job.

As it turned out, I enjoyed learning how to design websites- it’s like figuring out a puzzle or deciphering a code and then watching its answer come to life. However, I was often under pressure to produce something in record time without knowing what the hell I was doing exactly, so my learning process was all over the place. In a way though, that’s the only way to learn as there are so many different things that make a website do different things and you need to have a general knowledge of what is doing what. You’re basically learning different languages and then putting them on a page and watching them talk and be interacted with.

So how did I learn? I taught myself at Google University. All you need to know is WHAT to ask and the answers will be revealed. Sometimes that’s the hardest part to solving a problem- knowing what keywords to search in order to get to the solution. That is why you need to start from the start at learning HTML and work your way up from there. Get down basic HTML and CSS (Cascading style sheets are used to paint the page- from setting background images, font colors and types, and all kinds of cool stuff like rollover effects and fade-in/out, that weren’t available back in that day day. Lucky you.) You might also need to learn PHP and MySQL in order to interact with databases, build forms and store data, and for interacting with other pages on your site. As an example, I use PHP to call the header you see with the navigation bar on each page. I use one line of code and only have to update one file when I’m editing the site. It saves a ton of time in the long run.

If you’re interested in learning, I suggest starting at W3schools.com and taking the HTML quiz. Then start the tutorials. It’s rather easy. You need a copy of Dreamweaver or you can simply use a .txt file and a free FTP program like FileZilla. FTP stands for ‘file transfer protocol’ and magically takes the files from your computer and makes them appear on your server. It really is magic.

From there you begin learning Javascript/JQuery and there is a plethora of premade scripts online to learn from. After you get a bit of practice under your belt, say by creating a temporary website where you can practice your skills, you wil know enough terminology to seek out help when you get stuck on sites like Stackoverflow.com- sometimes there are some real self righteous jerks on there, nerda donnas, if you will, but for the most part people are helpful as long as you accept an answer if it solves your problem AND if you show the efforts you’ve made so far.

I’ve used the internet to learn pretty much everything I’ve needed to learn over the last decade including 99% of the computer skills I’ve acquired as a business necessity. You can too if you are ambitious, like to learn something new every day, and don’t mind a lot of quiet lonely nights in front of the screen. It’s one of those jobs, but I like it, as I can see results on the fly. With every adjustment of the file, I get closer to solving the code that is the completed page. And then on to the next.

Eventually, I hope to meet more people who can do what I do and will do it for me instead. I want to write more. And then some. I have a little plan that just might buy me more free time to write. But first, I have to finish the website for it…

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