Fro some time now, I've been teaching myself the web design tool, Joomla!, an open source, free content management system (CMS), in this case a web CMS. I've benefited greatly from the advice and postings of other members of the Joomla! Boston User Group, the large community of Joomla! developers and web designers in the Joomla Community Forums and the Joomla! Official Documentation wiki. Another great resource has been SiteGround's online tutorials, a provider where I have some other Joomla! websites.
Learning by doing is fine; I've learned 95% of my technical skills that way. But it does not mean we have to do it alone. When we go it alone, we may develop as many bad habits as good ones. We miss the coaching that could improve our success and shorten our learning curve. And it's more fun to work with others on something real to us; something that matters.
There are many books and tutorials out there on web design and tools that can also help you learn how to use these tools. The biggest hurdle I encounter with these is that I am missing some technical prerequisite and have to find another resource to bring me up to the level of the book. I have to learn more than just the tool in my hand. I have to learn other things that make that tool work. On a very simple scale, it's a little like following written instructions on how to change a flat tire without knowing what a tire iron is, what lug nuts are, and what a car jack is. You have to become familiar with the underpinnings of the job in order to do the job right.
I follow several blogs and am engaged with various discussion groups on web design, social networking, and social media. Quite a few people fall into the trap of saying the task is easy or a particular tool is easy to use when they have not identified that at least some familiarity with other tools is helpful, if not a necessity. But that does not mean it's impossible to learn or that you shouldn't try it. We'd never grow out of our comfort zone if we adopted that philosophy.
Instead, I recommend that if you venture into some of these new areas (new to you, they're hardly new to many of the techies out there), get yourself into a user group related to the task or tool, use the online forums that are available, and don't be afraid to be a "newbie." Admitting that you don't "hack" core code or know any programming skills may generate a negative response from some folks. Remember, they weren't always programmers or coders; they were beginners once too. Others will be very helpful to you. They may want to share their knowledge, help others gain skill in a particular area, or just get a chance to go back to the beginning and remember what it was like when they started out.
I am hardly done with the website. There are some links to "placeholders" to get our volunteers to work on those articles for publication. There are some documents ready that I need to put into place. More features and functionality are also coming along. Then I need to teach some volunteers how to add documents to the site, get more critiques on features and functionality, and see what else we want to do with it.
But for now, the site has enough information to have its place front and center, pushing out the old site and making its debut "live" for our members/patrons and everyone else.
Use the comment feature here to let me know what you think after you check out the Cyber Cafe @ Malden Square.