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Is Hand-Coding HTML Web Sites Dead?

I have been coding web sites from the dawn of time (1996 or so), and currently teach college courses relating to coding for the web. Until recently, whenever a web job came into the agency, the process would be to get the client’s requirements, mock-up the home page and several other key pages in Photoshop, then slice up the Photoshop files to get the images required and hand code the home page and template pages. Then we’d use the template pages to hand-code the complete site.

In the last year or so, I have noticed a shift away from that process. Larger clients (Fortune 500) use enterprise content management systems that have custom templates that agencies must work with. Smaller clients are asking for their sites to be delivered in content management systems such as Drupal, WordPress, or any of the other popular systems. The smaller companies are also much more budget constrained, making the development of custom templates for them difficult, especially considering the number of high-quality, low-price templates available.

So, from my experience, the days of building sites of 20 to 70 web pages, all hand-coded is, if not dead, dying. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure there will always be someone who wants or needs a custom hand-coded web site.

So, as an instructor teaching HTML, CSS and JavaScript, do I think learning those skills is still important? Yes,  hand-coding is still necessary to create e-mail blasts, and even when working in systems such as SharePoint or WordPress there are times when one will hand-code.  Especially CSS and JavaScript.  Taking an out-of-the box template and turning it into something more, something that doesn’t look like an out-of-the box template requires strong CSS skills. But in the old days hand-coding was the only option. Today it isn’t.

I would argue that as tools have evolved, it is even more important to have a breadth of skills today to be successful. In 1996 to build a web site all you needed was a text editor, an ftp program and a web server.  You can still build a site with only those tools.  But today there are more tools and technologies available. We work daily with XHTML, HTML5, CSS2 and CSS3, SQL databases, ASP.net technologies, PHP, JavaScript, jQuery and other technologies.   We work with Apache and with Microsoft IIS. We work with content management systems such as Adobe CQ and WordPress. We use tools like Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, After Effects, and others. A strong foundation in coding is required to be effective in using these tools and technologies. That foundation is HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

So while I think the hand-coding of entire web sites is dying, the foundational skills used are still needed.

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