So You Want To Make A Website: The Argument for Coding

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Hello web-publishing queermos! We’re continuing along with our So You Want To Make a Website series, which I put together so we could all use the web to our advantage as an oft-marginalized community. So far we’ve talked about what you want to do on the web and what you’re going to build your website with. I was going to talk about purchasing a domain name this week, but it occurred to me—there’s something we didn’t really talk about when we talked about the various website builders, and I think it’s really important. So I wanted to take this week to diverge a little bit from the linear structure I’d originally planned to make the argument for learning to code.

woman-coding

It’s an argument we make often on Autostraddle. I feel like every time I turn around, I’m screaming EVERYONE, JUST LEARN SOME CODE into the ether that is the internet. But I’ve realized that I haven’t verbalized why I think that should happen. Most people only hear the major con-side to it when I encourage learning how to code—if you don’t already know a thing or two, the learning curve can feel pretty steep. People look at me like I’ve just told them to learn French or Sanskrit or something, because essentially I have. When I say “learn some code,” I am saying “take time out of your busy life to learn a formal language that requires upkeep and practice and a whole new way of thinking about the world.” It’s a lot to ask.

So here are the reasons you should totally do that anyway:


 

Computers Are Ubiquitous

I recently had the opportunity to interview Vikram Chandra about his National Book Critics Circle Award-nominated book, Geek Sublime, in which he problematizes the link between writing code and writing creatively. I asked, given the shaky ground this connection stands on, what his opinion is on the push for everyone to learn to code. He responded with—well, something way too long to quote here. But I’ll give you a small gist of it:

We live now in a world permeated with machinery, and so I think some version of coding will inevitably become part of basic cultural literacy. My six-year old daughter is learning about computers as she learns mathematics and writing, and I think this is quite necessary. Of course this doesn’t mean that she will become a “programmer” in the specialized sense, but I’d be happy if future software platforms allowed her to use language to manipulate her environment, if only to upload pictures to her web site.

Computers are everywhere. Robots milk cows, for chrissakes. And just as people are taught to write in school (though they may not become writers), those same people are beginning to be taught to code in school (though, as Chandra says, they may not become programmers). With computers and the internet being part of all our everything as it is right now, we need to learn the magic spells that enable us to manipulate the environment within a computer.

So screw just “building your website,” learning to code now is going to be the foundation for how we interact with the world around us as time marches on. Screw even my argument that marginalized communities should learn how to code because the internet can then be used to that community’s advantage as one of many tools in dismantling oppression. We’re going to need to be able to deal with the internet and computers on a more intricate level than we do now just to exist.


 

Form Follows Content (And The Other Way ‘Round)

But back to our creative and activist and business projects for a hot sec. Even if we’re talking small scope instead of big scope, making websites for fun and profit can be greatly enhanced by learning how to code because then you aren’t locked into anything. By anything, I mean post formats or themes you find or buy or even weird archaic content policies (I’m looking at you Blogger). You have total freedom, total control. You are limited only by what you know and what you can Google. And when you’re doing creative projects especially, that can come in handy. I will give you one example from my adventures as a graduate student:

First, I took this amazing class last semester called Strange Worlds, Strange Words with Shelley Jackson at The New School. Our final projects for this class were nebulous. We were told it should be some form of travel writing, and that it should connect at least two books we read for the class to each other. But other than that, we were entirely and completely free. So I did a haiku travel journal à la Matuso Basho that treated several texts like individual cities that one, as a reader, travels into and experiences differently just as each person experiences a city differently.

And the closest thing I could get to creating a city of text in the few short weeks I had to do a project was to code the website from the ground up. I made buttons that flipped on their head, I shared music that I was listening to when I coded the piece to highlight the connection of experiences between author and reader. I did all sorts of things I never would have been able to do had I been locked into a platform/website builder/content manager. Nope, I’m totally not linking to the project, because even though the website is cool, I am definitely not a poet. The haikus are just okay, and I don’t want y’all to make fun of me.

If these kinds of projects appeal to you, where form is inextricably interwoven with content, learning to code is for you.


