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How to make an app for your small business

Robert Strohmeyer | Sept. 5, 2013
Creating your own custom apps has never been easier than it is today but getting started can be daunting for a would-be coder.

Most app development today happens within the context of a development framework—a software platform that organizes your code and gives structure to your app, and typically automates a lot of routine tasks. Some common examples include Rails for the Ruby programming language, Ember for JavaScript, and Django for Python. Because frameworks take a holistic approach to building an app based on pragmatic design principles, they'll require you to learn at least a little about some supporting scripting languages. So even if you decide you want to focus on Ruby or Python as your core programming language, you'll end up learning some HTML, CSS, and JavaScript or CoffeeScript (a separate, simpler language that compiles into JavaScript—it's pretty awesome) along the way. (In general, you should think of HTML and CSS as basic skills, no matter what language and framework you're using.)

It's a good idea to get a little hands-on feel for a few languages before settling on one as your primary focus. I suggest taking some basic tutorials for a spin on a learning site like Codecademy to see which language resonates with you most.

Get some dev training
Once you've figured out where you'd like to start, it's time for some training. There are tons of great options out there for dev training, ranging from live classes to online courses and books. When in doubt, do all three.

It's a good idea to invest some time in online courses before devoting time and money to an in-person class. Sites like Code School, Codecademy, and Treehouse offer rich interactive primers on a variety of programming languages and development frameworks at very low cost. Codeacademy's free courses are an excellent place to start getting a feel for coding without dipping into your training budget. My personal favorite of the three, Treehouse, offers an incredible range of courses and tutorials designed to take new coders from the very basics to building advanced projects with sophisticated social media features.

In-person programming courses like those offered by San Francisco-based Marakana or Denver-based Pragmatic Studio can give you a hands-on coding crash course in one week for about $2500, depending on the course. These classes focus explicitly on one programming language or framework, such as iOS or Android for mobile, or HTML5 or Ruby on Rails for the Web. Typically you'll get a guided experience building some simple project throughout the week, such as a blog, a Twitter clone or a To-Do app.

The main benefit live courses offer over online tutorials is a chance to ask questions and interact with a seasoned developer who can coach you and give you a sense of perspective about the challenges you're facing as a new coder. But be prepared to move quickly: Most of the students in these courses will be experienced developers looking to expand their skills, and dabblers can fall behind fast. So be sure to take the time to acquaint yourself with the basics of the language or framework you'll be learning ahead of time.


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