1.) Don’t be afraid to ask
Thankfully programming is one of those areas in which help is just a few keystrokes away. This is important not only when you’re stuck on an algorithm, but also in the planning stages for many of the aspects of your project. Questions such as “What are others doing” and “Is there a better way of doing this for my users” should always be at the top of a good developers mind. Not only can your questions get you out of a jam quick, but they can also bring up ideas and other important considerations that you might not have even thought of before.
2.) Know your project
One of the downfalls of many new developers I’ve talked to over the years (and even some of my own projects) is that developers don’t always know enough about the project they’re working on. For example, if you offer to help a friend with the website for their small business you need to find out a little bit about that business before you begin. You need to know who their customers are and what they are looking for and then you can start making an appropriate site.
When I first started with web development in the 90’s I tried to help a friend make a page for a wheelchair rental business he was trying to start. I used every trick I knew at the time to make the page “stand out” and did my best to keep it at the cutting edge of the technology that was available then. I never took into account the fact that he was trying to market this page to a demographic in which all the fancy formatting made the page almost unreadable. Whoops. He kept the page up for a couple of months before he had to have it redesigned after receiving too many complaints about both the presentation and the information on the page.
3.) Imitation is one of the highest form of flattery
As developers we must remember our goal is to turn out the highest quality product we possibly can. To do so requires the use of numerous techniques many or which have already been perfected. As you’re starting out don’t be afraid to use other’s code where applicable. Not only can it save you time but as you work with the code you will learn from it as well.
Also, in many cases getting ideas from another source and incorporating those ideas into your own site can help your users understand your work better. For instance if you’re building a blog, starting with a common platform such as WordPress can provide a level of familiarity to your users that will translate even across the wide variety of themes that can be utilized by the product.
One caution here however is don’t take someone’s work and try to pass it off as your own. Instead, make sure you have permission to use the code (in most cases PHP code is posted so you can use it) and then make sure you give credit back to the author! As your skills progress perhaps they will then return the favor to you.
4.) Read it before you post it
Many of us who create the sites themselves aren’t the best writers (in my case I realize that’s rather obvious). Because of this we have to be extra careful in what we put online both in the content of our sites and the code behind them. In the case of content we need to make sure we read over our work not once, but often times at least twice, and we need to try to read it from the point of view of someone other than ourselves. It’s easy to talk about the merits of our latest project as we know all the details. However when your audience reads it we have to be careful that we’ve provided enough good information for them to make sense of what we’re trying to do.
When it comes to proof-reading our code shouldn’t be left out either. I always try to make it a habit to review my code at least once a couple days after I think I’ve finished it. Doing so often helps me find bugs and other problems that weren’t obvious while I was trying to finish the original project.
5.) Practice Makes Perfect
This is the number one rule of the trade. You’ve got to work with your skills to improve them. Also, unlike driving a car if you stop working with them for a while they won’t be all that easy to go back to.