Become a Better Blogger by Learning a Bit of Code

I had the pleasure of sharing a few of my candid thoughts on blogging and software development over at Six Revisions this morning in a guest post titled How Being a Coder Can Make You a Better Blogger.

Please spend a few moments stopping by, dropping a comment (or two), and thanking Jacob Gube for the opportunity! Let’s be a community that shows up!

I also wanted to share a few additional thoughts on how you can practically get started on becoming a better blogger by dabbling in even a small amount of code:

1. Start with What You Know and Use

One of the best places for you to start flexing your software development skills is where you are, right now. The perfect place is WordPress!

Why not take a look into your WordPress Theme files or even a plugin (or two)? What do you see? What do you understand? What confuses you?

What if you were to actually manually edit your theme’s header file and add a line of Google Analytics? Every software developer starts with something small and learning to copy and paste is where it all starts!

Not interested in that? Why not take one of my free WordPress Themes and “hacking” it a bit? Adding something here, or there?

You can learn a lot about your blog and become a better blogger by taking just a few moments to understand the system that you use day-in and day-out! If you want to go a bit further you can always check out the official WordPress Codex for even more juicier stuff!

2. Take a Risk, Start Today, and Dedicate Time

Most of the developers that I’m friends with sort of “fell” into software development, almost by accident.

Do I look like a developer?

There are very few people that I know that woke up one day and said:

I think I’ll become a software developer today.

What this requires of you is simply the courage to try something new as well as dedicate explicitly some time every day (or every week) to jumping into it.

This could mean that you’re actually building a basic HTML page, walking through many of the free tutorials out there (check out this amazing series on the basics of HTML and getting started), or reading a number of great blogs that cover development extensively.

The important thing is doing it and not just waiting around to see if it “happens” because it won’t.

3. Keep an Open Mind

Building software might sound pretty insane right now, especially if you have no experience, but there have been more dramatic changes in your life – I can guarantee that!

What if you were to start spending time every day with a little development – what do you think would happen? What if you started an entirely new career path? This story, as crazy as it sounds, is not unique!

On the flip-side, don’t “force” it – if you’re not loving this experience then feel free to quit as you’ve got more important things to be doing. But if you can make it I’ll tell you that it’ll pay off in spades.

I love blogging and I love developing software and they complement each other like ice and sweet tea on a hot summer day – and I’m not sure I’ll ever find an activity more satisfying!

[Images via Creative Commons, aleera]

  • Tom Jamieson

    Hey John, thanks for sharing these thoughts. Just the nudge I needed.

    • John Saddington

      you got it tom!

    • Dewitt Robinson

      Ditto Tom!

      • John Saddington

        hack hack hack away!

  • Wes

    Great thoughts. I’ve often wanted to gain more development skills but am daunted by all of the information out there. I am learning that I need to be dedicated and take it a bit at a time and not expect to be a top notch developer just 1 week after starting to learn something new.

    Thanks for the link to those tutorials, I’m looking forward to digging into them.

    • John Saddington


      cool man. that’s a great place to start, for sure.

  • Brian Notess

    There’s a danger here for bloggers: discovering if you get good enough at coding you can make a lot more money than you can as a blogger.


    • John Saddington

      .. ahhhhhhh!


      • Brian Notess

        I was just thinking today how my path to becoming a developer actually did start with blogging and wordpress. I remember vividly struggling to add a “featured post” area to my home page on my first WP blog.

        Today I spent the majority of my day getting paid to develop a wp page template that combines two WP queries into one object.

        What a difference three years makes.

        • John Saddington

          this is really cool…! it isn’t a unique story but it’s one worth telling again and again and again!

          • Brian Notess

            Good thing my parents spent 80 grand on my music education degree :)

            • John Saddington

              that’s so epic.

              … … not.

  • Zimbrul

    You are absolutely right. Based on what we’ve discussed earlier on related to your theme you’ve just released I’ll start to learn how to code the wordpress themes so that on the front page the Blog title will turn into a H1 title tag and on single article page the article title will be a H1.
    Sometime you see a good theme, like it but when it turns to not be 100% as you wish (code or CSS) you give it up and search for something else.
    Knowing how to do some simple things gives you confidence and brings you some revenue.

    • John Saddington

      definitely can bring in some revenue!

  • Matthew Snider

    I honestly hack up my site daily on the backend, frontend, and all sides for that matter!

    Knowing WordPress has allowed me to show off my articles the best design way possible!

    • John Saddington

      hacks FTW!

  • Jeremy Myers

    I’m no expert, but I am completely self-taught as well. Recently I discovered W3Schools, and am working my way through some of their stuff.

    • John Saddington

      w3schools is old… and i’m not particularly a fan.

  • Bill Peschel

    I used to do this with ExpressionEngine (in fact, you can see what I kludged up at the front page of my site, which will go away soon).

    This is one reason why I’m moving to WordPress, because I’m trying to write books by trade, and I can’t make money recoding my site.

    So let me add a few words of advice:

    * Start small. Like John said, try one small thing and see what happens.

    * PRESERVE YOUR OLD CODE BEFORE YOU START MUCKING ABOUT: If you’re working on a template, control+A and save the entire page to a Wordpad or Notepad file (so it will save as plain text without any additional coding thrown in). If you can, save a copy of the file itself. Then, when something goes pear-shaped, you can restore the original code.

