[Also posted at Notebook (blog of Society for Technical Communication).]
The web is huge and made up of many different components. There are so many different programming and scripting languages that a novice can become overwhelmed. It might be tempting for some technical writers – those not particularly well versed in computer programming – to become intimidated by the web and think that they should rely fully on programmer types for the actual building of a website (specifically front-end development), but I believe that is a mistake. All technical writers should care about and can learn front-end web development.
A front-end developer takes all the visual design of a website and builds it out using code. The scripting languages used by these developers are HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). HTML is used for the structure of the site and CSS is used to control the style and layout of the site. Both of these coding languages are relatively easy to learn with practice and the internet is loaded with basic tutorials to get you started.
There was a time when developers would spend hours hand coding pages in order to fit the needs of their client. This was tedious and inefficient. Fortunately, we began to see the emergence of content management systems (CMS) which lightened the load for the front-end developer. The front-end developer these days will likely spend most of their time using a content management system (CMS) and I believe that it is beneficial to find one that you like and to become an expert in that area. While there are many options, my bias in this area is towards WordPress. 1
WordPress is “the largest self-hosted blogging tool in the world, used on millions of sites and seen by tens of millions of people every day”. 2 With this popularity, comes contributors. WordPress is easy to install on any server and provides various themes, both free and paid, that will allow you to create any style of website that you choose. In addition, there are many plugins that are available to use with WordPress that will allow the developer to do things such as gather user information, setup a store front and collect payments, or create web forms. So, as you can well imagine, almost anything that you want to do with WordPress you can do with WordPress.
Usability makes WordPress attractive to front-end developers. The amount of documentation and assistance you can receive in developing any project you attempt is a compelling reason that many developers choose to use WordPress. This is also a very compelling reason why WordPress is a great content management system for technical writers to learn. It will expand your knowledge base and the services that you can offer to your clients while giving you the satisfaction of mastering a component of the web that may have previously been intimidating. You can gain a lot of experience and practice by creating your own site and learning as you go. The cost is low and the time is now, so jump in.