Do we ask too much of people who write tutorials?

I have a common problem, I’m not that bright most of the time. Most people aren’t. Most people don’t have to be because we can all Google things and that’s as bright as we need to be in the modern age and I’m mostly OK with that…

Until I really think about it and then I despair for the future.

I digress.

Anything in the world that you don’t know how to do you can find out from the internet. Google and YouTube are your go to fonts of human knowledge, teeming with the collective wisdom of millions of people who by and large know their shit. Tutorials are everywhere. The online learning industry was apparently worth $107 Billion in 2015 and that isn’t including the free stuff so you can triple that for a start. It’s huge and there’s the problem.

How do you find the one you want? The one that’s at the level you need? The one that actually solves your problem and doesn’t make you spend 15 minutes reading to find out it’s about something else?
I spend half of my day sometimes researching how to do a new thing online, a new language, framework, pointless time sucking workflow trend or whatever and the tutorials are shocking. I’m mean that. Utter rubbish designed to keep you reading for 5 pages worth of adverts whilst missing out the crucial part of whatever it’s trying to teach you. I’ve fallen for it before. Many times.

The problem is assumed knowledge.

The tutorial writer assumes, subconsciously I hope because otherwise they’re an arsehole, that we all know the basics of what we’re looking up, or worse, that we all know what they know already. You see it all the time in programming tutorials…

“Simply alter the SASS file and it will all be compiled by unicorns into perfect reusable code and your peers will deify you”

Neglecting to mention that it will compile into nothing because although the writer carefully took you through all of the command line steps to compile SASS they didn’t mention the part about having Ruby installed first, so it won’t work and you won’t know why.
Took me 27 different tutorials to find out that little snippet of information. 27. Work that out in billable hours and then add the cost of a keyboard.

I was going to write a similar tale about Node.js and NPM and Grunt but read those two links there and you’ll see why I didn’t want to smash another keyboard.

It’s not always hard to fix either. Take Bower for example. Line 3 of the install instructions state “Bower requires node, npm and git”. This is good. If it added “installed in that order” it would be better because some poor beginner is going to come along and not realise that the order is important, lose half their day, their hair, and their will to learn and possibly to live.

So a plea to the writers of these things:

Remember that not everyone is already an expert, if they knew as much as you they wouldn’t need the tutorial.

If you’re writing for a beginner write from the beginning. If something needs prior knowledge then point that out at the start, even a link to a more basic piece would be good.

Please don’t make us get to the end before we figure out there were three steps before you started, remember it’s you we’re calling names at that point.

Don’t use the phrase “simply blahblablah whatever it is” you’re assuming prior knowledge again and that’s bad.

Give it to your kids to read, if they can can get SASS up and running from scratch after reading what you have written then the rest of us should be cool. Unless your kid is a genius, in which case use another kid who isn’t.

You’re all writers and I’m not, so I’m going to assume you’re getting my point and leave it here with my thanks for the sterling work that most tutorial writers do. Keep it up we all need to learn stuff but I swear if this goes missing in Github again I’m coming for all of you I swear…………..

FTP – Or how to put baby in the corner.

FTP, or File Transfer Protocol is the method used to get a file from your computer on your desk to the file server that your website is hosted on. To do this you need two things:

  1. An FTP account with your hosting providor.
  2. An FTP program.

The FTP account will come as part of your hosting account with your service providor. You’ll be given an address something like ftp.yourdomain.com and a username and password to access it. This will give you access to the directories on the server where your website files are stored.

An FTP program is a piece of software that is used to actually do the transfer of files between your computer and the server. There are many different options available from the very simple to the quite complex and you can choose one depending on what you need. Your hosting providor will usually have a web based version built into your control panel which can be handy for a quick and dirty update but an actual desktop program is probably best. Some of the popular ones are:

  • WinSCP for Windows. This is my personal choice. It’s a bit complex because it handles secure files and encryption. Most people start with something simpler.
  • CoreFTP. Is a popular choice but not one I’ve used.
  • Cyberduck. Famous on the Mac but also has a Windows version

There are many other options to consider and you’ll go through a few until you find one you like. A quick Google of FTP software comparison will find you plenty of articles about the pro’s and cons of the ones on the market. For a more in depth look at how FTP works then this WikiPedia article is a good start.

Thankfully if you use a CMS such as WordPress, Ghost, Drupal or any of the others you’ll find that they have file transfer built in so you may never have to use it. It’s handy to know how though.