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August 19, 2014

I learned HTML in 3 days. Was it worth it?


Jeff is a WunderLand client who writes blogs, websites and other marketing content. He built his own website on WordPress and helped create many others, but he couldn’t help thinking he was working with a severe limitation. He didn’t know a word of code. Finally he decided to look into some of the code-learning websites to see if he could learn HTML in three days. Here’s what he discovered.

Day One—Pointless Busywork? When I decided to grit my teeth and learn HTML, Codecademy seemed like the place to do it. It was well-regarded, straightforward and—best of all—free. Within minutes I was learning the difference between <head> and <body>, writing paragraphs and creating headers. I was also bored out of my mind. This was all stuff WordPress does automatically, or that I can execute with a mouseclick. Paragraphs? Upload a Word doc, and WordPress keeps the breaks exactly as they were. Headers? Select the text and choose from the drop-down menu. I need HTML for this? As the day went on, I learned long and complicated methods of doing things that I already do every day:

  • Numbered and bullet-pointed lists
  • Links
  • Adding visuals
  • Combining visuals with links
  • Styling text

It was easy, but tedious. I understood the need to learn the basics, but it still felt like pointless busywork. And it left me with one burning question: What genius decided the code for a link should be <a href> instead of <link>? Seriously?

Day Two—No More Amateur Stuff. Not long ago, I wrote a blog post for a client that required a table. With no clue how to create one in WordPress, I built it in Word instead. Then I took a screen shot of it and uploaded it to WordPress as a PNG file. Go ahead and laugh. But no more of that amateur stuff for me—today I learned how to build a table in HTML. I also learned what CSS is all about. Plodding through each lesson, building one rudimentary Cascading Style Sheet after another, I began to understand how I could change the look and feel of an entire webpage with just a few keystrokes. Or not. I took a peek at the CSS of my website, and I felt like a bicycle mechanic looking under the hood of a Porsche. Don’t. Touch. Anything.

Day Three—State-of-the-Art? Buttons, boxes and borders, oh my! Today I learned how to create all of the above, how to position them on a webpage, and how to make sure they behave. Codecademy threw a lot of new terms at me, and gave me confidence with some easy, fill-in-the-blank exercises. Then came the final exercise—building a “resume” starting with a blank, white page and a blank CSS sheet. I did everything I could recall from the lessons, and the result was a state-of-the-art webpage. From 1995. But that was fine, because my goal was never to design my own webpages from scratch, but to be able to tweak pages within WordPress to look and function better for my clients. And that test was still to come.

Final Exam—My Website. Once again, I opened up my website’s CSS, and tried not to freak out. I only wanted to fix one thing—the width of the text column for my blog posts. It took a while to find the code, and—since it naturally wasn’t labeled “blog post text column width”—I wasn’t even sure it was the right thing until I changed it. And whaddaya know? The column got wider.

Clearly, Codecademy’s basic HTML course won’t make anyone a web designer in three days. But if your work involves web marketing—or you’re looking for a job in just about any tech field—a little HTML can give you a big boost. It’ll be three days well-spent.

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