I’m New to the Job Thing and Into Web Media. What Systems Should I Learn?

I feel like I’ve run into iterations of this question a few times lately, so here go some words of whizzzdum.

If I were some 21-year-old dude again, but my 21-year-old self was transported to 2008 and I was looking for a job in media websites, I’d pick up some books on the following languages at SBX. I could stop in during my next trip to EV-1 for a Busch Light 30-cube. ($10.99, readers. But that was in 2001 prices. I imagine with the surge in grain prices, it’s gone all the way up to 46 cents per beer or so.)

The geek glasses know

First, I’d learn Flash. Front-end developers can do really well with this, even though I think it’s a really bad idea to use Flash for basic page templating. Instead, Flash is awesome for news graphics, such as the popular delegate calculator we rocked at Slate. It’s really portable for things like embedded video players and widgets (see the Bushisms widget), it can do great visual effects that DHTML still can’t do with ease (or at all), and it’s a lot less dangerous than Javascript for site stability. If your swf file is f’d, it’ll take down your movie but likely not your site performance. (Unless it’s way huge and you’re seeing too many downloads, but file size is a problem for anything.)

Second, I’d get really good at CSS. It’s the best way to control page display, so clearly it’s mad useful. The HTML part is fairly simple; you’re just wrapping things in divs of different class and ID. Then the CSS comes into play and keeps your site looking tight.

Third, I’d learn object-oriented programming. It’s the basis of Javascript behaviors and used in back-end programming as well, and that’s across all platforms. ASP.NET, Java or PHP, you’ll want to know the underlying structures. And that’s once you know basic programming stuff like loops, conditionals and database connectivity; if not, learn that first.

Assuming you already have the media knowledge down — journalism and such — you’d be representin’ for an entry-level producer or front-end developer job. Other useful technologies include Photoshop, Illustrator, QuarkXPress (for the occasional print thing), IIS or Apache server admin, and database structure. That last one is obviously useful in general web development, but I’m assuming you’re looking for a job with a media company big enough to have its own DBAs.

As far as the PHP / open-source question, I definitely advise people to learn it, but I say that with the knowledge that you probably won’t be using it working for a media company in the next few years. PHP is great and I love all the innovation around it, but most companies are still running legacy systems in ASP.NET, Java or other technologies and will bust out some criticism about scalability and support issues if you suggest moving to PHP / MySQL. (Facebook apparently not being large-scale and uptime-critical enough.) So, while PHP is great if you want to set up a site from scratch and will be useful when it becomes more supported with big sites, you probably won’t need it on a day-to-day job basis.

Apologies to any non-code people who were bored stiff on this one.

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4 Responses to “I’m New to the Job Thing and Into Web Media. What Systems Should I Learn?”

  1. Very smart stuff, Pat. I’m thinking of writing a similar piece about teaching writing with web media.

    When do you move to the fair state of Michigan?

  2. That’s okay Pat – I trust you’ll do an awesome post about oatmeal or dolphins or something to make up for this soon.

  3. Quark is dead, learn InDesign.

    Posted by Rich | March 31st, 2008 at 7:47 am
  4. Flash first, then PHP. A-ight, groovy. And Rich is right, InDesign is the new hotness. If you know Illustrator, you can pretty much pick up InDesign on your own.

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