Why should I learn HTML?

HTML is the language that web pages are written in.

Why learn HTML? It is possible to design websites without knowing it, isn't it?


First, what's HTML? It's simply Web page coding interspersed into the text and images; browsers interpret or display it into the displays we see as web pages.

Let's back up: like many people, I started out with a web authoring program with a graphical interface (WYSIWYG, or "what you see is what you get") that automatically wrote the HTML. When I started, I didn't know much about building websites, much less web design, and I had to fix a website now. That meant surfing around the Web looking for any help I could get. I found a program I could work with, and stuck with it for years.

Well, of course, the time came when I had to move on from my simple program. Events conspired against me. I got two clients in a row: one, a die-hard hand-coder who wanted a redesign; the other had a website rejected by Yahoo and only three weeks left to appeal. To paraphrase, one wanted very clean HTML code and, for the other, I designed a very complex layout that "broke" in my simple program — and, of course, he loved it and there was still the three-week deadline.

I went immediately to hand-coding. I can't say it was easy, or fun. I tried staring at the HTML code(!). And I tried studying part-time at the usual online sites, but had a tough time getting through all the jargon. (I'm still not sure why people trying to teach you something new assume you understand the jargon ... as if we somehow understand it by osmosis).

At any rate, I made the deadlines and lived to tell the tale, and both clients were very happy with the results. The first reported that her income doubled overnight due to the redesign. The other was promptly accepted into Yahoo, and has been expanding his reach and client base ever since.

But a funny thing happened: I continued to hand-code, and somewhere in there, it became my preferred method of building websites.

The sheer control hand-coding HTML gives you is a breath of fresh air, and knowing what the HTML codes are doing — or were never meant to do — is wonderful. Knowing that your pages will not "break" or display incorrectly is great. Knowing that you can code HTML to display properly in a variety of browsers is a relief. And knowing that the program you're using will not mess it up is priceless.

Later on I got another WYSIWYG program, but that's another story, and am now in the middle, using both as preference dictates. It's kind of like being ambidextrous — being able to use both hands.

Reasons to Learn HTML

So, what is the moral of this tale? That, yes, you can use WYSIWYG web authoring programs to build websites. But there's a point where you have to get down into the HTML code. There are a few points here:

  1. WYSIWYG programs can only do what they've been programmed to do — on a best guess of what you're trying to do. If yours is only so sophisticated (and none of them quite do everything), you'll eventually have trouble.
  2. WYSIWYG programs alter the code to try to keep up with what you're trying to do. You can end up with loads of extraneous code. Some of it does nothing but confuse the issue.
  3. You can't fix broken code, or tell broken code from correct code.
  4. No matter how good or talented you are, the fact that you can't write HTML can affect the way you present yourself to potential clients and employers.

Well, there are more, but the bottom line is that, so long as you don't learn HTML well enough to use it, you're pinning down your expansion as a webmaster or web designer. That's the bottom line. If you can't look at a piece of HTML code and tell what's right or wrong with it, then you'll never be in control.

Let me say one thing: I don't buy any of that "stuff" about how, if you can't hand-code HTML, you're not a web designer. That is simply a "bill of goods" (a bunch of nonsense). Design is design. If you can build a website, and it looks like it was "designed", then you can do it. Now, if you were to ask whether it's worth it — to you, to your clients, to your career — to bother to learn HTML, that's another question.

Let's put it this way: if you can't build a website without your WYSIWYG editor ...

The good news

The good news is that HTML is not that hard! It is usually difficult to learn due to the way it's explained -- I can attest to this!

Do you need thick books to learn the basics? No. Basic HTML — which is how most websites are built (like this website, for instance) — is just not that complex a language!

Do I wish on you having to learn it the way I did? No.
That's why I've written the tutorial.

Diane Vigil founded DianeV Web Design Studio, has served as a consultant to numerous companies, as a moderator and administrator of the JimWorld SearchEngineForums and Cre8asiteforums, on the Site-Report Experts Panel — and has designed and built numerous websites since 1997.

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