@BBHLabs BBH Labs
First things first, this post is going to out me. Despite working at a digital agency, one that calls itself a "social technology" company no less, I don't know a whole lot about coding. In fact until last Thursday's Internet Week event Coding for Dummies hosted by BBH Labs and Google, I didn't know my <p> tag from my padding. Luckily for me, it turns out I'm not alone...
Who actually knows what a server is?
So to our first challenge, Tom Uglow from Google Creative Labs asked for a show of hands from those who actually knew what a server was. *Silence*. Ah, as it turns out this dummies title is pretty accurate.
Here are the basics: a server is essentially a library of websites which other computers can refer to when they want to access information on those websites*. A URL (stands for uniform resource locator - who knew?) works as a very precise address, like the kind you used to write on envelopes as a kid: "John with ginger hair, in the attic on the top floor, number 7 Baker Street, London, England, Earth, the universe". It allows your computer to locate the website you're looking for on the right server in a matter of seconds, and from anywhere in the world.
Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to code the front end of a single web page and then send it out into the big wide world.
If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again
Our first task was to copy a set of files from the codingfordummi.es page across to our desktop. We would then be able to work on them locally until we were ready to copy them back across to the server where they would be hosted (and go live). The first hurdle of the day appeared when we managed to crash the server by sending more requests than it could handle. Apparently, 30 eager coding hopefuls all itching to upload their files at once was more than that server could handle.
Getting around this and other niggly problems gave me my major takeaway from the event: even coding ninjas use lots of trial and error. There isn't always one *right* answer and small mistakes can set you backtracking through lines of code. At times, it can feel like you're lost in a labyrinth. After chasing my own tail and deleting and rewriting my code several times, I have a newfound respect for the levels of patience practiced by some of my fellow MxMers.
Guess what? An HTML page starts with <html>
From the plonkiest of basics we moved on to some fancier stuff. This was a great opportunity to get to grips with slightly more technical information, even if we did have to gloss over some of the details. As Tom said:
Remember learning GCSE Physics and getting to A-level to learn it was all bollocks?
As an official non-techie, I really appreciated the tips on how to conceptualise the code. For example, think of tags like boxes, you open the lid at the top so you need to close it at the bottom. Using "view source" to eyeball someone else's code was another sneaky back door into putting some cracking code together, without having to write it all yourself.
Given that a lot of the audience came from agencies, it should be no surprise that we all seemed to have the most fun styling up our pages. For inspiration, we checked out the rather beautiful CSS Zen Garden, a paean to clean code, which showcases the same page of HTML styled entirely differently using CSS. By mid-afternoon, it was furrowed brows and tongues between teeth as we got stuck into designing up our pages.
And finally, here's what I made...
I had some trouble getting my final page onto the server at the end of the day, so we've hosted it here at Made by Many. OK, so Jeremy might be right, and maybe we did all make Myspace pages but all the same I can't help feeling rather proud. Here it is in all it's glory: hideous, but I love it.
* better plonky descriptions of what a server is are more than welcome