HTML, XHTML & CSS For Dummies – An Interview & A Giveaway

When I first decided that I wanted to learn HTML, there was no Google, no Wikipedia or really anything on the internet. The most popular search engine at the time was Hotbot (at least I think that’s what it was called) and animated gifs, tables and frames where all the rage. Therefor, there really was no way online to learn HTML, so it was to the bookstore I went. Actually, since I was in the sixth grade, it was on to the bookstore my dad went.

The first ever development book I picked up was an early edition of HTML For Dummies. Yes, notice there also was no CSS or XHTML at the time.

Anyways, therefor it was with awesome pleasure when Jeff Noble, co-author of the 7th edition of the HTML for Dummies series, came to me and asked if I wanted to poke around a few chapters and see if I could find any errors or bugs. Of course, how could I resist?

The preview I got of the chapters was awesome. This book has definitely come a long way from it’s early 90’s ancestors. Plus, it’s in full color! Lucky me, I was able to grab Jeff for an interview about who he is, what development is to him, and how he got started as an author.

Without further ado, I introduce to you guys: Jeff Noble!

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Jeff Noble, I’m the co-author of the 7th edition of HTML, XHTML & CSS For Dummies. I also co-wrote the 6th edition and I’m the technical editor of 6 other “For Dummies” web design/programming books and if there was one more 6 in this sentence it would officially be really creepy. I work at CA technologies and I manage and work with the biggest and baddest team of product designers ever assembled and we’ve declared war on mediocre enterprise software design.

I really don’t think I’m anything special, I’ve just been lucky enough to stumble into something that I’m passionate about and I get paid for it, which is awesome and mildly annoying to people that hate their jobs. I’m a dork. I dream in CSS and I’m grown man (some might argue that one) and I’m more interested in childish activities like eating Gummi Bears and breaking stuff than whatever adults are supposed to be doing. I actually don’t even know what that is, I’ll just guess it’s something like clipping coupons and eating cheesecake while drinking fancy wines and discussing how you really can taste the difference between all the wonderful woody/tobacco/floral undertones or what is wrong with kids today (it must be the music).

When did you first start learning HTML? Why did you decide to go into development?

I started playing around with HTML back in college, you know – when there weren’t actually courses on this stuff, everyone was on dial up, and it was uphill to school both ways, that sort of thing. The first website I ever built was about living in this rat infested house in college with my roommates. At the time I thought it was funny, but FYI.. rats = NOT funny. It was on one of those free-hosted sites with a million banners and popups – it was terrible but I loved it. Before long, instead of taking notes or even paying attention in class I was drawing websites or dreaming of things I could add to my site.

To be honest, in the beginning I never really cared about development. I just wanted it to look cool, so at that time it meant you had to load up your page with a lot of spinning animated gifs, the under construction guy, blinking text with those marching ants, and some rocking midi files to mess with people’s ear drums a bit – that was great design back then (at least I thought). I always did stuff the hard way, I just hacked things together to get the functionality I wanted or did it wrong and tried to get by. Over the years I slowly realized how important it was to build things correctly – how it would be easier on me in the long run and it also helped that I didn’t have to split contract gigs with expensive developer friends of mine. Find out more about those guys below.

Where have you worked in the development world? What are some of your projects?

I’ve worked at a wide range of weird/terribly named high tech companies that most people have never heard of, I didn’t plan it that way but that’s kind of my thing. It could be worse though; I have a group of developer friends that for a while, every place they went to work went out of business, which really isn’t a record you want to hold. It was crazy, hiring one of them meant eventually four of them would work there, they multiplied like a virus and once the gang was together, it was like a death sentence, the business was boarded up and they moved to some new place and repeated the process.

Anyway, one of my biggest projects has been at the software company I was at before we were acquired by CA technologies. I wrote a lot of the HTML and CSS for a product was part of multi-millions dollar deals with 8 of the Fortune 12 (most successful companies in the world). Obviously I didn’t build the product myself – there as a ton of great work done by an awesome team, I didn’t get rich, and none of these companies probably know I exist, but I just liked the idea of something I helped build being used across the globe on such an incredibly massive scale.

