Where to learn web design/development?

coda screenshotBrett emails:

What I want to know is, where is the best place in the capital region to take computer classes? Specifically, where is a good college/trade-school/company in the area to learn about web design, coding, programming and graphic design? I am looking for a career change and I have really great computer skills and I want to take my knowledge to the next level and try to secure a good job. I know I could do most of the learning online, but I'm really looking for a place to go and learn from a teacher for a reasonable price.

Got a suggestion for Brett? Please share!


Be careful! There are a lot of folks out there who will be happy to take your money and then just resell otherwise free information on the web.

Before you start I recommend getting a little more focused. You said "web design, coding, programming and graphic design". Those are all distinct things.

Are you interested in working with clients to design websites, but have someone else do the actual coding? Interested in coding other people's designs? Interested in building dynamic database backed websites?

Either way, I recommend the free route. There's an almost infinite amount of free resources online. I'd go that route, and then supplement those resources with local user groups.

Ask a local restaurant manager. I hear they hire the top web developers in this area.

+1 Meriwo

Interactive Media Center at UAlbany offers most of the courses you have mentioned here. For more information, you can visit their website: http://apps.library.albany.edu/IMCClassRegistrationSystem/

As a professional web designer / coder / programmer / copy-paster, everything you need to know is already available on the internet for free.

Smashing Magazine is a great place to start.

UAlbany has free summer classes where you can learn web development. There are five Web Development Sequence classes which include using Dreamweaver and Fireworks application to design a web site. Also there are Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator courses. For more information check out the following link:


Here are two awesome free resources on learning two very popular and powerful programming languages:

Ruby: http://mislav.uniqpath.com/poignant-guide/
Python: http://learnpythonthehardway.org/

Have any questions? Hit up http://stackoverflow.com/ and the other stackexchange.com sites.

If you're set on taking classes, I think St Rose has a certificate in "internet programming".

IMC represent!

As a full-time web/multimedia developer/designer (What? That exists!) I'll give my two cents:

Anything web related that you learn in a college course is likely outdated and probably useless after you finish the class. Not to mention expensive! Sadly, I learned much more about web development on my own than I did through my college education (all while paying crazy tuition). The best way to learn anything web-related is to use the countless resources online - most of them are free! If you want to learn development/programming, pick up a O'Reilly book on whatever language you're interested in. Start with basic examples, use the online documentation, and develop a Google-trigger-finger for when questions arise.

If you want to learn design software, download a trial or pick up a copy (use someone's student ID and get it cheap!) and experiment. If you want to learn graphic design / design theory... then classes are probably the way to go, but there are tons of books on that subject as well.

As Erik said, figure out what you want to be -- a designer, coder, or back-end developer. You can do two of those, but not all three (well) unless you're really good. And frankly, if you were really good you'd already be in some sort of technical/science field because that's just your nature.

I don't think you can get by on free, web-based materials alone. There is a lot of stuff out there, and yes Smashing Magazine and Stack Overflow are great resources, but they're best for developers who know how to code but just need a snippet on how to do X or Y. You will get so far copying and pasting those bits and pieces, but eventually a site with even a little complexity will catch up to you. You'll have trouble with performance and maintaining a bunch of cobbled-together, mutually exclusive pieces written by a dozen people with their own styles and their own end games in mind.

I'd start with some computer science classes. Make sure you learn object oriented programming. Take a course that at least spends a bit of time on design patterns, if not one entirely dedicated to that subject. Then, once you understand algorithms and what makes (pseudo)code really tick, focus more narrowly on JavaScript with a side of CSS. (You'll pick up HTML along the way.)

If you're looking to do more than a basic 3-page restaurant site, I can't stress enough how much more complex JavaScript apps are getting these days and how much they will continue to grow. A "basic" web app these days is far more complex than one from 2007. The next version of Windows will run desktop apps written in web technologies side-by-side with traditional desktop apps (Word, etc). Twitter, for example, is just a bunch of 140-character messages with a few functions (reply/retweet/favorite), but you can't write a real Twitter client, let alone something special, in a weekend or even a couple weeks.

I will say that you picked a good avenue in terms of what area of computer science to delve into. JS/HTML5 has yet to peak -- just be glad you're not interested in Flash or Silverlight which are steadily waning.

And whatever you do, keep mobile in your mind at all times. You have the advantage of having a frame of mind where mobile is always there alongside everything else -- for the rest of us, it's a more recent thing that we have to keep reminding ourselves about.

Erik has some good points. Although I'm not sure that the poignant guide is a great place to start for a complete newbie, it might ruin your brain... that being said, if you want to learn Ruby on Rails I'd recommend the Rails 3 Tutorial by Michael Hartl. Not only does it give you a good overview of what rails can do, it introduces you to ideas such as test driven development, organization, deploying applications, and source control. All of these things are VERY important, and often overlooked, especially by the people advertising on Craigslist for someone to work on their "great" idea for a cut of their hoped for future earnings.

