Steer – a novice’s review

Steer – a novice’s review

Some of you may remember last month’s Steer feature, where we introduced the London-based team of developers and designers, who aimed to teach people to code. From scratch. In one week.

It was Steer’s one week commitment that most intrigued us, so we sent FFF’er Jack Daly – a complete coding novice – to check out the course and report back.

Find out how he got on…

Day 1

After a 3.30AM rise to make the Glasgow to London sleepless train I had been a little worried that a lack of Z’s might leave me a off the pace for the day ahead – those fears were only compounded when the train ground to a standstill for an hour, meaning I wouldn’t make the 10am class start.

I needn’t have worried.

Even turning up a full hour after the class began, the Steer team made sure I didn’t miss out. Rik went through the various lessons at a pace everyone could keep up with, and even though i’d missed the start Tim was straight on hand with one-on-one tuition to cover everything i’d previously missed. By lunch I was fully up to speed.

On the first day – and throughout the week – everyone was well fed and watered, with a variety of fresh fruit, pastries and nibbles available, before a lunch of salad’s, wraps and sandwiches. There was also a steady flow of tea and coffee.

The first morning was spent going through the basics of HTML or “the bones of the internet”. We learnt how to structure basic content, into head and body, while bringing hierarchy to our typography with headers, paragraphs and a variety of listing code, before introducing links, images and video content. Finally dealing with meta tags to ensure our sites links would be best represented in Google, Facebook and Twitter.

The afternoon was spent learning how to apply the CSS flesh to the bones of our HTML fundamentals. We learned how to style the various elements of our HTML, while #id and .classes gave us greater control over the appearance of our content.

At various points different members of the class would get stuck, however Tim or Calum were always on hand to talk through and clarify any queries, making sure the course ran smoothly.

We finished the day by creating a simple blog, based on a design of Calum’s, featuring imagery, video and a variety of CSS techniques.

Overall, it was a great first impression and although I knew lessons would become more complicated, I was left feeling pretty confident about the rest of the week.

Day 2

Day two saw the introduction of a variety of new techniques and the pace increased notably. Among the more challenging items were the introductions of floats and clears, which proved quite confusing. Thankfully Tim and Calum were again on hand to answer any questions and keep things ticking over smoothly.

In addition to the coding lessons, Tim also gave the first of two crash courses in Photoshop. They were primarily aimed at complete novices and although I consider myself proficient across most of Creative Suite, there were some best practice tips which even I found useful – particularly pixel hinting and the importance of the pixel grid in order to create crisp, pixel perfect site designs.

Day 3

Day 3 was excellent and one of my favourites of the week, we were introduced to grid systems and structuring content, which as a designer is something I felt was particularly useful and easily grasped. The lessons of the previous day had also begun to sink in and the introduction of powerful resources such as Skeleton and Twitter Bootstrap really helped provide a clear framework from which to build our designs.

In the afternoon we looked at CSS3 media queries and how they can be used to detect the size of browser windows and mobile devices in order to create responsive sites.

At the end of the third day, the class were beginning to know how to build, style and structure a website and, I’ll be honest, I started to feel pretty confident; HTML and CSS had been surprisingly easy to grasp – what more did I need to know?

Day 4

Reality check. Jquery. Holly molly.

For non-coders, if HTML creates the structure of a site and CSS is the style, then Jquery is the interactivity. It’s what makes sites function and as it turns out interactivity is actually a pretty important part of the internet. Who knew.

We covered hover states, click and mouse moves, sliders and Isotope. It’s safe to say Jquery was definitely the part of the course I found most challenging.

Part of being involved in such an intensive one week course is being introduced to a lot of new concepts one after the other, just as one thing begins to click, Rik’s introducing a new seemingly bigger and more complex concept. The good thing about this swift learning curve is that it helps put everything else you’ve learned into perspective; what seemed daunting on day 1 and 2 start to appear much clearer by day 4.

I’ll be honest, by the end of day 4 Jquery wasn’t clicking for me – I felt a bit like this guy. While I could copy Rik’s code and get it to work (most of the time), exactly why it was working was still a mystery. I wasn’t ruling out witchcraft.

As always, Rik, Tim and Calum were good at trying to break it down for the newbies, but there’s just some things I can’t absorb in an afternoon.

That’s one of the reasons Code Academy is great. Part of Steer’s recommended reading list, it’s an online step by step learning resource, which allows users to work through a wide array of courses such as HTML, CSS and Jquery at their own pace. Spending some extra curricular time on the Jquery course really helped me get a better grasp of the material.

Day 5

On the final day Rik ramped things up once again introducing us to a range of features. We created a Twitter search with AJAX using Twitter API, before learning how to incorporate bespoke Google Maps featuring custom icons.

Later during an introduction to Parallax, Rik mentioned we might remember some of the rules from High School trigonometry – unfortunately I didn’t remember high school trig when I was still at high school – however despite my rusty maths we achieved some pretty good results.

The week came to a close with a selection of London beer and ale being cracked in the classroom, before Rik, Amelia and the team took everyone for drink at the Silicon Drinkabout. As well as a relaxing wind-down to the week and a great chance to socialise with the rest of the class, Silicon Drinkabout was also expected to be an good networking opportunity, both for the aspiring entrepreneurs of the class as well as the designers looking to make contact with studios.

Unfortunately, just I was the last one to arrive, I also had to be the first one to leave, saying my goodbyes early and making a dash to catch the train back to Glasgow.

Thanks to Steer I feel like i’ve taken with me the solid foundations of front end development.

I’m under no illusions that more hard work and time will be involved in getting to a working professional standard, but that now seems like a fairly straightforward path, whereas just a week ago I wouldn’t have even known where to start.

For anyone interested in doing the course themselves, the next Front End Developer course begins on March 17. Check out this link to find out about the other courses Steer offer. Booking through FFF also offers a 10% saving on future Steer courses.

Jack Daly
  • Written by Jack Daly
  • Posted on Apr 15, 2013