Should I Learn to Code? Is It an Essential Skill?

Paul Boag

The Boagworld Show is back for its 24th season. In this season, we are looking at the essential skills every digital professional should have, no matter their role. We begin by asking whether all digital professionals should be able to code.

This week’s show is sponsored by The Cheltenham Design Festival and Omnifocus for iOS.


Paul Boag: The Boagworld Show is back for its 24th season, and in this season we're going to look at the essential skills that every digital professional should have, no matter what their role. To begin with, we asked the question, "Should all digital professionals be able to code?" This week's episode of the Boagworld Show is sponsored by the Cheltenham Design Festival and Omnifocus for iOS.

Speaker 2:

Paul Boag: Hello, and welcome to the Boagworld Show as it returns for the 24th season. Boagworld Show is all aspects of user experience design, digital strategy, and working in digital. My name is Paul Boag, and here with me is my long-term cohost, who seems to just make some duh noises in the middle of my introduction.

Marcus Lillington: No, I went, da, da, da.

Paul Boag: What was that about, Marcus?

Marcus Lillington: As in, this is the start of the new season and I can't remember how to do any of it.

Paul Boag: Oh, right.

Marcus Lillington: I'll just talk. Don't I talk, try and say funny things?

Paul Boag: Yeah, well, you're at the top of the show now, because last season we were so terrible at doing the whole Marcus thought for the day. It didn't happen. So this season, I'm putting it at the start of the show, so you're the one that's going to kick it off. But before that, thank you to Colin Gray, who did a load of shorter podcast episodes while we've been away, really just putting our feet up. Because I don't know about you, Marcus, but I've done nothing in the last six months or whatever.

Marcus Lillington: Mostly I'm bemoaning the not being able to win work. That's been most of the summer for me.

Paul Boag: Oh, I know. It's been so slow as well, hasn't it?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, in this case I mustn't go too moany because I can remember about a year ago saying on my thoughts for the day, "Don't get too moany about these things."

Paul Boag: Don't.

Marcus Lillington: "It'll turn around. Everything will be fine." But no, it's not for lack of opportunity. We just sort of seem to be permanently coming second these days, which is driving me bananas. But there still are lots, I'm working on loads of stuff at the moment, but yeah, it's been a bit slow.

Paul Boag: It's been a bit-

Marcus Lillington: Winning, anyway.

Paul Boag: It's been a bit slow for me as well. But fortunately, I'm kind of elbow deep in writing the next book so it's kind of not too problematic. But it's frustrating the way that you go through these kind of periods when you run an agency or you're a freelancer or whatever else. It's like there are so many things that are so lovely about running your own business, but bringing in work sucks. It is the sucky part of it really, which is your job, the entirety of your job.

Marcus Lillington: I was going to say that I don't really … And it's not the entirety of my job.

Paul Boag: No, I'm joking. crosstalk 00:03:03

Marcus Lillington: It's not the entirety of my job, but no, I've never minded. I think if you do mind then you shouldn't be doing it, because you'll end up with an ulcer. It's just a frustrating thing, but doing design work's frustrating, isn't it?

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: When you've got-

Paul Boag: Life's frustrating.

Marcus Lillington: The whole thing, the whole shebang. So yeah, I don't mind it at all. It can be a lot of fun sometimes, going for work and all that kind of thing as long as you get a kind of decent hit rate, but it's just been a bit slow on that front over the last few months. There's still opportunity. If I sat here going, "There aren't any opportunities," then that's time to really worry. But there are, so …

Paul Boag: Yeah, so I mean it is something you've got to kind of be fairly bulletproof over, isn't it?

Marcus Lillington: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Paul Boag: That these things come and go. I think the most worrying bit for me personally, yeah like you say, is when there are not opportunities and you don't have a solid method of creating those opportunities. So if things go a bit slow for me for example I can, I don't know, decide to run a course, or I can reach out to my mailing list, or I've got methods to kind of kick start interest if that makes sense. But yeah, a lack of leads is always the worrying bit. You can't just be relying on word of mouth, although that's pretty much what you guys do these days, isn't it?

Marcus Lillington: Well, our kind of what we fall back on all the time is the fact that we've been working for 18 years and we have hundreds of clients who keep coming back to us. So that-

Paul Boag: That's slightly different, yeah. I know what you mean, yeah, because-

Marcus Lillington: If we'd been going for a year it would be different, but you know.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: A lot of the opportunities that I'm talking about now are with existing clients, so it's quite hard to break into the kind of new client thing, although there are a couple I'm speaking to, fingers crossed. So yes, you do absolutely need to be bulletproof, even to the point of, it's kind of like if you're going for whatever, if you're going for a pitch and you're like, "I must win it. I must win it. I must win it," you'll never win it.

Paul Boag: No.

Marcus Lillington: If you go in sort of like, "I think we can fit the bill here. We can work with these people. It'll be great, but if we don't win it, we don't win it. It's okay." They're the ones when you go, you get the phone call a few weeks later and they say, "Yeah, we want to work with you." So you've kind of got to take a similar attitude to the entire process.

