The Best Way to Learn to Code: Building Websites NOW!

  • How can I learn to code?
  • Where can I learn CSS?
  • What course should I take to learn HTML?
  • How can I learn to make a website?

I see these questions a lot. My answer is always the same:

Get out there, build a website, and Google anything you’re not sure about.

Courses and guides should be used as a starting point ONLY.

Don’t set out to “learn HTML” or “learn CSS”. Guides and courses that focus 100% on syntax are not the solution.

  • They’re boring.
  • You’ll be constantly asking yourself, “Is this relevant?”
  • It’s hard to stay motivated.

It’s like learning French by purely memorizing vocab instead of actually integrating yourself and trying to speak French for real.

A syntax-only guide will probably confuse you and make you lose motivation quickly.

That’s exactly what happened to me.

When I was first learning CSS I looked up guides and read tutorials. And for the longest time, I didn’t get it. I couldn’t learn. None of it stuck. I felt like I was reading Chinese.

Guide:

“This is a selector! {insert technical explanation about what it is and what it’s doing}”

Me:

“Selector? What? Scary word. Is this really relevant? Do I need to know this word?”

(Yes, I was 13 and “selector” was a scary word. Give me some slack.)

No matter how many guides I read, I still didn’t UNDERSTAND what I was doing. I felt like I was memorizing a bunch of vocab words instead of truly understanding what was going on. As a result, I couldn’t write my own code from scratch (because I didn’t understand it enough). The most I could do was modify someone else’s code to change the values around (like colours).

What finally helped me learn was learning by completing a goal.

Instead of just Googling, “How to learn CSS” or “CSS tutorial for beginners” I approached it a different way. I took my desired end result (building my own website) and SPECIFICALLY worked towards that. Instead of Googling for an all around guide, I would Google individual pieces to help me put the puzzle together.

  • how to code a navigation menu HTML CSS
  • how to create a two column layout CSS
  • how to center text on the page

By actually putting these things into practice and working towards a relevant goal I was finally able to understand what I was doing and make real progress.

Learning PHP was boring… until I made it relevant to my goals.

This was equally true for me when I tried to learn PHP. First I started by Googling for “Intro to PHP” or “Learning PHP”. But I had the exact same problem. It was Chinese. I didn’t feel relevant. With no real goal to work towards, I lost motivation.

So I changed up my method and worked towards a goal. I found real projects I could complete that used PHP.

  • how to build a WordPress theme from scratch <-- Super beginner intro to PHP
  • how to build a custom plugin <-- Even more PHP

I wasn’t learning PHP exactly. I was learning how to do other things that happened to use PHP.

I picked real goals that I wanted to accomplish. I didn’t want to learn PHP just for the sake of it. I wanted to learn it so I could do more advanced things with WordPress. So I worked towards that specific goal, instead of a more generic “learn PHP”.

This is the same approach we take in Master Customizer

When I started building Master Customizer (my “coding 101” course), it was really important to me that it wasn’t just all about the technical aspects of CSS. I wanted something real and concrete to come out of it. That’s why the course is basically split up into two parts:

  1. The first part goes over some key parts of CSS. It doesn’t cover CSS as a whole—just some of the most important parts of it that are used most often. I avoid getting overly technical and try to emphasize understanding rather than memorizing technical terms.
  2. The second part (called “Shit Gets Real”) is where we take everything from part one and apply it to something real. I show you how to take a Photoshop mockup and use custom CSS to implement that design in a custom child theme.

I don’t want people to walk away with a bunch of gibberish to memorize. I want to focus on achieving a real result—something concrete.

If you’re interested in learning CSS, Master Customizer is still half off until February 8th!

I want to become a master customizer!

What’s your experience with learning to code? How did you try to learn? Did it work or not?

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I'm a 27 year old California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). I like to inject a little #girlpower into the WordPress development community by teaching women how to be coding badasses. more »

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8 comments

  1. When I first started to learn how to code, I did exactly as you mentioned at the start of the post, I googled “intro to html”, “intro to css” and so forth. I made some progress but didn’t get as far as I wanted and felt I was just memorizing definitions and lines of code.

    A few months later, while in college, I took a web design course and a similar thing happened. Having a proper course and teacher, I learned A LOT more, but once I started going beyond the outlined course material and doing my own thing, I learned so much more. I always ended up finishing the class assignments 1-3 weeks early so I could focus on building my website and learning even more! haha.

    I signed up for the Master Customizer course right when it opened for pre-sale. Can’t wait to dig into it!

    Colin recently posted: Why Iā€™m Self-Publishing
    1. It definitely sounds like you’ve had a similar experience, Colin! And it sounds like you’re hungry for coding knowledge—I love that!! šŸ™‚

      Can’t wait to work with you on the course!

  2. I seriously think you’re about to take over the blogging community, and everyone’s blogs are about to start looking even cooler and more professional.

    As I’ve just started my new blog, this is something that I definitely feel like will come in handy. I’ve always wanted to learn how to customize my own site, and googling never got me very far because I never knew where to start.

    Half price? You’ve sold me, I’m about to sign up now! Seriously very excited about this!

    1. Thanks Jordon! šŸ˜€ That would be pretty awesome! I hope I can help you do some fabulous things with your website. šŸ™‚

  3. I took an Introduction to Java Programming back in college and my brother and dad know a lot of the software and some of the web languages. I try my hardest to google answers if I can’t figure it out but sometimes I cave and have to ask for help lol. I finally just did that…I couldn’t figure out why our menu on a tablet view sometimes functioned and other times didn’t. My brother figured it out in no time at all that it had to do with a jquery call line missing from my child’s theme whereas I google and searched for hours and found nothing. There’s always so much left to learn! =D

    Jen recently posted: 2015 Favorite Singles
    1. It definitely helps to get comfy with the developer tools with your browser. We focus a lot on Inspect Element in Master Customizer. A lot of debugging can be done there alone. šŸ™‚ The “Console” tab will help you see any JavaScript errors like the one your brother found!

      I totally remember my own introduction to Java class in high school! Only two people (one of which was me) signed up for the class. Oddly enough, we were both girls!

        1. Haha that’s what I expected the class to be like. I think computer science just wasn’t a good fit for my school. I went to a prep school and there was definitely a bigger focus on sports/jocks rather than “nerdy” ol’ computer science. šŸ˜›

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