A professor in my department presented his website at a recent workshop and declared “I’m an example that even dummies can make websites.” It’s true. These days, it doesn’t take much technical knowledge to make your own set of pages on the web.
I started out like this. I graduated from college in 2008 with a degree in biology and a general dread of computers. I never thought it would be possible for me to make a website, much less something like this one. I resented the technical jargon in a manner similar to George Carlin:
“I’ve been uplinked and downloaded. I’ve been inputted and outsourced. I know the upside of downsizing; I know the downside of upgrading. I’m a high-tech lowlife. A cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, bicoastal mutlitasker, and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond.”
(from his “Ode to the Modern Man,” 2004)
Following graduation, I worked as a teaching assistant for an ecology course. The professor asked me to make a website presenting the course material. After stumbling through a few how-to manuals on dreamweaver, I managed to scrape something together. I can’t find the website now, but rest assured you don’t want to see that mess anyway.
Realizing that the ability to make websites is a rare and valued trait among scientists, I decided to use this new skill to my advantage. I landed a few positions making small websites for research labs at the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center and the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University.
I learned on the job, taking online tutorials on HTML and CSS. These coding languages are the basic building blocks of webpages, what amino acids are to proteins. While it is possible to make a website without any knowledge of these languages, I think it’s impossible to make a site that looks professional without a basic knowledge of code and design principles. For example, I had to do a bit of code editing to get the picture and video in this post to appear correctly. I’m excited to see organizations like Code Academy making it easy (and free!) to learn to code. As for design, a simple search will turn up lots of great tips, but for a comprehensive resource try Web Style Guide, which has been called “An Elements of Style for Webmasters.”
When I got stuck, I asked for help from my web savvy brother Nick Rohde and step brother Jesse Hampton. Luckily, they can be bribed with my famous polenta casserole. I’m forever grateful for their patience with my numerous annoying questions (something like the episode of the IT crowd at left). I should also mention that, if you need a professional website, they freelance and do excellent work.
These days, I get requests for help quite often. In the spirit of paying it forward, I am happy to help scientists and students get started making their website, or to help when they get stuck. I’m a starving student, and also can be bribed with good food.
Where to begin? Jesse and I recommend WordPress, a content management system that makes it relatively easy to design and update your site, as well as collaborate with others. There are two versions: wordpress.com, which is best for beginners (example at afsuw.wordpress.com) and wordpress.org, which is what Jesse and I used to make this site. See this article for more information on the pros and cons of each. Both sites have lots of documentation, tutorials, and forums for asking questions. WordPress is used widely enough that when you run into a snag, chances are that somebody out there has had the exact same problem and the answer can be found in a simple search.
Good luck and happy coding!