    Learning a bit about coding can help in interesting ways. When the newspaper I worked for added Moveable Type blogging software, I was well ahead of the curve when it came to formatting text.

  • David Santistevan

    If you wrote a course on coding for dummies, I’d sign up in a heartbeat :)

    • John Saddington

      haha! perhaps i shall consider it…… you’re making me think… hm…..

      • Chris Langille

        I’m in too! (if you do it)

        • John Saddington

          … !

      • David Santistevan

        Do it, John. Where can I sign up?

        • John Saddington

          haha! are you on my newsletter?

  • Brandon

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing!

    • John Saddington

      will you be jumping in brandon?

  • Melanie

    Get ready to be impressed … my blog’s theme includes an event calendar. For some reason, the theme’s WordPress UI limited the number of events to 19. (I know, right?)

    So I found the relevant PHP file, located the variable, and replaced it with a really high number. Now I can display up to 999 events at once.

    Believe me, I felt pretty good after I managed that little hack! :)

    • John Saddington


      love it!

    • Susan Silver

      It’s such a great feeling to know you can mess around and solve an issue. Very proud of you Melanie!

      • John Saddington

        the feeling… so satisfying!

  • Matt Powell

    John, this is exactly where I am and what I’ve been doing. It can be very overwhelming when you don’t have any background in “programming.” But, honestly your blog along with the 8bit/ChurchMag posts I have felt huge progress. I think for me #2 was huge. Just jump in and start playing around! For a moment I felt like I had to learn the language before I could apply the language, per say. But, in actuality I have learned so much by working through the application of things… like you mention, just tweaking around on the blog or a test blog on a local host. Great stuff… and thanks for helping me along the journey!

    • John Saddington

      awesome matt! you’re on your way!

  • Neil

    Whoa!!!! slow down there John! I just learned that if I add to a title then I can have it on two lines. The real backend of wordpress is far too scary for the likes of me. I mean, I’ve removed the footer, put the toolbar below me header image and all that, but that custom.functions.php gives me the heeby-jeebies – now I’m scared to upgrade to the latest version :-)

    But, I see what you’re saying… it would be nice to a) know how to call the thing it is I want to do with the site, and b) do it!

    Take it slow… have you thought of creating some step-by-step video tutorials? :-)

    • John Saddington

      start small… and you’ll find it one step at a time…!

      love it.

  • Neil @

    The comment took out my formatting what I wanted to say was, “if I add (br) to a title….”

    • John Saddington

      ah. :) there we go.

  • Eric

    Learning code can be intimidating. I’m just learning about it and would like to do it myself one day but I’m at a loss of where to start without blowing up my blog!

  • Rachel Blom

    I started with doing some small stuff myself, for instance with headlines. Every now and then something would go wrong and I’d manually make a headline a ‘h3′ or something. I felt so proud! Since then I’ve added Google analytics code and some more stuff and this week I actually ‘wrote’ the code for a link all by myself in a sidebar widget. I know, totally un-cool beginner’s stuffm but I’m very proud that I made it work! So yeah, it small steps and with every step you gain more confidence…Encouraging post!

    • John Saddington

      you are on your way! very encouraged to hear that you’re trying it!

  • Susan Silver

    I think it is good to always know a little code. I still have my html skills I developed from building my geocities sites as a kid. Now I want to move on to CSS. I just saw how powerful CSS3 is for creating what look like images but it has all been done in code. HTML5 is also bringing a lot of great interactivity I don’t want to miss out on. It’s hard to know where to start though if you don’t have a background in those languages.

    I wanted to mention a really great plugin I found that may help people that want to learn CSS for wordpress.

    Theme Companion

    It just lets you over ride your theme’s CSS without you changing the original code. It can help you learn in a safe environment.

    • John Saddington

      wow susan, this plugin looks sweet! checking it out.

  • Patrick Thunstrom

    I actually took intro to programming last semester in college, and now I’m looking at books to learn a variety of coding languages. The idea of hacking one of your free themes actually really appeals to me, I might have to try that out!

    • John Saddington

      go for it! let me know how it goes!

  • Adam

    I love diving in and finding what’s under the hood. that is how I have learned about most of the stuff I know when it comes to web design. Just dive in!

    • John Saddington

      i dove in and i didn’t come out.

      • Adam

        :) Love it!

        • John Saddington

          i’m stuck!

  • Effa

    I just found your blog today, and subscribed. I really love all the information. It is good to find good people online to follow, and learn from. Thanks!

    • John Saddington

      great! thanks for hanging out here! feel free to share the wealth!

  • Benny

    I definitely love getting into a theme and doing some customizing. It can be frustrating at time but I can also easily spend way too much time doing it. It’s fun. Learning to do Standard theme and look forward to learning from the support forums! Doing it locally helps a ton!!

    • John Saddington

      the support forums should help a lot…!

  • Brian Notess

    I’m creating a “Code Noobs” circle on Google+

    The vision is “No stupid questions, no developer snark”. I thought it could be a cool way for those wanting to learn code to learn from each other. Asking questions on developer forums can be a bit intimidating.

    Anyone who wants to join can, just let me know your google username.

    • John Saddington

      add me!

  • Marcus Williamson

    Wise words as always John. I’ll try it. Can’t promise anything but try I will

    • John Saddington

      and that’s all that counts!