I think Paul hits a good point - a lot of college web design classes have trouble keeping up with the pace of technology. You might be best off doing what Ellsass says - taking some computer science (or graphic design) courses to learn the theory and basics, and then branching out to learn on your own.

When you get some stuff down, come talk to us. We hire talented interns regularly.

The tl;dr version of my last comment: free, online resources are enough to be okay at developing small sites/apps, but proper education is necessary to be good. I got a degree from RPI which does not sound like the right fit for you (4 years of classes plus a laughable tuition cost) at this stage in your career. Unfortunately I don't know what else to say except to inquire local community colleges about their offerings and make sure you know OOP, algorithms, and design patterns before directly turning to JavaScript.

As they always say, it's not what you know it's who you know. My advice would be to try to get an entry level gig with a company and then learn once you are in. No one knows better what is needed in the 'business' world than businesses.

Another good place to practice is to offer your services for free. I do the same thing currently with my Library's volunteer database. I'm learning a ton while helping them out.

-Nate Hans

All of these self-help approaches will be able to teach you something about coding. NONE of them will teach you Thing 1 about design. It's a completely different discipline. I'd agree that college courses on tech tend to be out of date while you're taking them, though they can give you good basics. But design doesn't go out of date, and if you have no background in it, it's not something you'll pick up yourself, so for that a local college course could be critical. (Of course, the quality of a design course depends ENTIRELY on the quality of the instructor, so as you're looking around, ask around.)

Although what many people above are saying is correct in regards to self-teaching, if you're looking for a brick-and-mortar school to go to, I'd suggest ITT Tech. Their school of Information Technology is geared towards the adult who is looking to start a second career. At the end of 2 years, you'll have an associates degree and ITT offers job placement assistance. My brother did their networking program there. He enjoyed it because the education was more goal/task oriented vs. his time at UAlbany which was more theory. Right after his completing of his degree he started working for a subcontractor to the NYS Lottery and is very happy in his new career.

Just noodling around with technology doesn't hurt either.

I took courses in web design using Dreamweaver through the Suny Learning Network. Online courses that included actually builidng a basic site from the ground up, and a major discussion component so you could actually chat one on one with your professor. Also I HIGHLY recommend Lynda.com. I once posed a quesiton very similar to yours to a well paid Manhattan area designer friend of mine who said she didn't learn anything in college she couldn't have learned more easily and for less money on lynda.com. For $250 a year you get full access to a gigantic library of video tutorials on everything from basc Microsoft Office usage to high level coding and interactive graphics. These are the folks that write many of the textbooks for college courses on these topics, so the content is as up to date as can be, I've found. Good luck!

W3Schools is where I learned what little I know. http://www.w3schools.com/

I've been doing web "stuff" for 15 years now. I've found that I've never needed to know anything about algorithms, but I did teach myself the principles of OOP and that has been VERY useful as web technology has progressed.

Now I'm not trying to say that if you learn well in a classroom, CS wouldn't help. It would! But unless you want to do deep back-end programming, I'd recommend something more along the lines of a certificate, followed up with resources like lynda.com, the library, the internet.

W3Schools is great for reference materials. There are lots of different book series out there; I had great success with sitepoint and wrox books, but YMMV. Peruse and choose. Plus, lots of tools are free to play with, you can set up your own PC as a web server and go to town with whatever language or framework you like best.

I agree with Carl though, if you're interested in design that's a whole other pickle and needs its own approach. Personally I found that early on I was able to get by with my own, not-so-great "design" ideas, but now there's much more of a division in professional circles. I learned how to look at someone *else's* pretty design -- much prettier than I could ever make -- and make it into a usable web page. That's something to think about as well.

Good luck!!

W3Schools has a lot of crap -- see http://w3fools.com/ for more about that as well as some more reputable resources (despite the name, W3Schools is NOT made by the W3C).

I disagree with Nate's suggestion to work for free, at least beyond one or two projects. Of course you'll need something to point at and say "I made that, there's proof I know how to create something". But working for free (or extra cheaply) beyond that point is detrimental to your career and other designers/developers. Many clients will ask for a demo, say "no thanks" to the job and use your work anyway; it creates the sense that we're willing to work for free, etc. It's a very bad situation for everyone and much has been written on the subject.

I also disagree that you should rely solely on connections. Maybe for your first job, but if you keep handshaking your way through your career you will eventually be found out and you'll have wasted a lot of time not learning things properly.

And don't waste your time with "certifications" (Microsoft, Oracle, etc) or the places that solicit them (like New Horizons near the airport). It's a waste of time and money. Stick to real classes and real work.

Thanks everyone for the comments. Tons of useful information! I can't wait to begin learning.

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