Self-Taught Developer’s Survival Guide: Essential Reference Sources for Web Developers

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Welcome to the Self-Taught Developer’s Survival Guide! As I discussed in a previous installment, there is far too much information in web development for any one person to hold in their head at once, so we need to be smart and make good use of reference sources while learning or developing. Today, I’m going to discuss the most vital of those reference sources!

Google

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Google was helpful to me before I was a developer, but it’s usefulness took on a whole new dimension when I started coding. There’s not much I have to say that you don’t already know or can’t figure out, but Google is an essential tool, especially when you’re banging your head against the wall trying to squash a bug or get to the bottom of puzzling behavior. Google is not as specifically useful as any of the following resources, but it is what points you to the exact location of the best possible answer!

MDN

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The Mozilla Developer’s Network is arguably the most integral web development reference site on the internet. While not the official W3 web documentation, this wiki site is the closest thing to Word of God on all things web, as it is much more reader-friendly than the official specification. The entries may seem overwhelming to beginners with all that’s on display, but you will quickly adjust to the style, and find yourself coming here time and again for help with syntax, particularly with JavaScript built-in methods.

CSS Tricks

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CSS is surprisingly tricky, despite its simple mechanics. Throw in multiple browsers, display formats, and it will quickly become clear that you need all of the help you can get. Chris Coyier started CSS Tricks in 2008, and it has since grown into one of the best places on the web to find out just how to deal with that edge case you’re currently fighting to get your application styled properly. I would recommend CSS Tricks just on the strength of it’s outstanding guides to Flexbox and Grid, but there is so much more on this site for you to take advantage of.

Individual technology Github pages

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Let’s be clear: when something goes wrong with your code, YOU are what went wrong the vast majority of the time. But sometimes errors persist after you made sure there were no syntax errors and everything is as it should be on the page. In this age of wide adoption of open-source libraries, frameworks, and other technologies, the Github page for a specific technology is a great resource. You can read about support, installation, intended use, view source code, or even contribute! The “Issues” section of a technology is a great place to find out if there’s a genuine bug or quirk with a version of something. These discussions are typically quick and to the point, and have helped me personally circumvent some nasty bugs.

Stack Overflow

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Stack Overflow is the largest site on the internet for programming questions and answers. SO has a not-unwarranted reputation for being condescending and harsh to newer-developers, though the site has recently added a Code of Conduct intended to curtail that sort of behavior. That said, it is generally an excellent resource for getting help with programming questions. If you’ve never been to Stack Overflow before, make sure you pay attention to the code of conduct, as it’s expected that questions on the site follow a specific format.

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