z31maniac
z31maniac HalfDork
6/18/08 2:23 p.m.

In an effort to further my career, make myself more marketable, and ultimately make more money as a Tech Writer I need to learn web/multimedia design.

Since I'm contract labor, the company I work for won't pay for a class or school, so I'd like to start with teaching myself web design and development.

I'm contemplating buying Dreamweaver and putting it on my home PC to so I can learn do HTML and web page building.

Are there any good books, online resources, tutorials to check into? Is Dreamweaver the best software to learn on? Adobe's publishing suite seems to be the industry standard.

Or is there a different route you would suggest?

GameboyRMH
GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand Dork
6/18/08 2:26 p.m.

You won't learn to make beautiful top-quality ultra-complicated web pages this way, but the w3schools website can teach you everything short of that:

http://www.w3schools.com/

Salanis
Salanis HalfDork
6/18/08 2:31 p.m.

I prefer to hardcode html. It really isn't that complicated, and makes for a much more stable, usable, and upgradeable page. I find that WYSIWYG editors generate weird code. Plus WYSIWYG doesn't work for web-pages since the output medium is variable.

I like to learn by doing. Also programming isn't about doing everything yourself, it's about recreating what's been proven. Find pages that you like and do things you want to be able to do, then look at how they did them. You can do this by going to [View] -> [Page Source] and reading the HTML.

Learn about Div tags and CSS. CSS makes it really easy to build pretty pages and manage them without trouble.

Further note, given my other topic about whether I'm in the right field or not, how did you get into Technical Writing, what does your job normally involve, and how do you like that?

GameboyRMH
GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand Dork
6/18/08 2:36 p.m.
Salanis wrote: I prefer to hardcode html. It really isn't that complicated, and makes for a much more stable, usable, and upgradeable page. I find that WYSIWYG editors generate weird code. Plus WYSIWYG doesn't work for web-pages since the output medium is variable.

+1

Tim Baxter
Tim Baxter Online Editor
6/18/08 2:39 p.m.

Forget dreamweaver. It's an expensive crutch for people who don't want to dig in and figure out how stuff really works. It's not a bad program, it's just that if you want to really learn, you need to get your hands dirty.

Find yourself a good text editor and get to it. Price should range from free to maybe 100 bucks. On the mac side, I like Textmate, which is about 30 bucks, I think, and worth every penny. Don't know about windows, but just try some out. Many are free, and almost all come with a free demo. Try to get one that handles CSS well to (with syntax highlighting and stuff). It will make your life a lot easier.

For multimedia stuff, bite the bullet and get Flash, and a good book. I don't do much of that stuff myself, but you can do a lot of really cool stuff, if you're so inclined. You may want to come back to flash later, though. It ain't cheap either.

Now, for learning, way back when I learned, we all just viewed source and figured out what other people were doing. You can still do that, but it's a lot harder than it used to be.

Be wary of online tutorials. Lots are out of date. If it mentions standards-compliance, that's a good sign. If it starts talking about creating a bunch of tables, that's a bad sign.

I've heard good things about this book: http://www.cookwood.com/html6ed/ so you may want to pick that up.

As gameboy said, w3schools can teach you a lot. the w3c web site (http://www.w3.org/) can teach you EVERYTHING, if you can understand what they're saying.

Get yourself Firefox and the web developer toolbar extension. It's indispensible.

Start hanging around sites like alistapart and smashingmagazine.com, and you'll be a thick glasses-wearing, turtleneck sportin' nerd in no time.

z31maniac
z31maniac HalfDork
6/18/08 2:56 p.m.

Thanks for all the good info. I definitely want to become proficient and know what's going behind the button vs just pressing the button to make it happen, if you know what I mean.

Salanis wrote: Further note, given my other topic about whether I'm in the right field or not, how did you get into Technical Writing, what does your job normally involve, and how do you like that?

I kind of lucked into it to be honest. I had applied for a different job at MerCruiser (at that point I was just trying to get anything to stop commuting, my fault for moving before I had job, anyways....) and basically after a long phone interview with the HR manager she told the position I had applied for would not keep me motivated or challenged and want to stay. But she assured me that she would continue to pass my resume around the different departments in the company. Sorry rambling....

Anyway, they needed a Tech Writer, the manager for the dept saw my resume and my Journalism degree and brought me in for an interview. I had the job the next day.

I absolutely LOVE what I do. Basically, I develop technical documentation for our different products. Service manuals, Applications Manuals (the requirements necessary to design a boat for one of our many power packages), Installation Manuals (how to properly install one of our power packages), Instruction Sheets (how to install updated parts or optional parts), Service Bulletins, things of that nature.

To do that means collaboration between Engineering, our Service Product Experts and our customers (and that changes depending on the document) to do research for what is needed. I'm also responsible for doing teardowns and taking photos of the products being serviced or retrofitted and essentially documenting how to service/fix our products. I'm also responsible for Document Design (how the info is organized and laid out on the page).

