Let's talk about web education

I’ve brought you over to this article today to level with you.

We need to work through some hard truths. We need to discuss some stuff about the web industry that you’re not going to like. I’m going to make you question yourself. I’m probably going to make you feel bad.

You might even leave this article thinking I’m talking out of my arse, but spare me 7 minutes of your time so I can alert you to something pretty seriously wrong with the web industry.

Ready?

The State of the Web Industry (and some harsh truths)

I’ve been in the web industry for 12 years. I’ve seen my industry go from The Past: simple websites, to The Now: things that aren’t even websites.

What do you call Facebook? It’s usually called a web application, but really, it’s more than that. It’s a messenger platform, an events platform, a videos website, an ad network, a groups/forum network. Social platforms are now the most dominant web things on the internet.

Most websites aren’t simple little things made up of HTML and CSS anymore. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing.

Sure, people still make websites for businesses and organisations (that’s what I spend a lot of my time doing), but as technology gets more advanced, the things that we can make and accomplish on the web get even more amazing, which is great, but by necessity things get more complicated.

Also, because people in the web industry love new tech, love learning, and love playing with shiny things, the rate that new technologies and methodologies are developed in our industry is just unreal. We’ve got package managers on top of package managers on top of package managers. I can foresee a day when we need a package manager to manage our package managers.

I often think about the poor people who actually make package managers. That’s the devil’s work right there.

I digress.

Remember 10 years ago? There used to be two things you needed to know to build a website.

HTML. CSS.

Now?

Deep breath.

HTML. CSS. SCSS. Maybe LESS instead. Or maybe SASS. jQuery. Actually, pure Javascript is getting pretty popular again. Tom told you to use that. He’s pretty cool, he’s got one of those websites that look like code. Maybe you should use Vue too. Or maybe Angular, or React. React’s a Facebook product though, and you hate Facebook. You’ll probably need Bower. And NPM. Then you’ll need to install Node. So you’ll probably need Brew too at some point. Then Grunt, or Gulp, or Webpack. You’ll need to know Git too. Or SVN. Things get easier when you know a few Terminal commands as well. Learning how to SSH into sites is useful. FTP is for losers now. Tom spat at me when I mentioned FTP. You’ll probably have to learn about VPSs. And a bit of DevOps. You’ll definitely need to know some PHP, because you’ll probably be using WordPress. Or something different like Jekyll, or Statamic, or Squarespace, or Grav, or Kirby, or Ghost. If you use Ghost, you’ll definitely need to know Node.

And breathe out. And that list right there gets longer every day.

We’re Making Things Too Difficult

Scroll back up.

Read the last bit I just wrote, where I talk about HTML and CSS. Is that sensible? Is it really a good thing that anybody who wants to work in the web industry now is expected to understand a lot of that not-even-comprehensive laundry list of technologies I wrote?

Let me phrase this differently.

Could you reasonably expect a 18 year old to learn, understand and implement a large portion of that list?

I think you know the answer.

Education For The Web Industry

Yes, this leaves us in a pickle (Rick). If the demands of the web industry continue to increase, and we continue to make our jobs more complicated, multi-faceted and confusing AND our industry is growing beyond all expectations, we need new blood. We need keen new people wanting to be web designers, developers, UI and UX people (just to name a few jobs in our industry).

We can’t expect formal education—universities, colleges, schools—to continue to react to our ever-changing industry. We can’t expect I.T. teachers, computer science lecturers, and design lecturers to keep up with the second-by-second drastic changes to our industry. But we need them to. And we need to keep hiring new talent into the web industry.

Let me just quickly say here: I’m not building up to saying that education is broken (even though it kind of is), and I’m definitely not saying that formal education shouldn’t be teaching the things people in the web industry need to know. I actually value formal education massively, and I think you should too. It’s an excellent place for young people to grow, develop, and learn. But the learning bit is getting really hard for people who want to go into the web industry because the lecturers can’t keep up with us. It doesn’t help that the web industry is constantly saying how shit formal education is either, but that’s a topic for another day.

There is a solution though.

The ONLY Way To Improve This? Give Back To The Industry.

Education needs our help, now more than ever. As our industry gets more complicated, I meet with lecturers, educators and teachers of all shapes and sizes on a monthly basis who are flat out struggling. They can’t keep up with the rate of change.

We need to help them.

I’ve spent the last 5 years or so giving back to web education. I help wherever I can, I visit web design courses, I deliver units of learning when they let me, and I take on work experience people when I can fit it in. I do the best I can to give back as much of my knowledge to education as I can, because I know how important it is.

I know I need to help our web educators to teach the web industry better. I don’t moan that education is shit. I don’t sit back, expecting everything of a new employee, then moaning when they don’t know Git, even though I’ve never told any web design course in the country that’s what they should be teaching their students.

If we want a future for the web industry, we need the new talent coming through the doors. If we don’t start taking that process seriously soon, we’re in for a big ol’ world of hurt in 30 years time when we all want to retire.

I know I’ll be terrible at building websites when I’m 60, and you will be too. So you need to start giving back to our educators, and helping them figure this shit out.

Deal?