December 5, 2014

How I Built Websites in 2004

This is part 2 of a series my background in building websites. See the links below for the other parts. I strongly recommend that you read over the 1996 post before reading this one as I brush over a lot of the stuff that I learned almost ten years prior to 2004.

  1. How I Built Websites in 1996
  2. How I Built Websites in 2004
  3. How I Built Websites in 2008
  4. How I Built Websites in 2012
  5. How I Built Websites in 2014

This post won't be as long of a read as the 1996 post since it should not involve as much nostalgia. I graduated from high school in 2004, so that year was a fairly significant milestone in my life; it also marked the first time that I got paid to work on websites. Strangely enough, it was also the first time I left a job because of something my employer asked to do.

This post is going to be a lot less about the technologies that I learned (I'll be honest, I didn't learn too much around this time), and more on complimentary skills and how I dealt with problems.

Sophomore and Junior Years of High School

My sophomore year was the first time I took a computer programming class. At the time, Forest Lake High School offered Visual Basic. Developing Visual Basic programs back then (around the year 2000) isn't too much different than using Xcode today to develop an iOS application. You drag UI components into a window and plug in actions for those components. The most memorable program that I built in that class was a tic-tac-toe game.

Junior year got a little more intense. I took an AP (advanced placement) class for computer science; this type of class offered college credit for the given class assuming that you pass a proctored test at the end of the year. The class was taught using C++ and this was my first "real" programming class. It dealt with sorting algorithms, linked lists (memory management!), among other things. The biggest difference between this class and the prior Visual Basic class was the lack of a graphical user interface (GUI); data entry wasn't clicking on a button, it was entering a letter or a number from a bulleted list (If you remember the TI-86 game, "Drugwars," you know what I'm talking about; otherwise, I guess there are a bunch of dungeon crawler games from the 1980's that did that).

Senior Year of High School

High school classes my senior year were a little different than most of my classmates. By the time I graduated, I had completed something like 50 credits worth of college courses, with the bulk of those done my junior year. Although that might sound like an accomplishment, my most valuable classes were Commercial Design and Studio Commercial Design. Those two classes gave me the opportunity to get to know the teacher in charge of the school's yearbook and helped me focus on graphic design (both print and web) for the final years of my high school career. I also got to see someone make a living public speaking/teaching for the first time (something I would still love to do).

My senior year's class-load went something like this: Weight lifting, teacher's aid (for the yearbook teacher), yearbook, early release. This gave me a lot of time to learn Photoshop and Jostens' proprietary version of InDesign. At this point, about four hours of every day was spent learning about print design or Photoshop. Not only was I working on the school's yearbook, I also spent time working on a supplementary publication that showcased the work of art students at the school.

On a quick side note, I went back and looked at the work I did in Commercial Design and Studio Commercial Design, all of it is really bad. And I mean really bad. The only work I'm proud of was the yearbook and The Mirage cover.

Sorry, I'm Not Making a Fake Website

Senior year also presented the first time I had to deal with an ethical issue. I had a part time job fixing computers and my boss had a fairly significant part of his business dealing with security cameras. When he found out that I knew how to make websites, he asked me if I could create a website to make it look like he was the exclusive supplier of the security cameras that he sold; he explained to me that he was losing out on business because people were buying direct instead of through him. I politely declined the request and turned in my resignation shortly after that.

Looking back on his request, I don't think it was completely unreasonable that he wanted to do something like that, but I didn't (and still don't) like the idea that people are willing to lie to their customers to close a sale. I haven't had a similar situation come up since then, but I know that my answer would be the same. It was the first time (but not the last time) that I walked away from a project because I knew I wouldn't be happy with the results.

Webmaster at Augsburg College

Onto college, my freshman year of college was the first time I ever got paid to work on websites. I was hired to update the math department's website, so it wasn't anything spectacular, but it was the first time that I (loosely) had to work with someone when making websites. I was introduced to Dreamweaver's checkout and locking features so you could safely edit files without conflicts (there are much better ways to do it now, but at the time, that's what I was taught). I'd get emails or phone calls from my boss every week or two and I'd use the college-provided Dreamweaver to update the static HTML pages and push my changes out using FTP.

One of the advantages with working with education websites is that it forces you to learn about and understand accessibility. There isn't that much glamour (Yes, with a "u;" most of what I read in term of design comes from Europe/Australia, so get used to it) to working on these sites, as they tend to be fancy Microsoft Word documents, but it weened me off of the script kiddie DHTML stuff that I learned early on.

Look at Me Now

My skill set may not have changed since the 12-15 year old me, I just added a few more years of experience and introduced me to some higher level concepts. After pruning out some of the irrelevant skills, I'd summarize that the following is what I was dealing with at the the time:

Platforms: Mac OS X, Windows XP

Languages: HTML, DHTML, JavaScript, CSS, Perl, Visual Basic, C++

Technologies: FTP, POP, SMTP, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, VisualBasic

Concepts: Accessibility, progressive enhancement, remote check-in/checkout systems, print/graphic design

Using today's standards, there are some glaring holes that will get patched up in the 2008 post, but I guess this was considered employable at the time (at least a part time job for a full time student). Databases, frameworks, and version control are coming up next...