Let’s say you’re a Computer Science major and have a free summer and you want to make productive use of your time. Or, you’re a high school student that dabbles around in Web Development and programming or you WANT to dabble around in that department. Sure you could just sleep in and spend your time just messing around, but what’s the “fun” in that?

What You Can Accomplish

One summer may sound like no time at all but it won’t take you much longer than that to become versed in the basics of web development. Here’s what you can do:

  • learn the basics of HTML and CSS, well
  • get into PHP and MySQL with no prior knowledge of programming
  • set a blog up and put yourself on a journey toward GREATNESS!
  • knock a few projects out and build a portfolio.

Become A Web Developer

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First, don’t dismiss the idea. You can become a web developer under 3 months, especially if you have no other obligations, or simply a part time job to worry about. Read my article on how to start being a web developer quickly and follow the steps. By the time school rolls around you should be able to create your own rudimentary custom Blog, spin up a WordPress theme, and build your own applications.

And it’s not hard. With programs like TeamTreeHouse and Lynda, you can get some visual help along the way. and a simple structure course. No, it won’t be like your everyday high school class or a university course, it will be BETTER.

Learning practical web development does not require years of study at a university. One summer is enough to get you started

My suggestion is always the following:

  • start with HTML/CSS, build some nice-looking sites
  • add some PHP and MySQL to make it dynamic
  • setup a hosting account and learn to use WordPress
  • start making your WordPress themes

Regardless of your opinion, fact is, learning web development this way either alongside your University/High School study or instead of going to a University, will make you MORE employable and give you a big head start because most entry-level jobs out there require experience. You should know why, and you should be prepared for it.

Setup A Blog and Read Other Blogs

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Either before or after you become a web developer, start a blog to catalog your experience. If you’re doing this BEFORE you start coding, pick a free (non-self-hosted) platform like WordPress. No advanced coding required, and you can chronicle your advancements. Make sure you take screenshots so that you can, someday, compile a “throwback” and realize how far you’ve come.

After you learn some web development, buy a solid webhosting for just a few dollars a month and begin writing on it. It’s much easier to learn by teaching others, it’s why I started my blog and it helped me tremendously.

Blogging helps you reflect back on what you’ve learned, gain feedback, and teach others while you teach yourself.

After you’re done with that, start reading other blogs out there. Just search “web development blogs” and see what comes up. Start following people on twitter and get more involved. There are tons of blogs out there that will help you out as a newbie!

Start Doing Paid Work (and building a portfolio)

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Let’s say you’re already through all the steps above, or you just know how to program already, it’s time to start getting paid work. When I wrote my criticism of going to a University for web development, my main reason was that work experience will get you ahead, far ahead of your peers. At least in the beginning. So this summer, don’t be shy and get out there and find work. You can easily do this instead of a part time job and you can also help fund your career this way (get cash for a new laptop, software, hosting etc.)

I tackled this topic a while ago but basically, start job hunting! To summarize, there are tons of places you can go to find [beginner] work:

  • Craigslist (if you’re in the US. Google local alternatives)
  • Freelancer.com
  • Directly contact companies in your area
  • Check out various communities and forums for work (reddit, forrst and others)

Paid work at the lowest level may not be the most rewarding (in terms of cash) but it’s your first stepping stone in making smart decisions about your development career

Here’s the thing, at the end of the day, you want to be as employable as possible by the time you get out of school or get into this field. This depends on a few major factors:

  • prior experience
  • ability to learn
  • portfolio

It’s a scary world out there, and it definitely pays to read up on the state of the industry, and how it treats developers. If you know how the system works, you can be smart about your choices when it comes to time and effort allotment

Get Better At What You Do

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Past all of this, the best thing you can do is just get better. Ability to learn and grow is one of the biggest assets to a web developer. There is tons of advice out there, lots of places to get feedback, and lots of new avenues to explore as a programmer. The CS world is a big one, and even as a web developer, your skills can range from front-end to back-end, to system administration, and web design.

If you’re a student with a free summer, now’s your chance to come out on top. You can get out there and dazzle your new employers with years of prior experience and a formal education on top of that.

The one last piece of advice I have for you is not to get crazy caught up in coding. In my zen tips for a developer article, I discussed this. Coding is not a lifestyle, it’s a profession, an interest, a hobby, a passion, but being a programmer should not detract from the rest of your life. Keep that in mind.

Come Back To School Refreshed!

At the end of it, your summer will have prepared you with the knowledge of:

  • a work environment
  • how to cut through the academical and get to the practical
  • the whole development cycle of a basic website
  • programming as a profession rather than a book-learning environment.

Good luck to everyone!