3 Things that Helped me Build my First Full-Fledged Website

Today we bring you a guest post from Laurence Bradford, who is the creator of LearnToCodeWith.me. In just two short years, she went from complete beginner to running her own website that helps others learn to code! If you are just getting started, this is a motivational read that will put you on a path to reach your goals!


laurence-bradfordMy name is Laurence Bradford and I build websites. However, just two years ago I knew nothing about creating a website from scratch. In fact, I distinctly recall not even understanding the difference between a .png and .jpg image file. (I did not know image file types differed!)

Let’s rewind back to college, where I was a history major and focused on East Asian history. Needless to say, I had little tech savvy.

Following college I moved to Thailand where I had the chance to travel around Southeast Asia. As I was experiencing so many amazing sites, I decided I wanted to keep a blog about it.

Creating my travel blog sparked initial interest in web design / development. Nonetheless, I was still determined to score a job in economic development – my so-called dream job. Time went by and I ended up landing my “dream job”. (Great, right?)

Unfortunately, once I began, I realized I was mistaken: this was not my dream job. So, while I was bored at my desk, I began to experiment with Codecademy. A little HTML here, some CSS there. I was hooked. And I haven’t looked back since.

Fast forward to today, and I operate the website Learn to Code With Me (LTCWM). However, more than just manage it, I built the site entirely on my own. (And now I’ve built sites for other people, too.)

How on Earth did I get make the jump from complete novice to building a full-fledged website?

Learning how to code is Hard

Learning how to code, even the most basic stuff like HTML and CSS, is difficult. Any article or person who claims otherwise is lying.

Unfortunately, most of our primary and secondary school systems in the US fail to teach computer related topics – especially mine. And with no exposure in college, either, I started at the bottom when I began learning.

Initially I jumped around from course to course, learning this and that. I was scattered and disoriented navigating through the sea of online resources.

Really, only over the last six months when I started the LTCWM website did I become consistent with my learning. As a result, I made massive improvements with my skills.

People who have witnessed my growth during this time are astonished with the progress I have made – especially in these last three months.

So how, after a year of playing around with code, did I improve so much in these last few months alone?

Three Key Things That Helped Me Build a Full-Blown WP Site

I can attribute my recent improvements to three main factors:

  • Starting the LTCWM blog
  • Studying other websites I admired
  • Putting in time and hard work

1) Creating LTCWM.

A lot of my improvement stems from the decision to start Learn to Code With Me, where I document my learning, feature programmers who have “made it” and do course/tutorial reviews.

LTCWM has motivated me in ways I never imagined. It serves as a reminder to keep learning and not give up. While maintaining the site’s content is time-consuming, it has been rewarding and paid off in multiple ways.

For instance, the site allows me to connect with like-minded individuals who offer amazing insights into learning how to code and best practices. It has also given me the chance to review online courses. And all the courses I review I have personally finished or at least made it 75% through.

So, whereas before when I would start a course and then give up, knowing I will be writing a review about said course makes me follow through and finish it.

In a way, the site holds me accountable.

2) Studying others websites.

When I first had the idea to create LTCWM, I knew if I spent time right then building the site, I would perhaps never finish. So, I initially put the site on WordPress and went with a basic WP theme.

In the beginning, around May/June of 2014, I was more concerned with getting valuable content on the site than the appearance. I wanted to make sure this was an endeavour I would commit to long-term.

As time passed, and I kept posting, I knew I was serious about the LTCWM mission and committed to writing regular posts.

It was time for me to scrape the dull WP theme and build something unique.

However, instead of jumping into building a site from scratch right away, I studied other sites I admired. I looked at their structure, design, color schemes, and so forth. I constantly used the “inspect element” feature in Chrome to see how certain CSS styles were achieved.

While online coding courses are great and helpful, it benefitted me tremendously to look at real sites on the web.

I ended up compiling a huge Google doc with tons of example sites and what I specifically liked about each. (Say, the footer of one site, the social sharing on another, and so on.)

Through this process of studying other websites, I learned so much. Ultimately, I took that hodgepodge of inspiration and built off of it – leading to my own site.

3) Time and hard work.

I know it’s not sexy, but dedication and hard work really pay off.

Overall, it took me about two months or so to build my new LTCWM site. And this site doesn’t have any advanced functionality – it’s just a WordPress site.

Hours wise, I spent a ton of time building it. If I had to guess, I’d say close 100 hours. Perhaps even more when all was said and done.

But I loved the process. I would spend hours at a time working on it, not even realizing how much time had passed. Of course, towards the end I became antsy to get it up. (Plus, I really started hating my boring WP themed site!) But overall it was enjoyable.

Voilà: The Final Website!

After spending June and July working on the new LTCWM, I finally had it “go live” in mid-August. (The site which is up now is essentially the same as it was when it first went up.)

I now regret not taking screenshots of my original site because the change between the two is night and day. (However, here is the link to the initial WP theme I used to give an idea.)

After my new site went up, I noticed bounce rates drop and average time spent on pages increase – proving that web design and layout does matter!

In the end, building your own website from scratch (as a beginner) is not impossible. It just takes time and a lot of hard work. And while it did only take about 2 months for me to complete, my whole year of learning prior certainly acted as a strong foundation.

Overall, learning to code is not a quick-win. I was misinformed going in. But I loved it so much, I kept trekking. Today, I’ve been dabbling with code for almost two years and I still classify myself as a beginner. (It takes a long time for it to “click” when you start out knowing nothing!)

Since finishing LTCWM, I have built other sites in far less time and with a sleeker look. I already look back at my CSS sheets for LTCWM and cringe at the disorganization.

But I like to think of that as a positive – it shows I am continuously learning more.

About Laurence Bradford

Laurence Bradford is the creator of learntocodewith.me, a website about coding for beginners. When she’s not working on the site, she is a freelance (junior) front-end developer and copywriter. You can find Laurence on Twitter or on Facebook.

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