A complete beginner’s guide to learning Sass in a weekend
Are you interested in learning more about Sass but find that whenever you try to delve in, you’re greeted by a discouraging barrage of technical mumbo jumbo? Are current Intro to Sass tutorials promising help for supposed novices only to assume that this group of (apparently very enlightened) novices has already read every CS book from The Cluetrain Manifesto to the The Pragmatic Programmer and already has an opinion on Less vs Sass? Is that not you? Don’t worry! It wasn’t me either when I started digging into Sass. It may seem as though Sass requires a handful of traditional computer science knowledge to use, but the reality is that it doesn’t! This quick guide will break down all the basic terminology and concepts you need to know before you get started with Sass. And we promise, all you’ll find here are simple definitions of must-know, easy-to-grasp terms and concepts (The only prerequisite for this article is a foundational knowledge of HTML & CSS) that will be a primer to your Sass deep-dive. We’ll even restrain ourselves from throwing around the oft used “Feelin’ sassy?” puns as we explore Sass and convince you to give it a go. Once you feel comfy with the terminology mentioned here, we’ll take a look at writing some simple lines of Sass and then I’ll give you a great resource to help you learn Sass in a weekend!
What is Sass?
Sass is an acronym for Syntactically Awesome Stylesheets. A Book Apart’s Sass for Web Designers (arguably the best book on the subject currently) defines Sass as a layer between the stylesheets you author and the .css files you serve to the browser. This means that sass is actually written in .scss, then translated using a program into .css for the browser. Sass gives us super features that CSS doesn’t, allowing us to write some lines of code that simplify our overall work and make it easier for us to change things down the road once our style sheets become longer and more complex. Isn’t that nice of Sass? Think of it as a more sophisticated language that is improving CSS by adding advanced or missing funcgtionality - but Sass is no snob. Sass is actually an extension of CSS - so all valid Sass syntax is valid CSS3! Great isn’t it?
Sass doesn’t have a crazy learning curve either - if you know HTML & CSS, you could spend a weekend and come out the other side with an intermediate knowledge of Sass (later, I’ll give you the ONE resource you need to do just that). The other great thing about Sass is that you can use it little by little - start small by converting bits of an old stylesheet first and then keep going until the transition is complete. Once you’re comfy with this exercise, take a look at implementing some advanced mixins into your projects and before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to a solid grasp of Sass.
Note: Sass is just one CSS preprocessor. There are others - Less and Stylus for example, but in my opinion (and the opinions of others way cooler than me), you should focus on building up a Sass skill set.
What is a Preprocessor? You’ve probably read that Sass is a preprocessor. If you’re like me, the first time you heard that you thought “Oh great, are they using “pre” the way the auto industry uses “pre” when stating a vehicle is “pre-owned?” What does that even mean? That the car is used (their intention) or that the car exists in a state prior to being owned (therefore NEW? -my stubborn interpretation). Luckily, the term preprocessor is not confusing at all. It just sounds fancy. A preprocessor is a term from the computer programming world for something that takes some information (Sass) and converts it into something else (plain old CSS) so it can be understood by a third thing (your browser). Simply put, your browser is a processor. And Sass is a preprocessor because it processes the code before your browser does.
What is a mixin? Mixins are your buddies! They are reusable blocks of code that you write/define ONCE and then can use over and over again throughout your project. Think of when you’re writing a stylesheet. You must get tired of declaring your line-height, font-family etc over and over again, no? A mixin gives you the ability to declare these specifics once and use them several times without spending time rewriting the same stuff over and over!
Compiling/Compiler Compiling is the process of converting source code into something that can run on a computer. Simply put, compiling is translating. A compiler is the piece of software that performs the task of translating. In the case of Sass, your command line is the compiler. You need no previous experience with the command line when it comes to Sass - you’ll learn a couple of quick commands you can use very easily to install Sass and do one or two other very simple things, or you can download an app like Scout to use instead of the command line. Don’t let this piece of knowledge worry you and prevent you from learning about Sass - if you take a weekend to dig into Sass, I promise you’ll learn what you need to use it effectively, even if all you have right now is just HTML & CSS knowledge.
