The Journey of Learning Front End Web Development on a Daily Basis

By Ahmad Shadeed on
13 Oct 2015,
Reading time: ~ 9 mins

One year and three months ago, I decided to learn HTML and CSS. I felt that if I can make it, my skills will be better and I will code my designs. Basically, I was only a designer who only made deliverable web mockups using Photoshop, and then passed it to a developer to implement them. Unfortunately, most of them don't care about pixel perfection, so they simply ignore any part of the UI that needs more work. Really? Why should I bear that? 😡 What if I can make it myself by learning HTML and CSS?

In this article, I will explain the different approaches I followed to stick to this daily practise, and share the mistakes I made, tools that helped me and a few lessons I learned the hard way.

Passion

Throughout this practise, I learned that passion is to work day and night without feeling tired. Passion is to wake up every day to work on something you love. Passion is to read a book about something you love and put it under your pillow (Yes!) in the hope of dreaming about it. There is nothing that can beat what you love since you are doing it with all your heart. 😍

The beginning

One year ago, I didn’t have experience in Web Design. I wasn’t aware that we should design for the web based on a grid system. I was feeling sad when a developer ignored an idea I suggested without knowing why.

I tried to learn Web Development in the past, but I failed two or three times. The process was I watch a video course, apply what I learned, and after a month I forgot everything! This is a huge issue that most people encounter when they want to learn something new, out of their comfort zone, and mostly the reason is that we want to be professionals in a very short period of time.

Screenshot of Commit app
Screenshot from Commit app.

In late June 2014, I decided to learn daily by using Commit app. The idea of the app is that you create a habit by giving it a name, and everyday you must tap on the ‘yes’ button so it can count for you. If you skip practising for a day, the counter will start again from zero. My first day was on Wednesday, July 2, 2014. I started by coding a design I made earlier for my blog.

On my first practise day, I was very excited and kicked it off with the home page of my blog design. Of course, I encountered some issues and documented them as below

The first practise day note
The note I documented for the first day of my front end journey.

During the first days of practise, you won’t have much experience, so it will be hard to plan what to learn the next days. You will ask yourself a lot, Am I going to succeed in tomorrow's practise? A lot of questions in mind that can simply stop you from learning!

One of the mistakes you might make is taking one day off and saying to yourself “I’m tired, I want to take some rest”. Mostly, you will take all the days off 😀 😂. Don’t take a day off! Keep your streak going, you must work hard, because it’s your future, you know.

And the journey began, I started downloading a lot of PSD files from all over the internet and tried to make them in HTML and CSS, or pick designs from projects I worked on in the past. The picking process is a bit hard sometimes, since you should pick PSDs that have some new ideas and challenges. Whenever I didn’t face a problem/challenge on a certain day, I realized that I didn’t learn anything new. Learning is to overcome your problems and challenges.

Tools and Ideas I followed

Commit App

The idea of the app is simple, it asks me everyday about my practise and When I tap on the ‘Yes’ button, then it will show you a counter like ‘450 days in a row’. If you skip a day, the counter will reset to zero.

What’s nice about the app is that it encourages people with it’s simplicty and very awesome idea. This helps and makes learning new things that need commitment a more enjoyable thing.

Google Docs

I use it to document what I learned and practised for each day. So far, it has reached about 75 pages of notes for each day. Be sure to document your journey, some day you will go back and read it, it will mean a lot to you. Also, it’s possible to enhance its content and make it as a book that can be useful to other people.

Say NO

You will face times in your day where if you don't say no, you will finish your day without doing your practise. It’s better to say No and not be shy from anyone. Make your journey a way to organize your whole life. Don’t only learn something new, but also develop your skills in time management.

Example: You can plan to go out with friends, in that day you should do your practise before going out, actually it’s better to do it early in the morning. That way, your mood will be good and you won’t spend your time thinking about your practise and why you should learn today. Because you already did it in the morning!

Challenges

Finding PSD files with unique ideas

Unfortunately, most of the PSDs available online are very similar to each other. What I did was browse Behance or Dribbble and pick designs in JPG format and start implementing them. After this experiment, I noticed that there is no big difference between the PSD and JPG files. Simply because as a web designer, it’s easy for you to inspect the design in a tool like Photoshop and check the font sizes, colors, distance between design elements.

Learning while traveling

During travel, you will encounter a lot of unexpected things, like an issue in the internet connection for example, or the place you are at is not comfortable to you, time zone, being tired and a lot of things that let your subconscious mind say “Don’t practise today. Don’t… Don’t…”.

Simply say No, I will do my today practise in spite of you. :)

When traveling, I prepare a practise plan for at least two weeks in advance, so I don't waste time everyday looking for a practise. Also, don’t forget to read books while you are on the plane or maybe you can do your practise as well.

Internet connection

Sometimes, I depend on resources that don’t work without internet, like web fonts. Try to download everything you need offline and prepare carefully for the unexpected things that might happen.

What’s the resources of my practises?

Dribbble, Behance and Pinterest.

Sharing with the community

It’s good to share what you learned and get feedback, they will know that you are committed to learning something new everyday. On day 28 of my practise, I published a screenshot from Commit app on my Facebook page. Then, I realized that people are waiting for something from me, they are interested to see what I’m doing. That’s encouraged me to do more and more practises. To be honest, maybe if I didn’t share this screenshot, then my learning would have stoped. Thanks, people.

Working on real projects

From the day 45 I started working on a real Front End project for a client, the experience was really awesome and I learned a lot from it. So far, I worked on more than 10 projects. I didn’t imagine that I will start working on real projects before finishing my learning. So what I learned is, daily practise is critical thing to each human being, it can completely change his life if he uses it well.

Lessons I learned the hard way

Using CSS Frameworks

One of the most common mistakes that the learner might make is to use those frameworks without understanding the idea behind them. Don’t use them if you are still a beginner, you will waste your time learning how to use them, instead of learning the core basics of a grid layout. A lot of people think that it’s possible to make a responsive layout using Bootstrap framework for example, this misunderstanding is a catastrophe. Again, don’t use them if you don’t have an idea about how it works. Use it with care.

Personally, I love using frameworks for prototyping a quick layout for a client, it only take a few minutes to create something interactive. Otherwise, I prefer to write my own CSS.

CSS Naming

It’s really hard to name CSS, maybe it’s the hardest thing when you are working on a large project. Things might get missy if you are not careful with the naming process.

Naming CSS is a lot harder than the situation when parents want to pick a name for their new child.

To make things better, you should stick to a naming method like BEM, SMACSS, ITCSS… Checkout Harry Robots blog if you are interested in learning more about CSS architecture.

What’s next?

In the meantime, I’m learning more about Javascript and reading the whole CSS spec. I’m also interested in CSS Architecture topic.

This article was written on day #468 of my journey.

Thanks a lot for reading. Have a nice day! :)

Thanks to the awesome Mai El-Awini for her help in proofreading the article.

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