To rewind a bit, one of my early personal projects was a website called ReverseScam.com, it was one of the original Nigerian 419 scam websites before there were dozens of them and it’s been kind of beaten to death at this point. I hated my job at the time so as an escape I made up all these characters in my head and responded to online scammers emails just because I thought it was funny. I’d like to claim I had some secret plan with this, but somehow I ended up in the newspaper, TV, and radio and that’s when I realized maybe I could do something with creative writing.

Recently I’ve taken this creative writing approach and tried to infuse that into a lot of what I’ve done in both “For Dummies” editions I’ve worked on but it’s probably a lot more noticeable in the 7th edition. And if you’ve read it, that probably helps explain some of the random Back to the Future, Beetle Juice, MMA fighting, and Jay-Z references I slipped past the editors. I wanted it to be a great resource and be entertaining as well.

Do you know any other development languages?

Not really. I’ve mostly been focused on HTML and CSS. I know some JavaScript but I’m probably just dangerous enough to totally screw things up. Also I would like to note that I do a pretty awesome Patrick Swayze impersonation if that counts?  And by awesome, I mean awesomely terrible.

What is the most important thing about HTML that you think beginners should know?

While I suppose it’s technically possible to build an entire website with popular programs like Dreamweaver and content management systems like WordPress without knowing a single HTML tag, it’s important to learn the fundamental basics of HTML so you can appreciate and understand what these tools are doing, why they are awesome, and how to fix HTML problems and glitches if/when they happen (they will). It will also make you a better web designer or developer because you will understand what is and isn’t possible when building a website. The good news is that learning HTML isn’t that hard, anyone can do it with a little practice. You don’t have to be some whiz kid that hacks into the matrix with Neo-like efficiency or some thick glasses wearing computer nerd that lives in his parent’s basement trying to get past level 24 on whatever game is cool right now to unlock the hidden secrets of HTML. All you have to do is be remotely interested in learning and then check out the hundreds of online resources, books like ours, and talented people that actually care and are interested in helping you.

Do you still do a lot of coding today? Do you use a lot of HTML5 and CSS3?

I still code, probably not as much as I used to but I don’t think that’s really a bad thing. It’s all I used to do and while it’s cool to work on stuff you are into, I think there is something to be said about cutting the umbilical cord to your computer, going outside, enjoying life, and just remembering what is important to you.  At least that is what I tell myself from time to time.

I’ve played around a lot with HTML5 and CSS3, we added a chapter on each in the 7th edition and there are of really cool exciting new features in both.  However, just because you can now easily add a shadow, a border, and a border radius (for rounded corners), then choose a fancy font and layer multiple back- grounds behind the content in a document embedded with 157 videos, and then transform the entire element to dance around the screen doesn’t mean you should. As with Photoshop, Flash, or any other Web tool, I think HTML5 and CSS3 can be misused, overused, and even abused if you don’t keep communication as your primary goal, with all the new cool stuff purely in a supporting role.

How did you become a co-author for the HTML for Dummies series? Is this your first book?

So here’s the deal, to become a Dummies author it’s kind like that Sylvester Stallone movie “Over the Top” where Sly plays himself (like every movie) and in this one he is a truck driver that also has an uncanny knack at winning in arm wrestling. OK, not really. I mostly blame Ed Tittel – he’s a super pro writer and I’m semi-literate so he kind of dragged me kicking and screaming through the magical mysterious publication process. And yes, this is my first book, but the second edition I have worked on, unless we are talking scratch and sniff or popup books – I pretty much have that market locked down.

What were some of the difficulties writing your own book? Was it more difficult because you had a co-author?

One of the main difficulties was just trying to remember that this is a “For Dummies” book that is meant as an introduction to the basic concepts of HTML, XHTML & CSS. In reality each of the chapters deserve a book of their own, and most of them actually do. As far as having a co-author goes, my vocab consists of like 10 words that I arrange in different order and use interchangeably in good and bad situations. Ed is a real author, I just hack a bunch of gibberish together – he has helped me tremendously.

Tell us a secret about you that no one online knows!

I have never been on facebook. Now for the record, I will admit I was on Myspace a long time ago and eventually tried to delete my profile but they would never get rid of it. Finally I just removed all my info and renamed myself “Captain Corndog” because that made me laugh. I just checked, it’s still up there – that’s fantastic. I’d like to close this interview by sending only the warmest regards to fellow Myspace users (all 4 of them) from Captain Corndog.

Contest is Over!

The winners of our two books are @clairedwillett from Twitter and Tom! Congrats!