Command Line A command line interface (or the command line) is a text-only way of browsing and interacting with your computer. Check out our full tech term here for more on the command line. And have no fear! As I mentioned above, you’ll use the command line for some very very simple things including installing Sass in a matter of seconds because Sass is installed as a Ruby gem. This process is SO. SUPER. SIMPLE. though and the resource I’ll provide you with to learn Sass gives you a quick and super easy way to master the command line and get up and running with Sass. The truth is, you only need to copy a couple of commands to do one or two very quick things with Sass. And again, you can work around the command line if you want to (but you really won’t because it’s so easy and straightforward).
So there you have it! A little primer to (hopefully) demystify some of the terminology you may hear thrown around about Sass.
Read to dig in a little deeper? Check out our post on Sass here. We take a look at some simple Sass you could write today!
Ready for that ONE resource I mentioned earlier to help you master sass? Then pick up this excellent resource by A Book Apart to learn Sass in a weekend! It’s a short and very instructive read. Once you familiarize yourself with the concepts in this post, you’ll be able to fly through the book in no time!
On finding your voice in the tech industry when you’re new to code
I took a grant writing class as an elective in grad school. While I found the class to be surprisingly helpful, my professor did say one random unrelated thing in class that really stuck with me above everything else. He was talking about the pet peeves he has that really irritate him when reviewing grants. One of these is when people use the word “utilize”. He issued the class a semester challenge - give him one sentence where “utilize” makes more sense than simply “use”. At the end of the semester, no one had found a case where use wouldn’t do. This was a pretty profound moment for me because when I first got involved in the web industry, I was a bit of a magpie and wanted to include every shiny new trick I learned in my projects. Hey, learning to code is crazy exciting, what can I say! This advice – don’t use utilize when use will do – was my web Occam’s Razor, pushing me to simplify, edit, and focus. It helped me create better websites and be a better problem solver. When I recounted this new approach to a seasoned designer friend of mine, she congratulated me. She said the web industry is full of stories and advice like this that have helped her refine her skills and find her voice. One of her daily rituals is to try to discover content that makes her think and challenge her preconceived notions of what design is and what it can do. This , according to her, was an important part of growth in the web industry.
"There’s no ego. You have to get comfy with putting your words out there for others to respond to and possibly connect with. The web changes fast. If you want to be a part of it you have to be comfortable with changing too."I realized then that it’s not just about coding and building things that make money. So much of why this industry is great is because it’s full of people who continually review their approaches, scrutinize their decisions and share their struggles and insights with eachother. It’s part of the DNA of the web industry to continually develop, hone and grow. Much of this happens publically - seasoned web pros are big on writing, presenting, working on side projects that try new things, question current practices and strive to find the best way to do something. It’s an incredibly diverse conversation - with people across roles, levels of experience and expertise all discussing the same things and coming up with ideas and solutions together. You don’t have to have 800 years of experience to have something incredibly valuable to contribute (and remember, the web industry, like you, is a newbie too!). I want you to be a part of the conversation that is the web. How can you do that? By flexing your critical thinking muscles and engaging in the discourse that makes this industry great. Here are 4 tips to help you find your voice:
Get your kids into code the fun way this back to school season
It’s back to school season parents! Are you excited? Frantic? Both? You have a lot on your plate - starting hectic morning routines anew, helping with homework, packing healthy lunches, managing after school activities, WHEW. And of-course during all this you’re probably wondering if your kids are learning the right things at school and how you can supplement their education at home. You’ve no doubt heard about the importance of computer literacy and getting your kids into programming and coding. But with the abundance of apps, toys, and books available, it’s hard to know where to start. Here are my top 4 choices for parents looking to get their young ones into tech:
The most frequent question I get from students in my classes is “Are we really going to build a portfolio? What can we possibly put in it when we’ve never had any clients or been paid for work?”
It’s a great question and one that merits lots of thought and discussion. What can beginners include in portfolios when they’re learning and just starting out? For starters, everyone in our Blueprints courses has access to loads of great projects to complete in class. All of these are great inclusions in a portfolio because they are focused prompts that aim to bring out each student’s individual creativity and unique approach to solving problems.