Paul Boag: It was interesting, in the Slack room today one of the regulars in the Slack room announced that she'd just been made redundant. That's a similar scenario. I kept saying to her, well, we all kept saying to her, "Look, it's not personal. It's not any reflection on you or your skills or anything like that that you've been made redundant. They just decided to go in another direction."

Marcus Lillington: I wrote a long, long reply and then kind of thought, "No, I'm going to delete this." Because it sounds a bit like sort of, I was sort of preaching from on high, and everything will be all right. It probably almost certainly will be all right, because what happened to you and I was the best thing that ever happened to us.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Marcus Lillington: But kind of at this stage in the game it's like, "Do you want to hear that again from me?" So I just went, "No," you know?

Paul Boag: Yeah, but I mean and it's the same whether it's talking about when you work running your own business, because you do get essentially a constant string of rejection, don't you? Wow, really upbeat stuff for the new season here.

Marcus Lillington: I'm not playing anymore. Yeah, that's true.

Paul Boag: But you know, you can see it that way. It depends on how you look at it, doesn't it? It is a state of mind, and it's not always easy to deal with. That's why to be honest, a lot of people say the downside of running your own business is the fact that you have to constantly keep finding work and all the rest of it. But in some, at least I'm in control of my own destiny, right? Do you know what I mean?

Marcus Lillington: Yes.

Paul Boag: When someone's working for an organization, because people always talk about job security. "Oh, and if I work for myself …" I was having this conversation with another friend of mine, Katie. Katie just handed her notice in and she's going to become a freelance writer, right? And of course one of her big concerns, oh, job security. When do I know when my next month's pay packet comes around? But then you see a situation like happened this morning in the chat room where someone's just, an employer's just turned around and said, "Bye," and that's it. You've got your month's notice or whatever else. But at least when you're running your own business I can see, I've got enough money to survive for this length of time before I need to start panicking, you know?

Marcus Lillington: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Paul Boag: So you're actually, I think, more in control of your own destiny running your own business than you are when you're employed by someone else. Because the whole thing about job security just isn't a thing these days, I don't think. It's very hard to know what another business is going to do with its staff.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, it's just as we started this entire discussion, it's just whether you can cope with the pressure of having to bring it in yourself. If you can, great. If you can't, then don't do it.

Paul Boag: Yeah, absolutely.

Marcus Lillington: Because you'll get an ulcer.

Paul Boag: Yes, well, I hope you don't have an ulcer, Marcus. I couldn't imagine you with an ulcer.

Marcus Lillington: No.

Paul Boag: It's just, you're too relaxed. Well, you know it's something I constantly envy about you. So-

Marcus Lillington: It's all an act, Paul. It's all an act.

Paul Boag: Is it all an act?

Marcus Lillington: It's the swan thing, or the duck. I don't know why everything-

Paul Boag: You're secretly really struggling, are you?

Marcus Lillington: No, no, no, no, no, all the time. Fair enough.

Paul Boag: Anyway, let's talk about the season. "What are we going to do, Paul?" So, this season we are talking about essential skills that every digital professional should have. So in my mind, part of the problem with the digital sector now is that there are so many different jobs and so many different specialisms, right? So we've got project managers. We've got SEO specialists. We've got developers. We've got designers, copywriters, user experience guys, designers, all of these different disciplines. We've become more and more specialized and more and more narrow in all of those things, and I think that creates a problem for a couple of reasons.

One is that I think it means that we can struggle to understand and communicate and see the other side of any particular subject because we're so niche, right? So classic ones would be the designer/developer relationship, not understanding one another. But you get other examples of a user experience person and a marketer that have got very different world views and a very different side of things. I also think the other problem with it is that you can end up with quite a narrow attitude in your career as well, that you can become quite narrow-minded not only in the kind of jobs that you do but just the skill sets that you have within your jobs, right?

So there are certain skills I think every digital professional should have, whether or not they are actually … Some of those skills they will be using every day. So for example, one of the skills that I want to cover is presentation, the ability to present your work. Pretty much everybody needs that, whatever their job is, whatever their career is. So we all need to be able to do that, and that's one that we all need to be using all of the time. But then there are other skills, like for example what we're going to cover today which is coding, right? Which you might not be using every day but it's still very much worthwhile having a basic introduction into that. That's the basic premise of the season. Does that sound … Does that make sense? Have I explained that okay?

Marcus Lillington: I think it's an excellent idea, Paul. Now we've got to pull it off.

Paul Boag: Right, yeah. I know, right? And I debated as to whether to get guests on this season just to avoid me having to kind of think about all this stuff. But actually, I think I'm very much a generalist. I am somebody that's interesting in a huge amount of different things, so I decided that actually this season I was going to kind of double down on that and share my different interests, the skills that I try and include in the mix. So we're going to look at things like coding, writing, presenting, psychology, sales and marketing, user research, organizational skills, SEO, online engagement. I'll explain what that means when we get to it. Business strategy, collaboration, assessing the new, new technologies, that kind of thing. Prioritizing, leadership design; we've got lots to cover.

