The Practical Guide to Becoming a Professional Web Developer
Bill Sourour
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Your point that personal projects miss the element of “coding to someone else’s requirements” is well taken. Of course sometimes other people’s requirements are nonsense. I had to learn XSLT for a one-off project that I could have done more quickly in PHP, but the boss wanted the “newer” technology on HIS resume.

But in terms of self-learning, every advance I’ve made has come through a personal project, either something I wanted, or making something that existed more generic — for example a lot of PHP/MySQL tutorials start the student out using named data fields, and I would show that to a beginner to illustrate the concepts, but wouldn’t make him do it even once, so I learned PHP/MySQL by building a generic database front-end. Always thinking “now that this works, how can I genericize it”.

I’m not smart, but through personal projects I’ve learned:

Fortran, WordPerfect Macro Language, SQL(that was actually an ad hoc task in the workplace), HTML, JavaScript, JQuery, PHP, MySQL, how to install and configure Apache — the server is part of the stack, installing Linux back when it wasn’t easy… clean up your code to make it readable and well commented, think of how you would sell it in an interview; sometimes “I wanted to do A so I had take some time and learn B, so now I have a good grasp of B” goes over well.

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