Lessons I Learned in School for Web Development

Earlier this week marked my 1 year anniversary of graduating from college. Like most things in life, it seems weird that it's already been that long. I took some time to reflect on what I'd learned during the 5 years I was in school, and thought I would share some of the things I found to be highly beneficial.

Lesson 1: Take learning into your own hands

I had a professor who on the first day of every class I took from him would tell us how little time we had with him in class. The classes were usually 2 times per week, and each class was about an hour long. Over the course of a semester, that's only about 38 - 40 hours total. He mentioned this to emphasize how important it was that we spend time outside of class learning on our own. His job was to simply answer questions that came up while conducting our own research. He was our mentor that was there to help when we really got stuck. I found it to be an extremely helpful teaching method because it taught me how to figure things out on my own, which made what I was learning stick even better. It allowed me to have control over what I was learning and to make faster progress.

Lesson 2: Write everything down

The brain is a horrible place to store stuff, especially in a world where we're constantly bombarded with information. I learned quickly that if I didn't write something down, it was gone. Luckily, I came across Evernote during my first semester, so I had a great place to throw everything into. I've since expanded the tools I use to capture information (see some of them in this post on productivity), but in the end, the lesson is to use what works best for you. The important thing is to have a place to store information outside of your brain.

Lesson 3: Don't be afraid to ask questions

I think we as people are afraid to ask questions for the fear of looking dumb, stupid, or ignorant. I know I've fallen victim to this mentality on many occasions. The truth is, though, if we don't ask questions, we'll never learn anything. I've personally wasted far too much time banging my head against a wall when I could've easily had a problem solved by asking somebody who knows. I've found people in general are more than happy to share their knowledge. It makes people feel good when you go to them for help. Also, in a classroom setting, It can be beneficial to an entire class when one person asks a question. More likely than not, someone else has the same question you do. So be sure to speak up. Just remember, the masters from whom you're seeking answers had to start off asking questions too.

Lesson 4: Save everything

The first web development projects I worked in school were horrible, and it's simply because I didn't have the skills yet to make better things. It's tempting to take those first projects and dump them. You may be worried that people will see them and look down on you for them. But as I mentioned in the previous lesson, even the masters had to start somewhere. Everyone's first project is horrible (unless you're amazingly gifted). I think it's far better to keep those first projects around. It provides a great way of seeing where you were when you started, and how far you've been able to come.

Lesson 5: Put projects up on a portfolio website

Every one of my professors stressed the importance of putting your work up on a portfolio website, especially as a web developer. There's not a single web development job I've applied for that didn't ask to see a portfolio of previous work. When you're applying for your first job, the work you have to show is most likely only what you've done in school, so this is where the previous lessons will really help you. You'll be able to produce higher quality work, which will land you a job faster. It'll show you're self-motivated, and that's what employers want.

Lesson 6: Put projects on GitHub

Similar to putting your projects up on a portfolio website, you really should be putting your stuff on a site like GitHub, GitLab, or Bitbucket. Often I was asked when applying for jobs if I had a GitHub account. Employers see it as great way to assess your skills because they can look at your actual code. Any way that you can show more of your high quality work, the better off you'll be.