But as I said, today what we're going to look at is we're going to look at coding in particular. We're going to look at coding in quite a broad sense. I've called it coding, but it's not really. It's technology, so we're going to look at a couple of little things. But we'll come to that later because we've got something far and more important to do first, which is we need to do Marcus' thought for the day. Now, if you're new to the show, Marcus … We have a fundamental problem with this show, that-

Marcus Lillington: Well, I'm on it.

Paul Boag: I was going to go with, I don't ever shut up. So to remedy this problem, we decided to infuse Marcus' thought for the day where he talks about different subjects. If you live in the U.K., the idea of thought for the day is something that probably is in your psyche somewhere. There's a BBC Radio 4 has this thought for the day, normally by a rabbi or a priest or someone like that. But with us, Marcus is our spiritual leader. So Marcus, with that, over to you.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, well first don't expect the quality level that you get on Radio 4 from me.

Paul Boag: No.

Marcus Lillington: They're always brilliant. The first thing I've got to say, and this is a bit sad, actually. This is nothing to do with my thought for the day. Melissa's hair that she got stuck in her Magic Mouse was a cat hair and she said, "Her fur follows me everywhere." Which reminds me, I lost one of my dogs over the summer.

Paul Boag: Oh, no.

Marcus Lillington: And he was a big, black Lab. He got cancer. He was quite old. He was 10 years old, so it wasn't like he was a baby or anything like that. But I still find black Labrador hairs.

Paul Boag: Oh, that's horrible.

Marcus Lillington: Quite sad, but yeah, he was lovely. Anyway, right, thought for the day. So I go for the sympathy vote before I start talking about it.

Paul Boag: Yeah, "Please love me."

Marcus Lillington: Right, what are they called? I called this-

Paul Boag: Very appropriately, considering what you've just said.

Marcus Lillington: Yes, the title for this is Never Work with Children or Animals. You'll see why in a minute. It's relevant to working in the web. At Headscape, and I actually wrote this for the last series so I'm having to kind of put it all in the past now, when it was in future tense as I've written it here. But we worked with a company that helped students, the vast majority of which, 16- to 18-year-olds, some perspective undergraduates, find courses and universities appropriate for them, so a kind of online search tool. We did a really big survey I'll come back to in a minute, and a lot of one-to-one interviews. What I'm going to talk about today is these interviews were a bit of an eye-opener for me.

Recruitment for the interviews was done via the survey and also directly from contact lists that the company has, and interviewees were offered 40 pounds' worth of Amazon vouchers to take part. So you think, "Oh, that's all good. That will get lots of people turning up." This is for the one-to-one interviews that we were doing kind of via screen sharing. I reckon we had about a 40% no-show rate.

Paul Boag: Bloody hell.

Marcus Lillington: Mm-hmm (affirmative), which isn't great especially considering the 40 quid. Where I'm coming from on this is about, I don't think we got particularly good results from these interviews, or the reliability of the results I don't think was that great. Because the ones, the people that we did end up interviewing tended to be your AAA stars, eloquent, star students. So or in other words, A, we got a very narrow band of student types. B, most of those star students either know what they want to do or where they want to go, or are bright enough to work out how to use pretty much any site. If I'm being frank, the few that we interviewed that weren't stars clearly were only in it for the money, so not exactly what you'd call super reliable results.

Fortunately, the survey respondents covered a wider group. But with surveys, you've got the usual issues of that you only get lovers and haters, and surveys don't cover usability testing so that's what we were trying to kind of do with the interviews. We were doing some testing as well as asking some questions. Normally, interviews like this are really important but I think the age group and the kind of one-to-oneness of it with old people like me and Chris, along with the kind of fear of being tested even though it was explained to people that they weren't being tested. But I think they felt the fear of being tested before the interview happened and they just didn't turn up because of that.

Now I'm not sure how to fix this. I think that you need, A, not having kind of old people like me coming in to interview people, and not setting it up kind of weeks in advance, and maybe doing it more kind of people who work for university going out to a store and talking to potential undergraduates in a group might be a much better way of doing it. But the lesson I've learned here, really the point of this thought for the day is, I guess I've always thought of one-to-one interviews as kind of the pinnacle of user research, where you really find out the detail. But this was one of those scenarios where you go, "Hang on a minute. It wasn't quite so good." That was my thought for the day.

Paul Boag: It is about, it's very much about using the right tool for the job, isn't it really?

Marcus Lillington: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Paul Boag: Because you do get such a difference in, yeah, different people do warm to different approaches.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, crosstalk 00:18:04.

Paul Boag: And it may well have been even if you'd done one-to-one interviews but done it remotely via Skype or something like that, people may well have felt more relaxed about doing it.

Marcus Lillington: Well, we did. We did it by screen share. But I-

Paul Boag: Oh, and it still didn't get that turn up?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: Wow.