But there are plenty of types of work you can showcase in your portfolio besides the traditional projects or jobs that first come to mind. You can literally invent “fake”, imaginary, DREAM projects just for your portfolio. In fact, you don’t need to be a beginner to do this – experienced web designers and developers do it all the time to keep up with skills, try new things and provide fresh solutions to problems. Daniel Mall has talked about this extensively, Skillcrush friend and designer Katie Kovalcin swears by it. And our friends at Funsize.co frequently reimagine dream clients’ products.
“Put the work YOU want to be doing in your portfolio, not the work you think others want to see.” Says Kovalcin. ” If you make fake projects, the trick is to make it look real. Put in context: print it out and photograph it, mock it up however you need to as if it were really a finished product and not just comps/ideas.”
What I’m about to suggest to you is a framework of porfolio project categories that aim to showcase a wide range of your skills. you can do all of these without a client or previous experience. A few considerations:
Today on the Skillcrush blog, I’m outlining a simple process that I use to buy tech gadgets with confidence every time and avoid that buyer’s remorse!
(via A Beginner’s Guide to Purchasing Tech Gadgets with Confidence | Skillcrush)
Buying tech gadgets can be intimidating. Overwhelming choices, a baffling range of price points, fear of buyer’s remorse, varying degrees of customer support at retail outlets and rapid product obsolescence & depreciation turn even the most zen & decisive amongst us to total mush.
So what’s the best way to overcome decision paralysis and make sure you buy the right computer, projector, portable speakers or fitness band? Let me walk you through the simple process I use in hopes it’ll help you too.
STEP ONE Identify what you want - Currently, I’m in the market for a projector for the master bedroom in my house. My husband and I are big movie nerds and we live in a loft townhouse. Our bedroom is upstairs and has great high ceilings. We never watch tv in our room but I suddenly have this intense desire to project old black and white movies against one of our large white walls. I know. I’m such a cheese ball. I’ll try to redeem myself by telling you that we also plan to play a LOT of the new Super Smash Brothers video game when it comes out this Fall. I’m quite the champion at that game. I know, I know my humility is unparalleled. Anyway getting this project up and running is my summer dream.
STEP TWO Identify a budget - This may sound like a no brainer but let me explain the two criteria I use to determine my budget. The first of course, is if I can afford it. The second is if I will feel like a fool spending a certain amount on a gadget even if I can afford it. $100 bucks? Sounds affordable. $100 on a bejeweled iphone case? I’m outta here. I have determined that I am willing to spend about $7-800 on this projector.
STEP THREE Spend some time on Amazon & Newegg (or other retailer you have had good experiences with) with 2 goals in mind: 1. Familiarize yourself with the features and specifications of several projectors (1 in your price range, 1 above and 1 below for 3 or 4 brands) and 2. read through lots and lots of reviews. This will help you understand what the product you’re in the market for is capable of doing and what the feature tradeoffs are across price points. A lot of times you may find a pleasant surprise - that the product does even more than what you thought it could do and you may be willing to stretch your budget a little bit. You could also find that you don’t need the extra bells and whistles at all and could come in way below what you anticipated. The point of this step is to familiarize yourself with all aspects of your product so you can make an informed decision. If you come across a term or feature you don’t know - jot it down. Once you’re done with this step go through your list and Google anything you aren’t well-versed in.
STEP FOUR Check wirecutter.com. This site is hands down the best I’ve found for help with purchasing gadgets. They’ve done hours and hours of the research for you and are incredibly practical when it comes to debating money vs feature trade-offs. They have never steered me wrong and every single recommendation of theirs I’ve followed through on has not disappointed me. They break things down in an easy to understand way and usually provide charts and graphs so you can compare products at a glance. Thanks to Wirecutter, I found a $500 projector comparable to their $1000 recommendation and feel great that I could potentially come in $300 under my original budget estimate. Yay!
STEP FIVE Do nothing for a few days. Seriously! By now you have tons of info swirling around in your head and you’re overwhelmed, exhausted and excited - a strange, heady mix. You need to let your newfound gadget knowledge marinate in your brain for a few days, consider all the reviews and ratings you’ve read about so you can find your footing again, narrow down your choice to the top 2 or 3 contenders and then ultimately make a decision you feel really good about.
Et voilà! Gadget purchased, existential crisis avoided. Enjoy your lovely new toy and go easy on the $4 lattes for a while.
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