How I went from knowing nothing about web to working as a web developer in 1.5 years

About two years ago, I dreamt up a web project that I wanted to realize. Unfortunately I didn’t have the required $$$ to hire developers. My cousin (who is a web professional) encouraged me that I might be able to learn it myself saying he knew of other musicians who had become web developers.

With the help of a QC govt granting program, Jeunes Volontaires, I was able to devote time and a little money to learning to code.


My cousin had recommended that I check out Treehouse as a good place to start, so I signed up and started watching the first videos. Here’s an example of what the first lessons are like and the teaching style.

What I appreciated about Treehouse videos was that they didn’t assume that I had any knowledge at all. The courses were fairly short and the tests were quite easy so they reinforced the feeling that I was having success. I also found that tutorial videos suited my learning style. But that isn’t the same for everyone. Treehouse is a paid service, and it isn’t cheap ($25/month), but at the time I was able to devote some grant money to learning, so I was willing to pay. I wholeheartedly recommend the service, but I understand the price is a hard pill to swallow.

Treehouse has grown substantially since I started with it, they offer a lot more content now, and as a result the course tracks are more difficult to navigate. Also, they used to use a private FB page to operate their “forum”, I understand why they switched to hosting their own forum, but the FB community was really active and a good place to get advice and learn from other users


A short while later, it became apparent that video tutorials and multiple choice quizes were great, but that I needed to get some practical experience in order to learn to code. I heard many other devs say “the only way to learn to code, is to code.” So that’s where Codeacademy came in. Codeacademy is a free service that offers practical coding tutorials with in-browser texteditors and code renderring. At that time I found their lessons a bit challenging and hard to follow, but combining them with the lessons from treehouse, I was able to sort through them. They helped me make the jump from watching others type code to typing some myself.


During this time I was also devouring a few books. I knew that I needed at least a passing knowledge of PHP to operate WP. The O’Reilly Head First is a beginner friendly series that came recommended to me, so I would read those while at orchestra rehearsals or on the Metro.

Another useful book was Digging Into WordPress which was co-authored by Chris Coyier ( and Jeff Starr. At the time, Treehouse didn’t have any WordPress specific videos, so this book gave me a good overview of how I could manipulate WordPress to do the things that I was looking to do to complete my project

It was nearly time to start working on my project, some deadlines were coming up and I needed to have something to show for the work that I had been doing so I set up a local WP development environment and started to work. Setting up WP with localhost should be your first step when you’re working on a new site. It gives you the space and freedom to try things withought worrying about live servers.

I built StageBanter using the Genesis Framwork from StudioPress because the demos seemed to make sense to me at the time. Genesis is a good framework which offers pretty good SEO out of the box. I haven’t used it on any of my recent projects so when I come back to it I’m a little foggy on the way things work, as customizing a theme is slightly different that standard WP methods. Bill Erickson’s blog has a bunch of great articles on how to do some standard WP tasks like migrating servers or backing up sites and how to customize Genesis websites.

Some Tips

  1. Use a project as motivation for learning. It could be developing your own blog or a bigger project
  2. Set deadlines. Since I had to demonstrate progress to the people at Jeunes Volontaires, I knew I needed to do consistent work
  3. Be descerning about your sources. Only learn from the best developers who make a point of writing clean, clear and expandable code

In the end…

A couple of months after launching StageBanter I was approched by a designer colleague who I had met at WordCamp Montreal to help her finish a project for a client and that was my first gig as web developer. More recently I’ve been hired to do regular work customizing sites built on the BigCommerce platform. I still have a lot of room for improvement as a developer but I have found that I enjoy the work, and can continue to use the resources above to get better.

If you want sign up for treehouse, you can do me a favour and sign up through my referrals and I will be eternally grateful and you and I will save some dough :).

4 thoughts on “How I went from knowing nothing about web to working as a web developer in 1.5 years

  1. Hey Ryan! Long time no talk …

    I didn’t know that you were doing web development. I am too! I also really like as a resource. I’ve been teaching a bit lately at BCIT in Vancouver and often recommend it to my students. I’ll pass on Treehouse too. I always wondered what it was like.

  2. Hi Kate!

    Yep, I also used a little bit. At that time I was looking for WordPress specific stuff that they didn’t have at Treehouse and Lynda had more of that.

    Great to reconnect.

  3. Hey Ryan,
    Nice work with Stage Banter, I remember seeing the posters up all over the Mile End when you launched.

    I’ve played through a bunch of the codecademy stuff, and it’s great to start with, but if you’re looking to go further with development, I’d recommend checking out Code School.

    The courses are much more in depth, if yr interested in taking things to the next level.

    Best of luck!

    1. Thanks for getting in touch Dorian. I’ve just started checking out some things at Code School. It seems pretty good! Thanks for the recommendation.

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