Why I Stopped Coding Websites

Even if you are not technologically savvy, you know that website coding standards, design, and security best practices change at an alarming rate. I am asking that church leadership and website team leaders consider saving time and money by moving to a content management system (CMS). In this article I will explain the reasons why I stopped coding websites and focused on producing quality content for my audience.

I was a computer science major in college, so moments after I created my first website in 1996 using Netscape Composer, I viewed the source code. I was intent on learning what made websites tick, so I could create them without the limits most editors imposed. I bought several books on the subject, and became quite savvy. After a few years (and a few more books), it got to the point where my site was more programming scripts and database calls than HTML. Yet with that experience, about 4 years ago I happily hung up my coder hat and put on my user experience one. Why? There were plenty of free platforms made by smart people that were far more powerful and secure than any system I had time to create. Here are the areas I had to consider:

Coding Standards

The acceptable standards of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript evolved considerably since the 1990s, and unless you are a website developer by trade, it is difficult to keep up. The days of table-based design are long gone. We have separated code from style using cascading style sheets (CSS). We attempted to make sites less bloated with browser-specific code and more compliant with international standards. HTML continues to move toward more semantic tags that are specific with what the content is (i.e. paragraph text or a quote). Lastly, CSS now includes advanced design treatments such as animation; an effect previously reserved for JavaScript and Flash.

Design Templates

While it is nice to have a website that differs from other churches, certain patterns should be recycled if people expect them. You would most likely not put your primary navigation at the very bottom of your page; it would just confuse people too much. So although you may not want the same graphics, colors, and photos as everyone else; using similar layouts is helpful. Many website builders and content management systems have excellent frameworks and component libraries that outline where content should go, and give you the freedom to change how it looks.

Security Best Practices

As more people got on the web, the larger the target for hackers. Any website with a decent amount of traffic can be used for malevolent purposes. Some are compromised and have malicious code added to infect visitors. A less destructive tactic is to simply inject links to a website in an effort to boost its search engine rankings. Regardless, when your site is compromised, the effort to scrub every line of code and audit for extra or missing files is long and tedious. Although it is everyone's responsibility to create strong passwords for your websites, the extra details of securing other aspects of your site should be left to the professionals.

Action Item: It was not my intention to scare you from working on websites. There are many situations where having an understanding of HTML comes in handy. To this day I hand code HTML when composing pages in WordPress. However it is very basic and is typically limited to some lists and sub-headings. Yet many updates can be easily accomplished using the visual editor. If you are a web team leader, please consider using a CMS. If you are a church leader, please ask your teams if they can save time and money by moving to a platform that allows them to leverage work others have already accomplished.

Photo courtesy of Gabor Heja

Author: Stephen Morrissey

I have been making websites since 1996, and using social media since 2006. My current profession is designing user experiences for corporate software, websites, and mobile applications. I started sharing my knowledge with the world in 2011, about a year after a revival in my faith.

3 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Coding Websites”

  1. No kidding, I remember the day if you wanted a website, you had to build it from scratch. WordPress powers more than 20% of the web now and there are other free CMS out there. Definitely a time and money saver to leverage what exists and works.

    This has created a new breed of professional too: the "assembler". They're not necessarily skilled at building a site from scratch but they can do a good enough job at putting together a site for you using a CMS, theme and plugins. Lots of money saved. It's kind of like seeing a Nurse Practitioner instead of a Doctor. 😉

    Or just do it yourself which is what I usually suggest with WordPress and a commercial theme (that includes good support and documentation).

    1. Thanks for the comment Steven! I feel that like when I was learning calculus in college; it was best to perform the derivative by hand before plugging it into a calculator. Without that background in writing HTML and CSS, I'd feel lost when there's an issue in WordPress.

      That said, I'm just glad that there are people smarter than me figuring out security, as that's my biggest worry of having a site these days.

      1. It's definitely a benefit to have web design and development skill. Most won't or can't take the time to learn them though. Those folks should use professional WordPress themes and plugins that include support. Managed WordPress hosting can be handy too and there are services that provide monthly WordPress support.

        People who sell websites should have web design and development skill. Being an "assembler" is helpful but they should strive to take their skills to the next level because, like you mentioned, without the right background, they're lost when an issue crops up. That's major when it's a paid gig.

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