Week 2: A Crash Course in WordPress

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Week 2 took an unexpected turn before it even began when I decided on Sunday that I wanted to start a blog.

I had so many thoughts and emotions going thru my mind after the first week and a blog seemed like the perfect way to express them. Considering how many self-taught programmers there are out there I thought it might be of interest to some people. It would also be a good way to put some of the skills I was learning to use. I had already decided to incorporate PHP into my studies since so many sites are built on WordPress so a WordPress blog was a natural choice.

I started looking into the logistics of starting a blog. Things like how to pick a domain name, how to register a domain name, where to host the site, and how much all of these different things cost. There is a lot of information out there, but unfortunately, much of it is contradictory. One of the biggest decisions you have to make when starting a WordPress blog is whether to go with WordPress.com hosting or self-hosting. Going the self-hosting route means more decisions and that is where so much of the contradictory information comes in.

Not only is WordPress hosting versus self-hosting a hotly contested topic, but where to host your site if you decide to go with self-hosting is even more complicated. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of articles out there that will tell you what the best site is for hosting your WordPress blog. They will even provide you with a convenient link to the host site and maybe even a discount code, but that is where the problem comes in. These are not unbiased opinions. These are people who have a vested interest in directing you to a specific site because they get paid based on people using their referral links. An already difficult decision is made even more complicated by all these people praising the site they are affiliated with while downplaying the other sites.

Wordpress.com subscription options.

A look at the options available at WordPress.com

This is part of the reason that I originally decided to go with WordPress.com hosting. Price wise the Personal plan was comparable to most self-hosting options and at least with WordPress I felt confident that I would be paying for a quality service. With self-hosting, I wasn’t so sure. For every article that said a site was dependable there was another article that said they weren’t. Even the site that WordPress recommends for self-hosting, Bluehost, has tons of negative reviews. This uncertainty along with the convenience of WordPress.com led me to just take the easy way out and register my domain and host my site on WordPress.com.

Compared to how much time I spent researching the different options and trying to make a decision, setting up the site was a breeze. Within minutes I had a decent looking page and I was working on my first blog post.

With that done, I decided to start work on the freeCodeCamp project I mentioned in my last post. The project was to design a Tribute Page along the lines of this page using only HTML and Bootstrap.

I couldn’t think of tribute without thinking of Tenacious D so I decided to make them the subject of my Tribute page, but not without first doing a little research. Given the serious nature of the subject in the example page, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to be out of place choosing a more light-hearted subject. I did a quick search on CodePen and found plenty of Tribute projects dedicated to superheroes, video games, and cartoons so I felt okay going with the D. What I didn’t realize at the time were how many Tenacious D Tribute pages there were. So much for originality! I’ll go more in-depth on my project in a separate post later this week, but suffice to say I spent a fair amount of time working on it.

In addition to my project, I also continued plugging away at the Javascript lessons on Codecademy. While I initially felt like things were clicking with Javascript, with each successive lesson I felt like I was getting worse and worse at retaining things. Eventually, I realized that the problem was my note-taking.

A Codecademy JavaScript Lesson Example.

Example from a Codecademy JavaScript Lesson

When I first started studying I created a Google Doc for each topic and made notes as I went along. The Codecademy lessons are text-based and when I started to feel like I was wasting a lot of time typing it occurred to me that I could just copy/paste text from the slides into my notes. Once I started doing this it lessened the amount of time it took me to complete each lesson, but it also reduced how well I was retaining the information. It wasn’t until I started having more difficulties with the lessons that I connected the dots. I underestimated how much the act of consciously thinking about things while taking notes was helping with how well I was absorbing the material. Now every person learns differently, but I retain things better when I take notes but I lost sight of that by trying to speed up the process. After all, it isn’t how quickly you complete the lessons that matters, its how well you learn the material.

As the week went on I continued to work on my blog as well. This included not only making a few more posts but learning more about WordPress and how to effectively use a blog. The more I learned the more I started to regret my decision to go with WordPress.com hosting over self-hosting. It wasn’t that I was having problems with the WordPress hosting, everything was great as far as that was concerned, but I started to realize some of the additional options available when self-hosting that aren’t available with WordPress.com hosting.

The biggest is that self-hosting allows you to build your own site using PHP and CSS, but with WordPress.com you are limited to using themes. While I am currently using a theme for this blog to get it up and running, my long-term goal is to use PHP to create my own site. This would not only be good practice for my PHP lessons, but also a great way to display my skills. With WordPress.com hosting that wasn’t going to be an option.

Another reason is the difference in how many sites you can host for one monthly fee. With WordPress.com the fee you pay gets you one site. If you want to start an additional site you have to pay a separate fee. With self-hosting, the fee you pay usually comes with the¬†ability to host multiple sites. While I only have one site at the moment, I would like the option to create additional sites as my skills grow. In fact, my next fCC project is to create a portfolio page and it would be nice to have the option to host that as well once it’s complete.

There are other benefits to self-hosting like additional themes, additional plug-ins, and the ability to monetize your site better, but there are downsides as well. With a WordPress.com site, you don’t have to worry as much about maintenance like backups, software updates, server security. If you go the self-hosting route all of that becomes your responsibility.

In the end, I decided to move my site to a self-hosting service (for the record I went with SiteGround). While I love the all-in-one convenience that comes with WordPress.com hosting, being able to host multiple sites and code my own PHP made self-hosting the right option for me. Again, my goal is to learn to code and create my own sites and self-hosting gives me that ability.

I would still recommend WordPress.com to someone who just wants to create a site and let someone else worry about the logistics of all of the behind the scenes stuff. For as little as $4 a month you can easily create a great looking site and have a custom domain name. But for those who want more freedom to customize their site, access to the code behind the site, or the ability to host multiple sites then self-hosting is the way to go.

I started the week by creating a blog and I ended the week by transferring that blog to a new host. Along the way, I finished a freeCodeCamp project, I learned a little bit more about Javascript, and a whole lot more about the inner workings of WordPress. I also learned an important reminder about the role note-taking plays in the learning process.

See you next week!

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Author: Lee

Hi, my name is Lee and I am a 40-something who recently made the decision to become a self-taught programmer. This site was set up to chronicle that journey and my experiences along the way. Feel free to contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions.

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