Marcus Lillington: Like I said, and that was the thing. It's kind of like, and it kept happening. It kept happening. When you've got … We did 30 interviews, quite a lot, and you set up sort of 10:00 am one day, 3:00 pm the same day and that kind of thing. You set yourself into this thing 10 minutes before the call. By the end of it I was thinking, "They're not going to turn up." But yeah, so just a lesson learned. So I suppose I'm sharing that in case you ever think that, "Yes, what we need to do here is interview, I don't know, maybe even younger people." Sort of in that way, I think they find a little bit frightening and are more liable to not turn up.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, and the group thing is a good idea. I bet it would have worked better with a group.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: Interesting. Anyway, right. Okay, let's move on from that to our subject of coding and technology and why, no matter what your job is within the digital arena, why you need to understand the underlying technology. I'm kind of, we're going to start off with why this is something worth doing, then after that we're going to look at what kind of things you need to learn, and then finally I'm going to share some resources that you can go to to get started, right? So let's start with the why. I think it's important to explain what I mean by what you should learn, what kind of … We're basically looking at two things, right?

There's learning basic code, so learning HTML, CSS and potentially a little bit of JavaScript, although we'll come onto that in a minute. But then the other area is understanding the fundamentals about how the web actually works, right? Because understand, well, there's a lot of reasons for understanding this stuff, right? First of all, it's going to help you to better communicate with developers, right? And in particular, understand some of the challenges they face. Again, we were talking about this in the Slack channel. By the way, if anybody wants to join the Slack channel, they're more than welcome. You can do it by going to

But yeah, we were talking about this in the Slack channel and I think one of the big frustrations of developers is the assumption that every page is going to be the same, and if that last page took you a day to do then the next page is going to take you a day to do. The fact that the next page has got all this complexity in it and those kinds of things, so I think by at least having a bit of a go at this, you kind of discover some of the challenges that developers face as they work on stuff, and you gain that kind of empathy, I guess. That's probably the most obvious reason to learn about this technology.

But also, I find it's quite useful especially with HTML because sooner or later, you will end up having to write HTML, right? You know, there are all these tools out there that supposedly do it all for you, and you'll never need to touch a line of HTML. But the number of times, even when I'm using a tool that supposedly does all this stuff for you, the number of times you have to put in something. It might just be a link. It might just be an H, a heading tag or something like that, but it's inevitable. It's almost impossible to use the web without having to write at least a little bit of HTML somewhere. And actually-

Marcus Lillington: Even if it's in Maypole.

Paul Boag: I know, yeah. It's just inevitable, isn't it, right?

Marcus Lillington: You can't get around it.

Paul Boag: And you'll also find that if you understand HTML and understand CSS, you'll also be in a much better position where things break on the web, right?

Marcus Lillington: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Paul Boag: Because the web is a little bit of a delicate flower. It feels to me like the whole thing is held together with Sellotape and spit, you know? And it does break, and things do go wrong with it. And I think if you've got at least a basic understanding of how the web works, how all of these things, then when it does break, I'm not going to say you can fix it but you will certainly have at least an indication of why it might have gone wrong. And if you understand why it might have gone wrong, sometimes you can then circumvent the problem. "Oh, that's because they didn't like the way I formatted my postcode or whatever, so I can format it in a different way." Or, "Oh, I bet that's something to do, that's just a temporary database connection issue so if I refresh, it'll work this time."

So this kind of is helpful just for your normal usage of the web, but also there will be little things that you're capable of fixing or doing that you would have been reliant on a developer for. So for example, let's say a particular page on a website you want to change the color of the background or something like that. The WYSIWYG editor won't let you do that. It's not a part of it, but if you have the ability to go in and do that kind of stuff yourself, then you get around that problem, right? So you stop the … And you make your developer happy as well, right? Because the developer isn't having to deal with tiny little crappy issues that they really don't care about, and you can do those things yourself, right?

Andrew is asking in the chat room, surely a properly built and usable system shouldn't require the user to learn code or fix them? Yes, Andrew, but I'm a pragmatist that lives in the real world and those things don't exist. Even a really well-designed system doesn't always do that, and even if you take like probably the most common CMS in the world, which is WordPress, it's often quickest and easiest if you can just go in and mess with the code a bit. Yeah, you can do it in other ways but there are still always little things that you need to be able to get into the code. We should be aiming for a future where you don't need to do that, but the reality of today is very much that you need to.

The other thing to say is that being able to code actually I believe really improves your job prospects even if you're never going to go for a coding job, right? So for example, one of the guys that I mentor is a UX designer guy, right? And he's found that he took a job with a particular company and they were like, "Wow, you're amazing. You're not relying on a developer to do an AB test. You know how to add a piece of JavaScript to a page. You know how to do this, that or the other." And so they see him as so much more valuable because he's taking the load off of other parts of the business. And then finally of course, learning to code is really great for boosting your problem-solving and your logic skills and that kind of stuff. So in my opinion, really everybody should have a good understanding of that underlying technical issues, even you, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. Yeah, I mean I do know a little bit of HTML. I have to. If you work in a CMS, then you can't not know it. And I agree with this premise entirely Paul, but I have to play devil's advocate.

Paul Boag: Yeah, of course.

Marcus Lillington: And it's a bit like, I'm going to use the England cricket team as an analogy because they're playing at the moment.

Paul Boag: Of course. Of course you're using a cricket analogy.

