Recently I set myself a challenge. The FrogOS offline theme builder was released and I was eager to work out how to build themes. I didn’t have any experience with theme building or design but I didn’t want to let that hold me back.
One thing I didn’t want to do was to have to go and keep pestering people in the office about what something was or did in the code. I was determined to learn myself and see if it was possible. I looked around online for ways to learn code and found a lot of good options. Personally, I went with CodeAcademy for the simple reason that it was free and simple. It took no set up, no downloads and no previous knowledge. Just what I needed. Once set up and logged in it was simple to move around, find lessons and begin to learn some basic code.
I had no idea how long it would take me to gain enough knowledge to build a theme but I was willing to dip in and out of CodeAcademy in order to learn what I needed to to build themes and maybe more in the future. To begin with I learnt the basics. What is HTML, how does it link with CSS and then how can I begin to style my code so that it produces something that looks nice and works. I hit a few stumbling blocks along the way and this is where I realised that a little help was needed. I didn’t want someone doing it for me, I wanted someone to bounce ideas off and to discuss what they had done to resolve a problem. I managed to get a few friends and colleagues to sign up for CodeAcademy and we began learning alongside each other. Late night emails and tweets resulted in me getting through the basics pretty quickly. By the end of week 1 I was pretty pleased with myself. I could display information on a page and style it how I wanted to (still pretty basic but enough to get a few ‘ooohs’ and ‘aahhhhs’ when I achieved something new).
I came to a standstill at this point. I had been coding here and there every day for nearly 2 weeks and needed to do something with it. I couldn’t do any more lessons as I felt a bit disheartened by not really using my new found knowledge. The discovery of CodeAcademy projects really gave me the boost I needed to do more. The project took me through the steps of completing small projects, taking the skills I had learnt and putting them to some use. I decided I was ready!
Setting myself up was relatively easy. I needed the files. No problem, these were shared online using GitHub. GitHub is for code review, and code management of open source and private projects. Frog stores the files here for users to access and download.
I then needed a way of editing the files. I use Adobe DreamWeaver for this but there are Open Suorce applications out there that you can use to do the same thing. I used DreamWeaver because I already had it and I know there would be a lot of support out there if I got stuck.
The final thing I needed was a server to host my files on. I don’t have a server so I used the advice provided on GitHub and downloaded Xampp to create a server from my laptop. This was straightforward to set up and I was up and running within 15 minutes.
Creating my first theme
I am not a designer. I don’t claim to be and don’t think I ever will be. I know what looks good but that doesn’t mean to say I can do it myself. I didn’t want to let this get in the way though. After all, I wasn’t trying to learn how to be a designer, I just wanted to be able to create themes. I started with the test files. My HTML and CSS lesson I had done really came into their own. I started looking at the code and knew exactly what to do straight away. It was simple to refer back to CodeAcademy when I got stuck and remind myself what to do but I found that the more I did the less necessary this became. After a few goes with the test files I decided I was ready to try it for real this time.
So what advice would I give? First, find yourself a good way of learning code. Definitely learn HTML and CSS basics. It will lead and feed into your end design and give you a much greater understanding of what is happening with your code. Second, rope other people into learning with you. It is far more fun and a little competition between you for who can get the most badges is always good for motivation. third, Google is your friend. Don’t be afraid to search for the answer online. The setup of Xampp took me a bit of a google search to get right but it was better than me tearing my hair out trying for hours. Finally, don’t give up. Parts of learning to code are pretty dull. You sit there coding for an hour and realise you have just spent the time making a bullet point list. Don’t get disheartened. The lists are so important for understanding the style of the drop down menus in FrogOS and it is great to look a the Theme code and think “I understand that and I know how to change it if I want to.”
Maybe one day some of my themes will make it onto the Frog Store and maybe even on to some sites in classrooms that I will never see the inside of. A very proud man will be sitting at a laptop on the day that happens. I’ve got a lot to learn still and I will continue with the CodeAcademy until I feel that I have enough knowledge to try the next challenge. Either way, I set myself a challenge and 2 weeks later I achieved it. #proud