Start with the Front End.

A dusty Windows XP machine with notepad will do you. Seriously!

Introducing others to new ideas or interests is a great feeling. It’s like sharing a funny joke with your friends and seeing them laugh. You brought laughter to their lives. You made that happen. They will probably share the joke to their other friends that find jokes about bears funny (“Once upon a time, there were 3 bears…Now there are millions”).

So this week, my wife’s cousin, Liam, joined me for some work experience. As a teenager (he’s only 15 years of age), the enthusiasm and energy he brought was fantastic, and he dove head first into learning the basics of front-end engineering. As a developer with over a decade’s experience in both client and server side development, I think HTML, CSS and JavaScript are the perfect languages to get your feet wet when starting out programming. All you need is a browser, a text editor and you’re good to go. No servers, no SDK downloads, no fancy IDE, not even an internet connection. With such few resources needed, you don’t even need a beefy computer. As member of the IT community, we all picture the stereotypical developer with a shiny Mac, stickered within an inch of its life (‘yaw…I got this one at a hackathon on the moon’), portraying the image that expensive, attractive hardware is the minimum requirement to develop websites. Not at all. A dusty Windows XP machine with notepad will do you. Seriously!

Learning a new programming language in the past was a challenge. You either had to buy an expensive book, go to university or know a developer (probably your dad). However, the tools and resources available to anyone these days is incredible. From initiatives like CoderDojo, to a sea of instructional videos on YouTube and educational websites like https://www.codecademy.com, there is something for everyone to get started towards writing their first line of code or building a website.

On day 1, Liam registered an account with Code Academy and got up and running, first completing a course in HTML & CSS. On day 3, he followed on with an introduction to Javascript. On his last day (day 5…also known as Friday to me and you), he began the introduction to jQuery course. jQuery is the de facto library for website development (72% of 10,000 top sites — Quantcast). So, in just 5 short days, Liam learned the basics of front-end development. He now has the building blocks to engineer a slick looking, interactive site with an intuitive user experience to rival the best. 5 days doesn’t quite give you the skills to build an Apple.com, but Liam has learned to open Chrome DevTools, inspect elements, change the the look and feel of them and through the console, manipulate them with some nice jQuery API calls. To me, that’s really awesome. Honestly, apart from years of experience and the practice of writing (valid & semantic) markup, (concise & performant) CSS selectors and modular JS (AngularJS…anybody?) on a daily basis, Liam could deliver on a project’s requirements, albeit very slowly, but ultimately deliver a useable codebase. And to me, that’s the joy of learning to code with the front-end. You can get going. See progress. And feel like you are learning.

Will Liam choose software development as a future career (or a future addiction to coffee.) thanks to this brief glimpse into front-end development, who knows? What I do know, is that regardless of his choice, the future is incredibly bright for software development, and front-end development in particular. The ease of which to get started, find helpful resources to increase your knowledge and deliver a final project is amazing. Other industries look on with envy.

Front-end development. The start of a good thing.

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