Marcus Lillington: There's this idea of, back in the great England team of the late '70s and early '80s, the one where Botham was involved and they beat Australia and blah, blah, blah, blah, all that kind of stuff. The captain wasn't a very good cricketer compared to the rest of the team. That's a bit unfair on him. He was a good cricketer, but he was probably the least talented batsman they had, but he was viewed as the best captain that the country has ever had. There's a lot of complaints about the current captain and the previous one, that they don't really know how to lead and that kind of thing.

So the analogy I'm trying to make here is, sometimes you might have a skill so strong in one area, leadership might be one of them, but it actually doesn't really matter if you don't know how to code. In one example, you don't know how to do, I don't know, I can't think of another good example, do design work or critique design or something like that. So I think if you're particularly strong in an area, then I think you can kind of get away with maybe not knowing these things. But I did say at the start of this, I actually agree with you on this point, pretty much all of them.

Paul Boag: Yeah, I mean I know I can see-

Marcus Lillington: But I'm just trying to find an example.

Paul Boag: I can see where you're coming from, but for the amount of effort … You see, I don't think … Take leadership, for example. I think if you are such a strong leader that you would still make the effort to learn a little bit about it. I don't think you could be such a strong leader and be utterly ignorant. Going back to your English cricket example-

Marcus Lillington: My analogy doesn't work.

Paul Boag: No.

Marcus Lillington: The guy could play, but yet yes-

Paul Boag: Yeah, he could play cricket.

Marcus Lillington: I'm just having a bit of fun with cricket on the podcast, all right?

Paul Boag: Yeah, you just wanted to crowbar cricket in.

Speaker 2:

Paul Boag: So instead, let's talk about sponsor and then we'll talk about what you need to learn, all right? So I'm really excited to have this sponsor on the show because it's Omnifocus, which in particular Omnifocus for iOS, but I don't care. I'm going to rant about how amazing Omnifocus are for everything. So Omnifocus, if you don't know and you haven't heard me endlessly infuse about them in the past, they're a professional to-do list manager, right? Their own strat line kind of says it all, right? Which is their strat line is, "Accomplish more every day," which his like, "Oh," and I approve of it wholeheartedly, and it does do that. It's an amazing, amazing app.

I am so enthusiastic about this product that my most-watched YouTube video ever was on how I use Omnifocus, so it's an absolutely brilliant tool. So I mean it's got loads of benefits. For me personally, right, it really … When I discovered Omnifocus and the associated … Not associated, but there's a book that was written by a guy called David Allen called Getting Things Done. I read David Allen's book and then I came across Omnifocus, and the two of those things together honestly were life-changing in terms of lowering my stress level because suddenly, I remembered everything. I never forget anything now, because it's all organized. It's all there. It's all in front of me. It's brilliant for planning and being able to see what you've got to do, and giving you an overview of that and ensuring that all that stuff gets done on time.

They've got a great suite of products. They've got a brilliant Mac app. They've got it on the web, but they've also got it on iOS and it runs on iPhone, iPad and even the Apple Watch as well. You get all the features you'd expect, the ability to create actions, projects, flagging stuff, due dates, notes. You can batch head it, which is really useful when you end up with as many tasks as I do. Just to clarify, it's not that I am super busy so I end up with thousands of tasks. It's that I'm obsessional about this thing. I put in things that nobody else would add to their task list. Go to the toilet.

Marcus Lillington: Go to the toilet.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah, of course, it had to be that. For a long time, I had reminders to be romantic with my wife.

Marcus Lillington: And that's about as unromantic as it possibly could be.

Paul Boag: Which is why I had to eventually take it off. She discovered it, but there you go. You could do things like tag, so as well as having the kind of organizing things in projects and that kind of stuff, you can also tag things so that you can organize them really in any way you want to. So you might do it by person, location, your energy level. I did that for a while, which I found was quite helpful, so when you don't really feel like doing anything you can just bring up all the really easy tasks to do, which is better than doing nothing, isn't it? It's got a forecast view, which helps you plan for the next few days to see what you should be doing right now, that kind of stuff.

You can flag things, if something's particularly important and you don't want it to disappear out of sight. It's got a really good review function in it, where you can go through everything and see what's going on and what's happening. You get notifications, obviously. It integrates with Siri, obviously, and Siri shortcuts. And then there's the pro version. This is where I really get geeking out, because the pro version has got things like custom prospectus, so you can do really clever things like just show me things that are tagged with this tag but are happening within the next few days, and do this and that and all these kinds of clever ways of arranging your data. Then of course, it all syncs with one another and stuff like that. Yeah, I'm going on too much about Omnifocus.

So let's just say, go and check them out a little bit more at If you haven't used it, if you're looking to organize yourself better, then I cannot recommend it strongly enough. There you go. That's Omnifocus. Right, and so we've established that we want to learn stuff, right? We want to learn techie stuff, even though they're still arguing about that in the chat room, which is just great. There's this whole discussion going on completely separate from the podcast. Anyway, ignoring that and focusing on what I feel like we should all be learning, let's start, then. So we've got those two things. We've got the web fundamentals and we've got coding. Let's start with the coding, right?

Marcus Lillington: The gospel according to Paul.

Paul Boag: Apparently, they're not arguing in the chat room. What?

Marcus Lillington: Constructively dismissing each other, fantastic.

