Team Treehouse Review: Project 1, “Create a Simple Website”

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Team Treehouse LogoWorking in Team Treehouse, I decided to join the track, “Become a Web Developer,” since, well, I’d like to become a web developer. This is one of the excellent aspects of Team Treehouse in comparison with other learning sites, like lynda.com: the “tracks” you follow develop real-life skills using projects, rather than offering you CSS 101 and a string of uninteresting videos that leave you writing notes to retain anything at all. Right off the bat, I was pleased with Team Treehouse and this slightly non-linear approach.

Team Treehouse: What do you want to learn today?

The first project in the “Become a Web Developer” track is to “Create a simple website” for a bakery called, “Smells like Bakin”, complete with logos of bacon-laden cupcakes wafting what I think are meant to be delicious aromas.. but sort of look like trash fumes. Not really relevant.

Build a Simple WebsiteThe teacher for this project, Nick Pettit, is well-rehearsed and explains concepts well without being condescending.. you know those developers. Hah! You didn’t know that? You.. you.. how did you make it past diapers, you.. you.. nitwit?! Imbecile?!

None of that with Doc Pettit, which I like. At first he has a sort of irritating boy band faux-fauxhawk quality, but he grows on you. We see the end result – a basic but appealing website with images and text floating all over the damn page, or at least that’s how it seems to the beginner. Having worked almost exclusively in 9-year-old-friendly HTML (back when it was literally HTML 2.0, I kid you not) and WordPress (as a full-grown woman, dammit), HTML structure is not my forté. CSS I understand quite a bit more but still use in solid “hacking-at” fashion.

Nick walks you through several specific text editors to use, a practical application I really enjoyed. I settled on downloading Sublime2, which is the program Nick uses on his screencast as well. He then walked us through a couple necessary features on the software and how files should be named and structured. We dived right in, setting up an index.html page with the necessary HTML tags, including <!DOCTYPE>, <head>, <html>, etc.

From there, in easily digestible videos, punctuated every 10-12 minutes by “code challenges” or quizzes, we setup the website’s HTML structure piece by piece, including <div> tags, HTML elements, div classes, and div id’s. Nick did a great job of explaining the difference between HTML and CSS — a distinction, honestly, I never knew myself. My hacked-at piecemeal knowledge simply left holes there, but a two sentence explanation sealed that understanding right up.

After the HTML structure was in placed, we learned how to reference additional, related documents using <link rel> tags, how to reset CSS, and how to use grids to set page elements in specific spaces. This particular lesson was terribly enlightening to me, as this visual structure always eluded me, probably due to reliance on WordPress and other apps.

Bit by bit, we put together the website in a way that seemed so straightforward and simple, until it looked like the example from the beginning of the project. I took a few notes, especially for heavily nested classes and elements, so I’d remember what went where, why, and when. Otherwise, I felt I absorbed most of the information simply by hands-on experience, and I loved that.

Smells Like Bakin' Team Treehouse Learning ProjectThe screencasts were balanced by videos of Nick providing narrative and lecture, a welcome change to keep the interest up. I never felt bored or lost by the process, a perfect pace. Of course, the course is quite basic, but I felt good about learning the building blocks to creating proper, strong structure.

From this first project, I’m definitely excited about continuing to use Team Treehouse. I’d recommend it to anyone who considers themselves a hands-on learner who values experience (isn’t that everyone?). How far or deep into the concepts Team Treehouse goes I still don’t know, but so far, so good. Really, really good.

Sorry, Lynda, but you’re trailing here. I’ll use your videos to fill in a bit, but Team Treehouse is my main squeeze at this point.

Rating: 4.75/5 – Nick could possibly have explained a few things in greater detail (such as class and element nesting and proper order), though I anticipate that coming on later. Overall, super impressed all around.

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see me learn to code.

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see me try.
see me fail.
see me fix.
see me learn to code.

It’s no secret that today’s language is not always spoken, but rather read, perceived, taken in visually and interactively. We should have known when New York Mayor Bloomberg vowed to learn to code in 2012 that, as oddly misconceived as that promise might have been, it’s clear that the ubiquity of websites, apps, and SaaS is here to stay and grow.

I’ve been blogging for something like 12 years, only seriously in the last few, and used to build incredibly simplistic “websites”–I use that term very loosely–around my childhood interests, such as ballet and.. uh.. ‘NSync. If only I could remember those verbose Angelfire URL’s, I’d spend the next hour chuckling over my precocious geekiness and lamenting my desire to leave it behind.

My interests have always been a balance of creativity and the technological, but lately I’ve received more work in website development than anything else. I’ve decided..

it’s time to learn to actually code.

Not hack away, but actually hack. Not copy and paste CSS solutions over one another, but actually understand what CSS stands for, means, does, how it works.

It’s time to learn to develop my own highly customized blog themes, both for my personal recipe blog, The Stylist Quo, my daily dinner ideas blog, What to Make for Dinner Tonight, and for my clients. It’s time to find a niche, be serious, and think about actually making this a thing. After all, coding is so satisfyingly logical! It’s beyond useful, and it can provide the vehicle for me to develop any one of the ideas I have that gently fizzle out as I wait to find the “right” developer, as I wait for him or her to understand my vision, my anxiousness to get it made and out there.

It’s something I can (and should) teach my children, but mostly.. it’s kind of fun. A lot of fun, sometimes. Sometimes, it’s horrible, yes, but sometimes.. it’s kind of fun. It just so happens to be ridiculously useful.

So far, my plan is to use a mix of the following resources and apps:

  • Team Treehouse, the silver plan, an interactive project-based video coding school focused almost entirely on web development
  • lynda.com, the “regular” plan, a video-based school based on teaching digital creative skills, anything from CSS to how to use an iPhone..
  • Codecademy, a free online interactive project-based coding school
  • LightBot, an iOS app that teaches programming logic to kids. NO JUDGMENT. It’s loads of fun
  • Google-sourced articles and blogs to satisfy questions of principle and comparison that come up along the way
  • Good, old-fashioned experience in my own blog and side project development

Here we go.