10 Tips For High Schoolers Wanting To Be Web Designers Or Developers

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I have to thank my father for getting me into computers. He sampled a lot of personal PCs in the early eighties, from the Kaypro to the Apple II…eventually settling on the Apple Macintosh (what we now call the Mac). I paid attention and followed his lead, resulting in the career that I have now.

In turn, my son might follow my lead and strive for a career in web design and development, but I’m fine if he doesn’t. Ask any parent what they want for their kid and most will answer, “I want them to be happy and healthy.” I’ve heartily adopted this philosophy and while I’ll make sure that he’s afforded every opportunity to succeed, my son could be a janitor for all I care, just so long as he possesses those two characteristics.

While I won’t force tech down his throat, I am concerned that he won’t receive adequate computer training at school, particularly in high school where most computer training takes place. You see, technology as a whole changes rapidly; so rapidly that it’s tough to develop and test a long-term teaching curriculum for web design & development. Students are being taught Microsoft Word and the like, but HTML courses are few and far between.

If my son wants to do what dear-old dad does for a living, I’ve realized that I may have to teach him some web-related stuff outside of normal school hours. I’ve spent some time contemplating exactly how I would do this and came up with this list of steps and advice. While reviewing it, I realized that it’s good advice for all students, particularly high school ones:

1. Remember That All Of Your High School Classes Are Important

This is the least tech-related tip, but also the most important…

A common belief among high school students is that there’s no need to take classes which have no bearing on their career aspirations. “I want to be a doctor, so how is my French class helping me achieve that goal?” they’ll say, for example. Or, “What’s the point of my passing math class since I want to be a football player?”

Valid questions that share one easy answer…

A good doctor does more than perform surgeries. They need to review blood work, memorize the medical histories for ten or more people at a time, teach interns and residents while working…surgery is only part of the job. And do you really want to be a football player, or any type of athlete for that matter, that doesn’t have adequate math skills? How will you manage your money if you make it big?

In other words, the point of taking seemingly unrelated high school classes is to learn how to think and organize multiple tasks, skills you’ll need in the web field…or any job field for that matter.

2. Learn HTML First

HTML is the web programming language used to create a website’s basic structure. It’s relatively easy to learn and can be created with a simple text editor such as Notepad or TextEdit…DO NOT MICROSOFT WORD!!!!!! Do a quick Google search to find lots of free HTML tutorials.

3. After You Learn HTML, Learn About Things That Excites You

I got into web design and development by first learning Flash-an application for creating web-based animation. Flash thrilled me to the point that I couldn’t wait to learn other things like PhotoShop and CSS.

There were certainly things I had to learn but if I didn’t mix that up with things I wanted to learn, I can’t say for sure if I would have pursued a web design/development career.

4. Learn Both Design And Development

A web designer is the one responsible for making a site look pretty. They’ll mock the site up in a graphics program, usually Adobe PhotoShop, and maybe contribute a little web programming. A web developer is responsible for doing most of the coding. At a bare minimum, they’ll know HTML and CSS like the back of their hand, and will also be well-versed in JavaScript, XML, PHP and other languages.

It’s good to focus on one or the other from a career standpoint, but it’s even better to have knowledge in both areas. It’s also OK to be a serious web designer and know a few web development tricks, and vice versa.

Take note: as of this article, mobile web use is on the rise. Mobile sites are on smaller screens, placing less emphasis on design than development. Therefore, it may be better to be a web developer in the long run.

5. Work Hard In Math Class…VERY Hard

If you’re aiming to be a developer instead of a designer, strong math skills will take you a long way. Web programming is primarily based on conditional math, a series of “if-then-else” statements. For example: if you wanted to write a command to determine what days you go to school, it would look something like this:

 if (dayOfWeek == "Saturday") {
 } else {
if (dayOfWeek == "Sunday") {
} else {

By no means is this the most optimal code. I would need to “declare a variable” in order for this to work and would also need to load all of the days of the week into an “array.” I could also have written less code for determining the days and, if I was really ambitious, could have written code that checked for school holidays and the summer break. But this is still a good example of math-based web code. And the more math you understand, the more this block of code makes sense on its own.

6. If Your School Doesn’t Have The Proper Web Learning Tools, Take The Initiative And Help To Bring Them In

Almost all of the major software/hardware companies (Adobe, Microsoft and Apple included) offer their goods to educators at a substantial discount. As of this writing, Adobe PhotoShop retails for $500 but a teacher can purchase it for less than $200 before tax and shipping. Share this information with your teachers and see if they have the funds to bring them in.

Your teachers should also check out lynda.com. It’s an online training library that offers TONS of courses on web design and development. PhotoShop, JavaScript, WordPress, HTML…the list goes on. Maybe your teachers can bring that into your school. (Note: I have an affiliate program with lynda.com)

7. If Your School Can’t Bring In The Proper Web Learning Tools, Ask Your Parents If You Can Get Them For Yourself

The above-mentioned discount extends to students as well. So if you REALLY want to pursue a web-based career and you’ve properly demonstrated this to your parents, see if they can help you bringing them to the house.

8. If You Want A Web Design College Degree, Take Time To Find the Right One

For web developers, a computer science degree is what you want. MIT and the like are the best but you still have lots of great options if that’s not possible. Web designers, however, need to do a little more research when picking a school.

Any college whose curriculum is predominantly based on web design programming classes is to be avoided. Yes, knowing how those applications and code languages work is important but they’re only a small part of a web designer’s job.

An efficiently-designed website needs to be appealing enough to 1) contribute to the process of making people stay when they first arrive, and 2) contribute to the process of making people to come back. Website content generated by the site owners play the biggest role here, but a firm understanding of “usability” takes second place.

In this case, usability means understanding how people act and react when looking at a website, then designing a website that yields positive results based on that understanding. Knowing how to crop images in PhotoShop and write HTML code won’t help you with any this.

Web design usability has roots in traditional advertising design concepts so in this case, a traditional art school with a good web design program is your best bet. Give the Rhode Island School of Design or the School of Visual Arts in New York a look. Washington, DC’s Corcoran School of Art and the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) are also worth checking out.

9. See If You Can Intern Somewhere Over The Summer

If you have a little-better-than-basic understanding of web design and development, see if there’s a web-based company of any size that will let you work there for free. You’ll gain great experience and have something really cool to put on your college application. You may also have to fetch some coffee but it’s still an experience that will yield, at least, a few positive results.

I’ll concede that this is easier to accomplish if you live in either a big or medium-sized city. And I’ll also concede that opportunities like this are usually provided to college students over high school students. But it’s still worth your while to research this as a possibility.

10. Check Out The Scrunchup Site

Started by UK-based web designer Anna Debenham, Scrunchup is a fabulous resource for young and aspiring web designers. From advice on how to start a web career to CSS tutorials, there’s a little bit of everything on this site. Anna’s own “Why we made Scrunchup” article is nice starting point for the site.

Do any web designers/developers have tips for the younger generation? If you’re a high school student, would you follow any of these tips? And what do parents think? Feel free to comment!!!!

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