Paul Boag: Right, pay attention, children.

Marcus Lillington: Pay attention. Paul is about to speak.

Paul Boag: Yeah, so let's start with coding, things that I think you should learn from a coding perspective. I think everybody should feel confident writing HTML, right? There's really no reason, I don't care how un-techie you are or how much of a Neanderthal you are or a Luddite, you should be-

Marcus Lillington: HTML 3.

Paul Boag: No, not HTML 3. We should all be able to write a bit of HTML. To be honest, I don't care. If it's HTML 3, that's fine, too. I just, okay, you need to understand the basic syntax. Really, there is absolutely no reason why not. Let me be entirely clear. HTML is not a coding language, you know? It is literally … Stop looking at the chat, Paul. It is literally just a very simple market-up language, so Marcus has learned HTML.

Marcus Lillington: Well, that's a bit strong. I know some.

Paul Boag: Yeah, no, you could do the basic stuff. You can do paragraphs. You can do links. You could do headings. There isn't a huge amount more to just HTML.

Marcus Lillington: Here's Marcus' tiny thought for the day, for all the people sitting out there who are similar to me. Basically, just go to another page that somebody else has done or you did in the past, with the thing that you want on it. Cut and paste the code into the editor, and boom, there you go.

Paul Boag: I like it, and I'm okay with that, because that's how I learned HTML. Because back in the day, there weren't these wonderful tutor rooms or anything like that. You learned from copying and pasting, so yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Absolutely.

Paul Boag: I think that's fine. I think it's also helpful to be able to do a little bit of basic page layout in CSS. This isn't as strong a requirement, but it's kind of worth doing if you can find the time to sit down and have a play with this kind of stuff. There's a lot changing in that area at the moment with CSS grids, and I think having a little bit of an understanding of how that works and some of the challenges that come out from layout, especially when it comes to responsiveness, I think is probably worth spending a bit of time just learning the basics of layout with CSS, and maybe a few of the basics around things like, how do I set a color in CSS? How do I set the typography in CSS, the sizes and all of that kind of stuff?

And it may well be that you do use a WYSIWYG editor to do something like that, but then look at the code and learn from that. Again, that's another great way of getting you to understand the basics. The layout will be frustrating, right? You'll try and do the layout and get it working responsively across multiple devices, and it will hurt, and it will be painful, but that's really the lesson that I want you to learn. Because I think we take a lot of what these developers do for granted, and building web pages takes a long time.

It is frustrating, and it is difficult and you think, "Well, you know, create …" And getting something up and running is very easy. You can get it up and running and working in front of you in a browser very, very quickly, but the minute you do anything to that browser it then starts breaking. That's what takes the time, is all the fixing and that kind of stuff. So I think having a go at that kind of thing gets you to feel that pain and get a better gauge of how long stuff takes. So am I boring you, Marcus?

Marcus Lillington: There's a very small you on there. CSS bores me. There you go.

Paul Boag: Yeah, well, I can understand that. Yeah, I think it also-

Marcus Lillington: It's magic.

Paul Boag: It is-

Marcus Lillington: It's witchcraft. That's what it is.

Paul Boag: It's really not. It is very, very simple. If you want to look at JavaScript, go for your life but you know, I think that might be expecting a little bit much. You might want to start off with something simpler like jQuery once you've learned a little bit of CSS, because jQuery is very similar to CSS. But basically just to be clear for people, HTML is your content. CSS is your design-

Marcus Lillington: Styling.

Paul Boag: And layout and that kind of stuff, and then your JavaScript is your interact development. So I'm not going to teach you guys everything on these shows, because for the vast majority of the audience I'm going to be teaching people to suck eggs. So I'm more pointing you at the kind of things you should learn, rather than going through it all. The final thing when it comes to coding, I think it's worth getting an understanding of basic coding principles even if you don't do the coding, right? So what I mean by that is if I said, "Well, a variable." If I talked about variables, would you know what a variable is, right? Would you know what function is, or what a conditional statement is, right?

At least having a vague grasp of those things will just make communicating with developers so much easier. I mean to be honest, developers need to get better at speaking English as well, but certainly if you understand some of those core principles that helps as well. You're looking like you want to say something, Marcus. Are you going to disagree with me again?

Marcus Lillington: No, no, not at all. No, I vaguely know what those things are, and you said you need to vaguely know what they are, so-

Paul Boag: Brilliant, there you go.

Marcus Lillington: Good, excellent. Move on.

Paul Boag: All right, all right, web fundamentals, right? Here's a whole load of lists of things that I think everybody should know, right? They should know what a domain name is and how they work, right? So when I type in, how do I then end up on the Google page? What happens in that process, right? So how that domain name is transferred into an IP address and all of that kind of stuff, and what an IP address is. I think it's really useful to know how an website is actually hosted. Where does it sit out in the ether? You need an understanding of that. What a database is, and how that works, right? So the basics of using a database. What the difference is between front-end coding and back-end coding, or server-side coding as it's known, versus client-side coding, what that actually means. What a browser is; I'm shocked at how few people actually know what the browser is and what it does compared to what happens on the website somewhere.

