How to get started in software

Step 0: Be patient, there’s a ton of stuff to learn and you won’t be able to understand everything or build up a code base overnight. Also this is Step 0 because in programming, you start counting at 0 instead of 1. When you are working with computers details are very important.

Step 1: Learn what RSS is and start subscribing to feeds. RSS is that little orange button with three lines through it on most pages. If you read ten sites that update periodically, instead of going to each one in turn you can have the site notify you when it updates, and then get all the updates in one place. I use Google Reader. Some good blogs to start subscribing to are Lifehacker, Gizmodo or Engadget, Jason Kottke and TechCrunch. Add a few more based on stuff you’re interested in: there are great psychology blogs, economics blogs, politics blogs, news blogs, etc. To find new cool blogs look at Technorati.com, or check out people’s blogrolls. Another good place to search is the homepage of Delicious.com.

Step 2: Start a wordpress.com blog. A blog is a place where you can practice your writing skills and share a little bit about what you think. Write once a day about anything you want – if you’re tired summarize something you read in your RSS feed, practice your storytelling, sharpen your opinion. Once you get comfortable with using WordPress, switch the theme to a custom theme and install some custom plugins.

Step 3: Get an account on delicious.com to save cool links that you find. This will help you when you want to point someone to something you read 6 months ago. Plus if you want them to, people can see all the cool stuff you’re saving. If you get your friends to sign up too, you can add their delicious feeds to your RSS feed and see what they’ve been reading. If you find a great link in your RSS feed, email the author and tell them how much you enjoyed the post. Odds are they’ll be flattered and delighted to hear from you.

Step 4: Add Hacker News to your RSS Feed. Hacker News is a site where software developers share cool stuff they’ve been reading about and this runs the gamut from marketing to politics to hardcore algorithms and assembly language. Ignore all of the stuff that you don’t understand, but click on and upvote links that you read and like. The quality is uniformly good and you’ll learn about cool stuff.

Step 5: Figure out something you’d like to build – your homepage, or a better design for your blog. Then learn how to design it in HTML and CSS. Start with this:

<html>
<head>
<title>Page Title Goes Here</title>
<style>
/* CSS goes here - this controls how the letters and images look on the page. */

body {
background-color:black;
font:#ffffff; /*this is hexadecimal code for white*/
}
</style>
</head>
<body>
<div>
Hello World! This is my homepage. Check out more <a href="about">about me.</a>
</div>
</body>
</html>

From here learn how to change the appearance of the stuff on the screen – search on Google for “CSS change font” or “CSS change font size.” Then learn how to add things like images to your HTML code.

Step 6: Buy your own web domain. If your name is available you should buy it, if you don’t want it now you probably will later. It costs about $10 to register a domain name for a year and it’s fairly easy to set up on GoDaddy. After you register your web domain, GoDaddy will display an ad page on your homepage – you’ll need to buy Web Hosting as well. It’s kind of like the difference between buying the deed to a piece of property (registering the domain name) and paying someone to build a house on it and maintain it (paying for web hosting). You can buy webhosting for $12 per year from 2GBHosting.com.

Step 7: Move your WordPress blog to your custom web domain. Learn how to use FTP – it’s how you transfer files from your home computer to your website. Use Cyberduck FTP for Mac, or FileZilla for Windows. You’ll need to get the FTP settings from whoever you bought web hosting from, and you’ll also need to figure out how to set up a MySQL database. It should be somewhat straightforward to figure out how to do these from your web hosting administration panel. Download the WordPress software from wordpress.org, upload it to your site via FTP. Then export all your posts from your old blog and import them to your new site.

That’s it for today. By this point you should have at least 100 posts to your name, and accumulated learning and skills from reading your RSS Feed. All of the above took me about two years, but I could have gone faster if I was more focused on what I was doing. More steps coming tomorrow.

Liked what you read? I am looking for work.

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