I'm now also the Style Editor for all of our documents, so everything that is published goes through me before it gets sent to our manager for approval. I will also soon be taking over the responsibility of making our CD's and DVD's, one of the reasons I want to learn HTML, but that stuff is very basic.

You have an English degree correct? Tech Writing, Journalism and English graduates are who gets looked at for Tech Writing jobs. But if you have no experience doing it be prepared for an Entry level job and salary (although being in OK I still make above the national average and live in about the cheapest state in the country, so I do OK.)

Oh and Tech Writing for a software or tech com company is where the real money is at.

Hence the reason I'm trying to up my skill set. :)

Keith
Keith GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
6/18/08 5:44 p.m.

I started off coding by hand (my first web page had a picture of the brand new 1995 Miata show car on it) in text editors, and most of my code is still done that way. I don't use off-the-shelf web software, but code all of my stuff up from scratch. It's interesting.

But I'm a Dreamweaver fan. It's a big help when it comes to maintaining a big site. The big reason is that it's not like other WYSIWYG editors - it doesn't screw with the code. You can display both the web page and the code side by side, making it really easy to do layout and other work. There are some good references built into it, and it knows where everything goes in your site so you can quickly and easily upload changes. It's a good learning tool for coding the front end.

My favorite text editor is HomeSite, but it's not SFTP compliant and is no longer being supported. Bummer.

Flash and cool background code is one thing, but what you really need to develop if you want to be good at your job is interface design. How is the site going to be used? How can you make it easier to use? How do you keep people from getting lost, and how do they find things easily? One of the things I do when using a big corporate site is evaluate how quickly I can get the information I want.

For example, how quickly can I get the owner's manual for a Canon Elura 70 camcorder? Answer, it's on the fourth page you see after typing "canon.com". Think about that, you've managed to find the manual for an obsolete camcorder from a company that offers thousands of products in dozens of categories worldwide. What makes that easy? What makes it work?

A flashy (or Flash-y) page might look impressive, but functional beats sparkly.

Salanis
Salanis HalfDork
6/18/08 5:52 p.m.
z31maniac wrote: You have an English degree correct? Tech Writing, Journalism and English graduates are who gets looked at for Tech Writing jobs. But if you have no experience doing it be prepared for an Entry level job and salary (although being in OK I still make above the national average and live in about the cheapest state in the country, so I do OK.) Oh and Tech Writing for a software or tech com company is where the real money is at.

Yes, BA In English. Strong tech skills and understanding. I got praised for my writing/editing skills by my boss. I also spent time teaching, so I've got a good sense of breaking down the step of a process so that a 5th grader can complete them. Gotta look more into technical writing.

z31maniac
z31maniac HalfDork
6/19/08 11:15 a.m.

Keith, thanks for the great advice. Since my computer at work is currently screwing up the drives that are mapped to it, I've been nothing put researching and playing with code in Notepad, doesn't get much more basic than that!

Salanis, you definitely should. Being a GRM reader I can only assume something of Technical nature that already fits alot of your training and background would be an excellent fit.

Now I've just gotta get my girlfriend to move to a bigger city where there are more companies and I can make more monies!

Tim Baxter
Tim Baxter Online Editor
6/19/08 11:32 a.m.

Everything Keith said is Gospel. There's nothing inherently wrong with Dreamweaver... it CAN produce good clean code (something most WYSIWYG's can't do) and it has some nice site management features and references built in. Although there's plenty of text editors that have those things, too. The problem is that if you're learning and let DW do it all for you, you're not learning much. It's kind of like saying you're a writer because you know how to use Word. Honestly, though, my biggest beef with DW is that it can't render my CSS (or at least couldn't as of a year or two ago), so the WYSIWYG component is useless to me. Might as well save my money and just use a good text editor, which all have a "view in browser" button anyway.

Anyway what he said about user interface design is SUPREMELY important. The more you learn about usability, the better off you'll be. The rest is just window dressing. Whenever you're building a site, the site owners have needs, the site users have needs, and good interface design lies in how well you merge the needs of the two.

z31maniac
z31maniac HalfDork
6/21/08 11:17 p.m.

Well thankfully for me there was a problem with my computer's network mapping for about 36 hours, so I got to play with HTML for nearly two days on company time.

I've have to say what a good time that was. It's really incredible what you can do that, and I've only been able to do the absolute most basic stuff so far.

I just hope I don't HAVE to look for another job in another city just yet. As much as I want to live in a much bigger city, even bigger than Tulsa, OK than I grew up next to in Sand Springs, I've just got to get my G-friend ready to go as well!!!!

Any suggestions?

internetautomart
internetautomart SuperDork
6/24/08 10:05 p.m.

I've coded my own pages (see a few of my websites)
I also have had to do serious editing to my other site.
I use a program called HTML-kit for my editing, it's not WYSIWYG, and has built in FTP abilities. It has a built in preview option and tons of add-ons to make it more functional.
Oh yeah, it's also FREE I did pay to register it so I could get the beta version of it coming out. I'm not sure that you should bother with that though. pretty face but not as friendly as build 292.

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