What do you think of when you picture a programmer? If you’re like I was a few years ago, the image that comes to mind is a socially awkward introvert who’s far smarter than you are. But it turns out that I was wrong — and learning just the basics of programming can dramatically improve your job prospects. Every company has or wants a great website, but many people have no idea how to make or maintain one. Skills in web programming can set you apart as a potential candidate for a job or internship, even if you’re not looking to work for a tech company or online startup.
The best part is that coding isn’t nearly as hard as it sounds — it’s a lot more interesting and exciting than you may think. If you take advantage of online or in-person courses to build your basic knowledge, you can quickly be on your way to becoming a web programmer.
You’ve Got to Start Somewhere
HTML, the language for displaying information, is simple and easy to learn. For example, take this code:
This will make a big header (h1) for my name. If I want a subheading, I can use another simple code:
<h2>I’m a fun guy!</h2>
It’s as easy as that!
Now, I could put all this together on a webpage that would look like this:
<h2>I’m a fun guy.</h2>
<p>My name’s Michael. I like to have fun. Here are some fun things I do:</p>
<li>Hanging out with my friends</li>
<p>Thanks for reading my webpage. Goodbye!</p>
This code would give me a paragraph (p), an unordered list (ul — “unordered,” meaning it has bullets instead of numbers, which would be an ordered list), three list items (li), and a final paragraph.
Once you’ve entered the text, it’s simple to format the page using CSS:
These symbols make the header 32 pixels tall, the subheading 24 pixels tall and italicized, the paragraph text blue, and the unordered list have a yellow background.
And that’s it! If you start with the basics and work your way forward, it’s not hard to learn at all.
Building on the Basics
The next step, if you want to become a professional programmer, is to learn a server-side language. These languages power websites like Facebook or your bank, and they determine which of your friends’ posts to show you, or how much money is in your bank account. Two popular and easy-to-learn server-side languages are Ruby and Python.
If you’re more interested in building websites than in becoming a programmer, you can skip the server-side languages and instead learn to use a CMS. WordPress, which powers one in every six online sites, is the most common CMS, but one of my favorites is Virb, which doesn’t require any knowledge of HTML and is very easy to use. Another simple CMS with more options for customized designs is Perch.
The demand for computer programmers is expected to increase by 2.9 percent annually through 2020, compared to a 1.3 percent increase of all other jobs in other fields, according to an April report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And computer jobs weathered the storm of the recession, with an only 1 percent loss in 2009. The field recovered by the next year, with more jobs than ever before.
There are dozens of online resources to get you started. My favorite is, of course, the one I wrote, at www.LearnHowToProgram.com. Some other great sites are Codecademy, Mozilla Thimble, and Khan Academy. There are also online support communities and schools with courses you can pay for.
Programming is no longer just for nerds. It’s hard to find a job that will not involve computers or the Internet in some way. No matter where you want to find an internship, having basic programming skills will help you stand out — and may become an exciting new career path.
Michael Kaiser-Nyman is the founder and CEO of Impact Dialing, a service that helps people make phone calls more efficiently. He is also the founder and CEO of Epicodus, a four month, forty hour per week in-person class on programming where you’ll learn everything you need to know in order to get a job as a web developer. Connect with him on Google+.
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