Up until very recently, I ran divadrummer.com and had great success making a name for myself with that. I had a blog with a loyal readership and a few content-driven shrines, galleries, fanlistings, and cliques for animes and games. So, I'm pretty familiar with all sorts of tricks to set those up. I've installed and configured Ikonboard, Invisionboard, PHPFanbase, Wordpress, Moveable Type, Greymatter, 4Images Gallery, and a billion other little stuff, and am quite comfortable with PHP include and making templates (one file for all your layout code!). So if anyone ever needs help (I'll regret this later) installing any PHP/CGI-thingy, I can probably help. I don't do personal websites anymore, because I just have no time for it, but I do have fun making style and code tweaks to my LiveJournal, so I can usually offer some help there too.
I got started in design 3 years ago because I moved away from home and wanted to have a place to upload pictures and newsletters for my friends and family back in California to read. I obviously have a lot to say about everything, so it grew into a lot more than that very quickly. I was introduced to the "gamer girl" online community by my husband and was inspired by some of the beautiful sites I saw, and with my competitive flair, jumped on it right away and learned how to do things outside of a sitebuilder with Frontpage and eventually, after much source-code-examination, with HTML and CSS.
CSS is my first love. If CSS were a man, I would be all over him like white on rice. I believe tables and iframes become mostly useless when you know your CSS and can do everything in divs. I believe it's so cool and elegant to put everything in your CSS and then just change the CSS when you want to change your layout, or to disable your CSS entirely and have blind people or text-browser people still be able to check out your site.
I use Firefox as my primary browser, so all of my designs work in Mozilla, Netscape, Internet Explorer, and Firefox. It's not hard to learn how to do that, you just have to put aside your pride and colored scrollbars. It was a big step and a big admission of "I'm a hack," but once that hurdle was over and I started really taking a close look at my code and reading up on web standards, I made a mental list of my bad habbits and forced myself out of them. IF YOU WANT TO BE A PROFESSIONAL WEBDESIGNER, THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE NECESSARY STEP FOR YOU. Don't fool yourself thinking that your employers will be OK with a design that doesn't work in Netscape or Mozilla, because while they only make up about 5% of net surfers, for a company that could mean you're ostricizing millions of potential customers. For personal sites, I don't insist that anyone use web-standard coding, but don't expect me to give you a nice review. It's still good to practice proper coding practices, even for small personal sites and such, because...well..why the hell not, especially if you know how?
I've got a few favorite resources for you:
- http://www.w3schools.com/ has great, plain-english tutorials on how to do advanced code-y stuff. HTML/CSS/XHTML/XSL/etc.
- http://www.w3.org/People/Raggett/tidy/ cleans up your code for you and closes your unclosed tags, adds all the little stuff that we always forget to put in.
- http://validator.w3.org/ checks the code of your page to see if you put anything weird in, left out quotes, closed things in the wrong order, etc.
The biggest pieces of advice I have to offer to aspiring designers, or any artists, seeking a primary-income job like mine is:
1.) Be prepared to have no artistic license on occasion. Often times, clients will know exactly what they want, and will hold you to it. Don't waste their money by making something else that you think is better, only to have them reject it later, unless they give you permission to do so. Sometimes, they want you to make something ugly, and you just have to swallow that. If you can't handle artistic differences, then don't do web/graphic design professionally, or go freelance if you can afford to pick-and-choose your projects.
2.) Be prepared to be creative on demand. It's not as easy as it sounds. Making designs when you're inspired to do so is second nature to most of us. Wen someone wants you to make a design for a borring thing like a quarterly report and have it done in one day, it's not so easy. If you don't think you can handle this, then you may want to stick to webdesign as a hobby or second income.
Kudos to anyone who read through all that - dilligence is a necessary trait for aspiring designers, too!