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Thursday, February 13, 2014

HTML Boot Camp in Palm Coast

An Interview and Article
by Ezra Salkin
Ezra Salkin is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design.
He is a a writer and illustrator based in Palm Coast, FL.

Look at how long this is,

      ....says Mike Torinese, a young-man in an Abercrombie tee-shirt sitting next to me, who is a Flagler Palm Coast high-school junior.

He passes me his laptop. The first thing I see on his screen is Link, the elfin-looking hero from the acclaimed “Legend of Zelda” Nintendo series, but it’s what’s under the character that he’s pointing out: a near endless paragraph of coding which appears to be pure jargon or, from my uneducated eye, maybe a two-year-old going to town on a keyboard.

The fact that the character’s name is Link is timely, because, at that moment, linking is the subject during this class at COWORK by Office Divvy on Hyper Text Markup Language, more commonly known as HTML.

The value, as expressed in the class’s presentation, is HTML allows the user greater creative control when designing their blog or website. It’s a powerful tool for self-marketing. The class covered everything from the HTML’s origin (it was originally designed by the physicist Tim Berners-Lee for the sharing of documents between researchers of The European Organization for Nuclear Research), how it’s evolved, its basics, as well as how to protect yourself from things that would undoubtedly save hours of the hair-tearing variety.

HTML Boot Camp

At one point, the teacher, Alex Ordonez, an 18-year-old computer science student at Stetson University, said:

This is something that will be meaningless to many of you, but for those who are impacted, it’ll be a life saver and I don’t want to not save someone’s life by not telling them.

Torinese says he’s not interested in coding to help him further another career— he wants to make it his career. “I’m interested in the technical side.” He really wanted to do video-game coding but he says it’s hard to find a place to learn that. What does he hope to get out of the class?

Well most of this stuff I already know, ” he says.

It turns out that Torinese is an Office Divvy intern, working specifically under Ordonez, who leads the Office Divvy web development team.

The students in the class range in age from 11 to those within the retirement demographic.

At 44, Keith Claybrook, who has a catering business, falls somewhere in the middle. Claybrook says he knows his way around a computer pretty well, but a nice website would be beneficial to his business.

It’s a good skill to have,” he says. “ I got the email, and basically said everybody should learn it, so I figured I don’t know it, so I should really learn.”   He’s tried his luck with HTML before but just never really understood it.  “ This is the basics. This is kind of like the starting point,” he says.

Kathy Shea, a veteran of the Office Divvy classes, worked in the movie business as an associate producer for close to 30 years before she retired to Palm Coast where she now works part-time as a consultant, in addition to helping authors with layout on both e-books and print books; she also does publicity for the Florida Heritage Book Festival. So the benefits for her are tangible.

Even though I use InDesign (a design/typography application) to do the layout, when you go to upload there are some tweaks it helps you do it better,” she says of HTML. “ That’s a great way to work as a part-time consultant—using computer programming.”

Marisa Gomez, like Ordonez, is an 18-year-old student at Stetson. She’s also his girlfriend. She studies applied math and has a minor in computer science, though she’s not quite sure how she’ll use what she learned here today.

Marisa says of coding:

It’s more of a hobby. I’m interested in learning—I like learning. ” 

She also feels these skills could come in handy for actuarial science (a statistical method assessing risk in either finance or insurance). That’s ultimately what she wants to do. “And she’ll understand what I’m talking about,” adds Ordonez, walking over. Gomez agrees. “I’ll be able to hold up a conversation with him.

Ordonez has taught himself a few languages—programming languages, that is. “I dabbled a lot early on,” he says. The languages he succeeded in teaching himself were HTML, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), though he failed Javascript and C++. Of course, he had no formal education until he was already a senior in high school. (The ones he initially failed he’s fairly proficient in now.) “I like teaching a lot, because it’s one of the few things I can talk fluidly on,” he says, referring to these languages specifically. “I like the idea of more people knowing how fun coding is—and how useful it is, especially.” Coding…fun? How?

Solving problems, so it’s like puzzles. But you can create your own, you create your own puzzle, because you can find whatever problem you want and then you solve it by coding it out.

While it’s true that Ordonez has always been good at math, contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to be a math whiz to pick up coding, he says. You just need “interest.”

I wondered how he honed his own for something that seemed—to me, at least—so cold and alien. Like his Zelda-appreciating apprentice whom I met earlier, “I was interested in web videogames at the time, particularly ‘RuneScape,’” he says, which was very popular. He was in sixth grade at the time. So he did what any kid that age does; he asked his mom, who he knew managed her own website, what was the first step he should take toward being able to program his own games. The short answer was, he had to learn HTML. So he Googled it. “And I’ve been learning more and more ever since.

How is he at actual foreign languages?

I am terrible at foreign languages, but I think that programming languages should count as foreign languages, because they’re foreign to everybody else.

Too bad he can’t use them to satisfy those college course credits.

So if coding can indeed be described as fun, as Ordonez says, by the end of the class, it was so fun that there was fun and knowledge to spare. Enough to create the need for a second class, as there was still a good deal of HTML material to cover. The follow-up HTML class slated for Saturday, February 22nd.

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