How I Started to Learn Ruby – Part I

“It All Started With a Little White Lie”

When I was first working as an intern for the University of Oregon, my boss asked if I could build a website for a football camp. My response, “yep!” The reality, “nope!”

I honesty had no idea, but I knew I could figure it out.

So, I started with a nice little 12 page book on learning HTML. I could figure it out fairly easily; wrap content in tags, add some “font=” and viola, you’ve got yourself a web page.

I started off just sending raw HTML to the people who managed the athletic website, and they would drop it straight into their CMS. It worked great, and now I felt like I could honestly reply, “yes,” when asked if I could build a website.

From there, I started to get really interested, and got myself a copy of Dreamweaver, took a little class on using it. Now I felt I could really get out there and start making some pretty neat stuff. I had Fireworks to do graphics, and Dreamweaver would handle everything else for me; I didn’t even need to know any HTML!

We decided to update another football camp website, this time one that we wouldn’t be able to just throw code into a CMS. I got the login and password so I could FTP up to the public_html folder, and we were off.

I had no idea how servers worked, had never even heard of Apache, and had no idea that I was even using Linux.  I just knew that I had an address, login credentials, a folder to put my files in, and it worked.

Designing with Web Standards

As I went along, and got more and more interested, I happened across DWWS (the first edition with the orange cover). This introduced a whole new world to me. I could now format the whole site using CSS, I started to use “code view” in Dreamweaver, and I started to feel like I actually understood what was going on.

I struggled with the concept of not using tables for layout, because, in reality, it was MUCH easier for me to just use tables. It took a little while to click, but I haven’t looked back since.

DWWS really opened me up to a lot of new blogs that I tried to copy. I read SimpleBits, stopdesign, and Zeldman pretty religiously. Funny enough, I rarely check any of these really great blogs anymore these days.

I was on a role, when reality set it…

Everything Became Very Tedious and Boring

I was taking on more and more projects at work, and I was quickly growing to hate typing HTML daily. I didn’t know any dynamic languages, and it was completely wearing me out.

We had one site where I would hand-code the full data from a MS Access database of a couple hundred records. This data was displayed and sorted in several different ways throughout the site. If someone changed their phone number, I changed it in the database, and in every single other place on the site.

This whole game wasn’t interesting anymore, and I was unmotivated to learn anything new.

PHP to the Rescue

I have been involved with various football camps for about the past 10 years or so. We’ve always tried to streamline our processes as much as possible. This included switching to a “real” database to store our info (MS Access) instead of Excel, and hiring a 3rd party company to handle online registrations.

We had issues with the company fitting our needs well, and over the course of about 5-6 years we had anyone, and everyone offer us their services to do it better. They all said they could do it, or ‘knew a guy,’ who could. These discussions always took place during camp, and I would go home excited that someone else was going to help us get things done easier. The next year, we would hold the same discussion with someone else.

Finally, about 2 years ago, I had had enough. I ordered myself a book on PHP/MySQL from Amazon.

This changed everything; I started to enjoy the process again. All the tedious tasks could be automated. I could drastically cut the my number of medial day-to-day tasks by just doing a little more work on the front-end.

Count me in!

Next time: From a ugly, hand-coded PHP to ugly Zend Framework PHP