 

I Want Women To Kick Some Ass

My single favorite thing that anyone has ever said maybe ever, but definitely at least on Autostraddle, came from an unlikely place: a gift guide. But it didn’t come from an unlikely person: Laneia is very wise. Here is that thing that she said:

Because here’s the thing about kids: they’re not done yet. There’s a whole world of things they’ve not tried — not even been introduced to — so how could they know what to put it on their wish list? They can’t, silly.

Somehow I interpreted this as “they’re not done baking yet?” And so that is how I think of children—as under-done chocolate cakes. I think Laneia may have been speaking to all of us adults too, though, because I’m not quite sure anyone is ever done baking. We all (if we’re doing life big and messy and well) are little bit wibbly in the center forever.

That’s another reason to learn to code—we’re not done baking yet. We don’t know if this thing we haven’t yet learned is going to unlock some passion or path hitherto unknown to us. If you, a grown-ass adult, learn to do this thing and lightning strikes, well then. You could switch careers. You could! It’s a thing you could do. If you’re just starting out your career (like you, as you read this, are in high school or college), then this might change the course of the next few years for you, discovering that you are good at and enjoy working with computers. Contrary to popular belief, old dogs can learn new tricks. It is never too late. And just because you didn’t cut your eyeteeth on HTML or CSS doesn’t mean diddly squat.

If this happens, for even one of you queer women or non-binary folks, then you would be joining an industry that sorely needs you. There is a shortage of people who are not straight cis men working in the technology field. That affects the kinds of problems the industry chooses to solve, it affects the culture—which is supremely important, because tech culture is now impacting culture at large (see above: Computers Are Ubiquitous, so people who work with them have a lot of power).

If this doesn’t happen for you, the person who is reading this sentence right now, you are still a woman or non-binary person kicking some butt because now you know how to code. The people in your life will never be able to say “well women are just bad at computers” or “I dunno if I want to go into STEM, Auntie, it seems like a boy thing.” They won’t be able to say that because then you can point to yourself and say, “EXPLAIN ME THEN?!?” And that is ass-kicking, y’all, it is.


 

Okay, so I’ve said many words and hopefully I’ve convinced you that this is something you should spend your time on. The next logical question is how you should learn. The internet is a magical place full of many resources. Here are just a few of them:

Treehouse

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This is what I use to learn new stuff, which is why I recommend it a lot. Treehouse has extremely accessible and also rigorous videos on all sorts of topics, of which learning to code a website is a large portion. You can also learn how to be a designer, what the heck SEO is and means and how it works; tons of stuff. I just love them. I emailed them and they said cool beans and told me to direct you to a free month of Treehouse to try out. A lot of learning can be done in a month, and by then you’ll know if you want to do this enough to continue paying.

Also, if you are a student with a student ID, the price of Treehouse drops to $9 per month. Just FYI.


 

General Assembly Front Row

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General Assembly teaches all sorts of fun computer stuff in New York City—and in partnership with Johnson Women in Tech, they’re extending a free three-month trial to their learn at home service, Front Row. At least one of the classes is on HTML. The offer expires in December of this year, so get on it queermos! This is your chance!


 

Dash (also by General Assembly)

Dash is always free, and it enables you to learn HTML, CSS and JavaScript in a project-based way. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like busy-work and instead likes to understand the real-world applications of a thing, this is an excellent option. I believe one of the projects is a Tumblr theme, which I feel is extremely relevant to our interests. Also a CSS robot. Is a thing you could build.


 

Harvard CS50

This is less about building a website and more about the way computers work—but a lot of people want to start at the very beginning when it comes to technology. This is a good way to do it. And auditing this Harvard class can be done remotely, at your own pace and is completely free. Notice how, in the intro video, all the testimonials are from white male students. Let’s put ourselves this space, if only digitally, so we can go forth and populate computer-y areas with our hot queer bods and smokin’ queer brains. Or at least, so we can build websites that amplify our voices.