Marcus Lillington: It's Facebook, isn't it? That's what a browser is.

Paul Boag: Yeah, a browser is Facebook. Absolutely right, Marcus. It's so good to know. What cookies are, and the different means of tracking people.

Marcus Lillington: Mmm, cookies. Cookie Monster.

Paul Boag: And finally, understanding how the server interacts with a browser, this whole kind of doing requests and sending responses and that kind of thing, right? Really valuable stuff to know. So that's all the stuff that I think you need to know. Let's quickly do our second sponsor, then I'll give you some resources of where you can start this. People in the chat room, by the way, if you can think of any resources for learning this kind of stuff, pop it in the chat box and we'll add it to the list, right? Also, if there's anything you think I've missed about what people should definitely learn, put that in there as well and I'll give them it.

Speaker 2:

Paul Boag: Right, Cheltenham Design Festival, right? I know, we're getting a proper British sponsor this time. Actually, these are guys I'm going to go … I'm going to speak there, right? So it's a design festival which kind of looks at all, highlights the importance of creative thinking in our lives and in business and how important it's going to become in the future and stuff. They've invited me to talk, which is very nice, and I said, "Wouldn't it be lovely if you also sponsored the podcast?" I think they've pretty much done it as a favor to me more than anything else, but I'm going to promote the shit out of them anyway, right?

Really, they're a really passionate festival. It's been going for a few years now, about all kinds of stuff related to design, how everybody should be involved in design and how it can make such a difference to the world in which we live. So they're going to be exploring topics like, "Well, what is the role of a designer? Do we just design stuff, or are our design skills more profound than that? Do they have a bigger impact than that? Are we solving complex problems, or are we just making things look pretty?" So, brilliant subject to cover. And then, what's the role of design? Is design just what we see on the surface, or does it run deeper? Can design change the world, and if so, how? How do people, organizations and countries change their thinking on what design is in order to address these big world problems? Is design how it looks, or is it how it works? Where are the edges of it? All that kind of stuff. So we're going to be talking about all of that kind of thing, the Cheltenham Design Festival that's coming up really soon.

Marcus Lillington: When, Paul? When?

Paul Boag: When? Well, it's going to be the 1st to the 3rd of November. It's going to be in Cheltenham, which is really easy to get to if you live in the U.K. or in the more accessible parts of Europe, or the more accessible parts if you live in the U.K., anyway. If you want to find out more about it, it's I think dirt cheap as well for what it is. Don't tell them that. So this is CheltDesignFestival, C-H-E-T-

Marcus Lillington: L-T.

Paul Boag: Sorry, C-H-E-L-T, right? So-

Marcus Lillington: I'm tempted by that.

Paul Boag: Yeah, come and go. I mean it's just-

Marcus Lillington: I live down the road.

Paul Boag: I know, right?

Marcus Lillington: It's an hour and a half for me at most, probably.

Paul Boag: So, and if you do decide to go-

Marcus Lillington: Let's have a Boagworld meetup. Let's do it.

Paul Boag: Yeah, let's do it. What a great idea. We'll put together a Boagworld meetup. We probably ought to check with them they're okay with that before we do that. But we could all get together, couldn't we? That sounds like a really good idea, so let's do that. Awesome, Cheltenham Design Festival. We're going to talk about it next week, so maybe we'll sort out the details of this mystical meetup that we've just decided to arrange. Right, Marcus, you're responsible for organizing that.

Marcus Lillington: Oh, okay.

Paul Boag: Because it was your idea.

Marcus Lillington: Blimey, I better write that down in a minute. But this is great, because look, the resources for learning code and all that kind of thing, this is what I've just dragged off my shelf. I don't know if you can see it, Paul. That's a bit close.

Paul Boag: Oh, Molly Hozschlag's book.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, Spring Into HTML and CSS.

Paul Boag: Wow. I'll bet that's a bit-

Marcus Lillington: 2005, something like that. It's from a long time ago.

Paul Boag: Yeah, but what would be really interesting is none of the HTML stuff will have changed that much, not really.

Marcus Lillington: Well, there would be more of it, but yeah.

Paul Boag: Yeah, and even the CSS, you could use the CSS. That's what I love about HTML and CSS is it's all backwards compatible. So you could use all of that stuff in that book from 2005 and it would still work in a browser today. I just think that's awesome. Anyway, right, yes. Resources, where to start. Okay, so if you want to learn some basic HTML, CSS and JavaScript, right? All right, there are now people in the chat room pulling apart every word I said. As to you, Andrew, I'm ignoring it because I think there are a few tags that have been deprecated, as Andrew's pointing out. The blink tag I don't think works anymore. Oh no, Louis is correcting Andrew. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. Right, so-

Marcus Lillington: Paul is showing his deep knowledge of coding here.

Paul Boag: Yeah, I naturally believe people. I just presume other people are right. Okay, so let's talk about where you can learn to code. So if you don't want to use Molly Holzschlag's book from 2005-

Marcus Lillington: Right, there it was just like, "Hello."

