One recommended tool/resource for n00bs

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One recommended tool/resource for n00bs

These resources/tools were recommended by the Code4Lib community in Nov. 2012, specifically for new coding librarians and library coders. The whole thread of discussion is available at the C4L listserv archive.

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Books or Things to read
  • Vi- because it keeps me (you?) focused.
  • Komodo Edit
  • Notepad++ IMO best open source lightweight editor on Windows
  • AMP (LAMP, WAMP, MAMP) stacks for an easy install of Apache, mySQL + perl/ python / php.
  • A @rdio subscription. :) And a text editor with syntax highlighting.
  • Git (Version Control)
  • Github, Bitbucket and Other Remote Git Services
  • Emmet, (supersedes Zen Coding, ) The idea is that it lets you use CSS-like selectors as tags that can be expanded into full HTML snippets.
  • SASS Syntactically Awesome Stylesheets
  • LESS
  • Compass - extends SASS with reusable patterns
  • BareBones's BBEdit
  • Sublime Text & Zen Coding (recently reborn as Emmet). Saves a lot of keystrokes when writing web content.
  • The best one IMHO is Sublime Text 2. Oh, okay, I can't resist - I'm going to cheat and list a second: everyone needs to stop writing just CSS and complement it with SASS (syntactically awesome stylesheets) & Compass - Totally invaluable for any front-end work. It makes CSS fun.
  • VirtualBox to make new VM setup and deployment easier we use Vagrant
  • Version control. My own strong preference is for git (either managed locally or through, but really, just pick a version control solution and use it. If you value your work at all, it should be in version control. Smart use of version control can make finding and fixing problems in code much, much easier - but even fairly naive use of it leaves you with much, much better tools for fixing screw ups than you have without it.
  • Code4Lib listserv, IRC, journal (duh)
  • Google is more useful than any reference book to find answers to programming problems.
  • StackExchange (by extension, StackOverflow) is a great site for questions.
  • JS Fiddle
  • CodePen
  • CSS Tricks
  • Open Hatch - to learn tools you need to participate in open source development and find friendly projects to be a part of
  • Drupal Ladder, which teaches you what you need to know to participate in developing Drupal
  • Ruby Koans - learn Ruby by fixing failing tests
  • Library Carpentry - Free, open-source lessons for non-techy librarians on coding, data analysis, and related topics. They also give in-person workshops upon request.
  • Seeing Standards - Let's be frank, there is a giant pile of metadata standards awaiting any newbie to this field. Jenn Riley's map of these standards, and the accompanying glossary, is an invaluable resource. It may be tempting to try to print the PDF of this visualization, just be aware that it is absolutely gigantic. You will need access to a poster printer to do it justice. Don't let that frighten you, feel free to explore it on your computer, save it, keep it as a reference. This poster will help you, you need it.
Meetups and User Groups
  • Resources for lots of languages:
  • Catcode
  • FOSS4lib
  • I can already feel the collective rolling of eyes for this, but what about Twitter? It's not a guide or manual, but start following and engaging talented developers and library geeks on Twitter and you'll soon have more help than you know what to do with. Plus, no Zoia ;)
  • Practice! No matter the learning material, nothing will really sink in unless you apply it in the wild (like a small project).
  • It's still useful to learn a little something about configuring a webserver / database / etc.
  • The Library Code Year Interest Group, an ALA group (joint between LITA and ALCTS) for librarians who want to learn and apply code
Advice on what to do
  • Building things that help people matters, and for that you need empathy.
  • Reusing people's public dotfiles,my favorite being Mathias Bynens'. Using a mature dotfiles collection can help bootstrap you to use the command line more and start grabbing vital tools from package managers like Homebrew or npm that you might not think of otherwise. I'm still a newbie coder but reusing dotfiles gives me the confidence to tweak things here and there without building a ton from scratch.
  • I'm taking "tool" to mean a piece of hardware. I'd recommend some old laptop with your favorite linux distro less desktop. Why? Well the main thing is that it puts them into a position where they're not learning to be a google copy/paste coder given the lack of the desktop, mouse and distractions like email. They can also learn to setup the server environment on their new dev box and eventually do all sorts of cool stuff.
  • A cheapie online webhosting account - like a $10 a month one - and multiple URLs. Multiple URLs will make them point a URL at a nameserver at least once ideally, and to understand that the two are separate and what you can do with domains and subdomains. The cheapie webhosting account will let them play with installing popular content management systems manually and with one-click installs. The most important thing is to break things and then rebuild them. The worst possible thing would be to build a website, leave it up as their public face or personal website, and be nervous to wreck it so notchange or play with different CMSes (another reason multiple URLs might psychologically be better - they encourage experimentation on one and the person can make the other a static goal oriented publishing area).The more the cheapie hosting account experience I have, the more I know what's cheap and easy to do, and the more I see very specific benefits to adedicated server. It makes me more intentional and able to better assess the value of services vendors provide. That's more web4lib ish, but ultimately if someone experiments enough they have to get comfortable with php. Scripting is the gateway drug.
  • +1 to web-hosting as it gives the ability install one's own software on one's domain (which feels great) *and* easy access to shell. And when web-hosting feels like too much of a barrier to access, sites like jsfiddle where you can immediately start adding *and* sharing code is key. IMHO the initial appeal of Codecademy was that it removed all barriers to getting started. Getting a laptop's localhost set up is too daunting for a first step, I think.