 

This has been the one-hundred-twentieth installment of  Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover is queer per se, but we talk about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to bookmark to any other fun shit we can do with technology. Header by Rory Midhani.


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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 543 articles for us.

32 Comments

  1. Ali this is so good. I’m graduating next spring and I plan on spending next summer looking for work. I will def sign up for all of these and get some great coding chops under my belt during that time, too. Thank you!

    • Thank you Rey! Yes re: jobs, and I had to cut a whole section about the kind of jobs where coding helps you—it’s not just in the tech sector! I am CONVINCED that the reason I have my research assistantship in a creative field is because of my coding experience, even my limited bash-some-code-together-and-see-if-it-works experience (I am not an elegant coder). But the piece was already so, so long.

      • I just got a non-tech job at an arts non-profit, but one of the things I’ve been given responsibility for is the website–now here I am, trying to learn a little basic coding so I can handle this unexpected aspect of my job. So, yes, coding skills are definitely useful for non-tech jobs!

        • I’m in a similar situation. I teach Human Development and advise in a dropout prevention program and suddenly the state is like “we need data,” and gave us exactly 0 tools to collect data. Literally nothing. Not even a shitty database that I’ve used as a social worker.

          So I had to ‘create’ something to keep case notes and document outreaches. It started as a Word document which made me want to tear my eyeballs out and quit my job. Transitioned to a Google Form that makes a spreadsheet. It’s cut down my time significantly, but is still me just doing a hack job of duct tape and chewing gum to hold my stuff together. I’m definitely looking at expanding my skills to code or understand web/computer stuff purely to make my life easier!

        • I worked at a community television station for years, and part of my job was creating/maintaining their website. I used that job as a launching point to officially become a developer, which came with an almost $20k increase in salary (and I am paid kind of low). Non-profits are awesome, and I had fun, and I learned a lot….but it’s nice to dig oneself out of poverty. I now work in an environmental division, so I didn’t even have to sell my soul to the devil. Would highly recommend tech skills.

    • I mentioned this in an above comment, but I focused a lot of tech jobs where coding helps you in the article. What I didn’t really talk about where the million other careers where knowing code still helps you—you just never know when something like this is going to come in handy. Good luck with any career switches you might undergo in the future—I picture career switching like Pokemon evolving, just fyi.

  2. A few months ago I learned Python on Coursera. Best thing I’ve done in a while. Highly recommend Coursera for learning things (for free!), gonna do some more learnin’ there when I next have some spare time :D

  3. Yay coding!

    Ladies Learning Code is also a great organization (and not just for ladies–they have lots of workshops aimed at girls and welcome people of any gender identity to their workshops). I just got home from their Jquery workshop, and I learned a ton and met some nice folks.

  4. I’m taking CS50 right now and I love it. I specifically decide to do this because I thought it could contribute to social justice in some way. I love that you’re advocating this and wholeheartedly agree.

  5. There’s no argument. I’m taking a dreamweaver class right now as part of my degree and there’s no argument.
    Oh good Gaea there is no argument.
    Code is a thing you need for web design there’s no argument not a one.

    I thank Saint Turning and Our Mother Lovelace for the resources of this post.

  6. One other thing … check your local library. I know mine has a “bulk” subscription to Treehouse — all you need is a library, and you have free access to the Treehouse courses. I believe some other public library systems have done the same, or they might have purchased access to some other learning platform. Can’t beat free!

  7. I feel so inspired by this week’s QYT! I was into coding in the 90’s a bit. I took a CSS class in high school, but then I didn’t revisit it for several years and EVERYTHING CHANGED and I only know some basic html. But I feel like I could be awesome at coding, I just don’t have the basic education. This is maybe the kick in the butt to access some resources to get some new skills. Thanks!

    • I invested some money in taking a course on css/html/javascript with general assembly to fix old bad habits and get up to speed. Like you, I had taught myself it in middle school (90s) b/c how else was my blog gonna look bomb. It wound up being one of the best things I have ever, ever done for my career. If you catch on fast and have an aptitude for it, I HIGHLY recommend running with it.

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