Paul Boag: Yeah, there's Treehouse, which is really good. Treehouse is a great place for people who want to learn to code. It's something that was set up by Ryan Carlson, who has been on this podcast I think in times well gone, but I mean he has been. It's really, really good. It's got really kind of step-by-step guides to absolutely everything. Then there's also, if you want something you can start with for free rather than having to sign up for something like Treehouse, then Codeacademy has got some stuff that's for free that you can check out as well. So that's all kind of video-based learning stuff.

If you want a resource that will take you through stuff in a written format and is free, then I highly recommend Mozilla's developer, web development documents that they have online. I know that sounds a little bit intimidating, but actually it's really well thought through, step-by-step stuff. It's got really advanced stuff in there as well, like in the chat room people are now throwing around links to that particular thing for the blink tag, but it's also got some really basic stuff that can get you going, so that's another great resource which is You can check that out.

They've also got some really basic information, so that will teach you HTML and CSS and that kind of stuff, but it's also got like a basic guide for server-side languages that's going to teach you what a server-side language is for a start, and the basic kind of things about how it works and how databases work and that kind of stuff. There's also a really good bit they've got on there about how the web works, right? Just basic, how you get a website, that kind of stuff, so that is excellent. If you'd prefer to learn that kind of stuff through a video, there's like a 13-minute video that I'll put a link in the show notes and I'll talk about where to find those later. There's a great video on YouTube which basically says, "This is how the web works," and goes through it all step-by-step.

Another source that I've found very, very good is BBC Bitesize, which admittedly is aimed at children, right? But if you want a really simple introduction to kind of coding and that kind of thing, then it's really worth checking out, right? In fact, they've got a page on databases, right? What a database is and how they work, right? And I've discovered it's primary school level learning, right? They learn about databases in primary school these days, which really shows why we need to know this stuff, you know?

Marcus Lillington: Yes.

Paul Boag: It's quite worrying that the executives of the world don't know stuff that primary school kids do, so there you go. Somebody's pointed out … Michelle's pointed out that really everybody should learn how to write, create accessible websites too, and that should be something that's taught to everyone. I couldn't agree more with you, Michelle. I'm deeply concerned about how many people dismiss accessibility, and I will write … I will include in the show notes a link to an article that I wrote on the importance of inclusive design, and why it's so important.

Okay, talking to the show notes, so I want to tell you where you can find all of these links, because you notice I haven't read out any of the URLs, because well, to be quite frank, it's a pain in the ass reading out URLs on the podcast. Nobody ever looks at them, anyway. All you need to do is go to and you'll see all of the latest posts up there. If you're listening to this way in the future, then you can just click on season 24 and select episode one, and that will give you all of the notes that we've covered in today's show as well. Marcus, do you have a joke to finish us up with?

Marcus Lillington: Well, the fact that you've decided that you needed to sit around on your ass for six months has meant I've got millions of jokes. It's fantastic. It's so good, but this one, I thought I'd kick off with this one, which is one of my favorites from Lyle. Lyle's in the room today, Lyle Barras. I asked my wife the other day if I was the only one that she'd ever been with. She said, "Yeah, all the others were nines and 10s."

Paul Boag: That's quite a good one. I like that.

Marcus Lillington: It's pretty good, huh?

Paul Boag: So when … Yes, thank you. I don't know. Yeah, it's quite sad. A sad joke, but you know, sad. Poor Lyle or whoever it was that posted it.

Marcus Lillington: Well, I don't think he was talking about himself, you know?

Paul Boag: No, he was.

Marcus Lillington: He shared the joke.

Paul Boag: He was, yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Was he?

Paul Boag: I think so, yeah. Now he's going to kill me now in the chat room. Okay, so next week we're going to look specifically at … We're going to look at writing. Writing, and how that is a skill that really we all need, and it's a fundamental part of every job. I will probably skew it a little bit towards writing for the web so that … Because there's so many different types of writing, and we'll look specifically at writing for the web and some of the kind of stuff around that.

Marcus Lillington: I'll skew it back towards writing proposal documents and things like that, so okay.

Paul Boag: Yeah, that's probably not a bad idea. A bunch of people do it like that, yeah, and writing for convincing people, because that's a really important thing in business, isn't it? Being able to present your ideas well. I'll talk about writing for the web, and we'll kind of divide and conquer between us. I like that idea. It's almost like we're making it up as we go along, which is good.

Marcus Lillington: It's not almost like that, Paul. It's totally like that.

Paul Boag: All right, it's really good to be back doing the show again.

Marcus Lillington: It is.

Paul Boag: I hope you find it useful. I hope maybe I've encouraged you to look, code a little bit more if you're not that way inclined.

Marcus Lillington: Aww.

Paul Boag: And it's really great to have everybody back in the chat room and joining in. We'd love to, if you haven't been listening to the show live before, we'd love to have you involved. If you go to, you'll be able to see when stuff is coming out, when it's going to happen. We don't tend to put it online that far in advance, but we do put it a little bit in advance so feel free to check that out as well. Don't forget, for Slacking. Join us every day for pointless conversation about all kinds of crap. That's it, and yes, the door bell has inaudible 00:53:22 so with that we're going to wrap up the show and say goodbye. Bye.

Marcus Lillington: Bye.

Speaker 2:

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