"Some of what you are about to hear might not be true - but it will be accurate" @tomux tells it like it is at Coding for Dummies #codefu Thu ...

Who actually knows what a server is?

I'll admit I was feeling a little nervous. I had a sinking suspicion that my fellow dunces might not be quite as clueless as I was about HTML, CSS and *god help me* Javascript. My sticky palms and racing heart were somewhat relieved when Mel Exon of BBH Labs kicked off the afternoon by announcing that we'd be going at the pace of the slowest in the room. Phew.

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.

Websites are written in languages. Server side languages determine the architecture of a site, and front end languages dictate what the user sees on their browser. Front end languages are divided into form (CSS - how it looks), function (Javascript - what things do) and content (HTML - the words and structure).

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.

Lastly, we rounded up the workshop with a quick lesson in Javascript and a flying visit past some snazzy HTML5. Just a quick reminder that although we might now know the ropes, we're still a long a way off ninja skills!

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.

A huge thanks to BBH Labs and Google for giving us the opportunity to get behind the scenes and play with the toys. I might not be fluent in code yet but I definitely feel more confident.

* better plonky descriptions of what a server is are more than welcome

Cath Richardson

Cath Richardson

From ancient Greek heroes to digital communities, Cath is fascinated by people and what makes them tick. At Made by Many, she works on strategy, project management and service planning. She is particularly interested in the intersection between sustainability, technology and human behaviour.