So you’re thinking about taking the Front-End Web Development at General Assembly?


This was a really good experience for me. My situation is not going to be like everyone else’s, so let me give you the low down on why, for me, it was a good fit.

If you don’t feel like reading this epistle, skip to the bottom and read the section on “What to expect if you are thinking…”

I’ve been learning HTML and CSS off and on over the past six years. I bought books, and read them. Did online tutorials. Had friends and co-workers walk me through the basics of HTML and CSS. I cannot tell you how many times I have created the “Hello World!” page. I have learned a bit over the years, but not enough to be considered dangerous by any stretch of the imagination.

I’m currently working at FamilySearch as a UX/UI designer. Been there for a little over two and a half years, and during that time our webDev team put together a skills building program. A set of requirements that demonstrates understanding, application and proficiency of core HTML, CSS and JS principles. Developed for our webDevs, our UX El Jefe challenged the designers to get certified in a different discipline in order to have a more well-rounded understanding of how our designs are implemented in the code.

I cannot emphasize this enough: to learn how to code has been one of the best career decisions I have ever made.

“The more we know how the web works, the better we can design for it. A painter knows paint. A sculptor knows clay or marble. Musicians understand acoustics, feedback, mics, guitars, pianos, etc. There’s a technical aspect to every medium. The better a designer understands the technical aspects of their craft, the better their designs.”

–Tom DeForest, UX Heros: John Dilworth

Enter General Assembly

Inside the main area of the GA Santa Monica Campus

I did my homework and developed my own objectives as aligned with FamilySearch’s goals towards certification. Then I contacted General Assembly (GA) and told them I was interested in their program. Based on my prior learnings…if you could even call them that, I felt like I had enough background in HTML/CSS to make the course do-able and help me get certified. I received the course outline for GA’s FEWD program and ran it past my webDev managers. They thought it was a solid curriculum and gave it their blessing.

My FEWD class was taught by two developers; the course instructor is a professional in the web development community, and the TA is a recent graduate from the General Assembly Web Development Immersive program. My class was 10-weeks long and held on Saturdays from 10–5 at their Santa Monica LA campus. Class size was about 30–35 students.

You can read all the details about the FEWD program here.

I was really happy with the course. The highlights for me were: learning and understanding the HTML/CSS/JS syntax and document structure; responsive design and utilizing media queries; some Bootstrap and how to use the responsive framework; how to talk to my devs and use their terminology when communicating my designs. This one sounds a little funny, but it’s true: learning how to ask Google. Google will tell you anything you want it to, as long as you know how to ask correctly. If I have questions about code, syntax, structure, etc. I now know how to ask. Creating WordPress themes. This was a bonus. We built a custom theme in class based on a previous homework assignment. I was even able to turn my final project into a WordPress theme based on that class.

To graduate from the FEWD program there were essentially two requirements: attend 80% of the classes, and build a site that demonstrated what we learned. GA wanted us to build a multiple page site with linking pages, and use of HTML/CSS/JS.

Here is my final project. I used this project to pass my GA class and get certified in HTML/CSS at FamilySearch.

Coding is a language. If you’re not going to use it, you’re going to lose it. Stay on top of it. Also, learn to jump in and figure it out.

What to expect if you are thinking about taking this class:

  1. If you want to get the most out of this course, code. Then code some more. The best way to learn is repetition. I probably spent an additional 10–15 hours per week outside of class time coding. I did my homework. Deleted it. And did it again. The course is expensive. Get everything you can out of it.
  2. The course is designed to increase your skill set, not to get you a job as a developer. If you are looking to change careers, this is not that kind of course. You will want the Web Development Immersive course or something similar.
  3. You are not going to learn how to design for the web. You are going to learn how to code.
  4. The lessons are structured as high level primers with code-a-longs. The instructors expect you to take the initiative and learn to delve deeper on your own. Instructors are always available for questions and help.
  5. I wish the instructors talked more about best practices and correct principles and guidelines.
  6. The course seemed to cater to the people who were struggling with coding concepts. It slowed the overall pace of the class.
  7. Make use of lab time and the instructors’ office hours. Their time is invaluable. Use it.
  8. There are always events going on at the Santa Monica campus. For the most part it was fine, but sometimes it got really annoying and distracting. GA needs a building better suited for the amount of classes, lectures and seminars at that location.
  9. I wish we spent more time on vanilla JavaScript, but I think they could have spent the whole ten weeks just on this.
  10. Free snacks and candy.
  11. Great networking opportunities with classmates and instructors.
  12. Access to GA Front Row, lectures and seminars.

Suggestions for General Assembly:
Expand the FEWD curriculum. If I was running GA, that’s what I would do. You can thank me later.

FEWD 101
Utilize the current part-time FEWD curriculum. Overview and application of HTML and CSS with an intro in JS.

FEWD 201
Full vanilla JavaScript class. Understanding the DOM and DOM manipulation. JS libraries and how they work and integrate with your site. A little bit of jQuery with an intro in Angular JS.

FEWD 301
Getting comfortable with the command line. Using git and github and understanding version control. Scaffolding and frameworks. Drill down on all or few of these (Node JS, Angular JS, Express JS, Node Package Manager (npm), Bower, Grunt, Gulp, Yeoman, Web Starter Kit.) And finally, testing. You could work with companies that have hired GA WDI alums and adjust the program as needed.

Hope this helps.


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