There are many tutorials on the internet. I for one learnt how to use HTML and CSS using such tutorials. But that was 10 years ago, when people were less interested in favs or likes and more interested in helping people to learn.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everyone who posts tutorials these days is after magic internet points. But there are far, far more tutorials on the web now. Many orders of magnitude more. Back in “my day” you could tell the quality of a HTML/CSS tutorial by the quality of the website, since most of these tutorials appeared on people’s own webhosting or a site where you could modify the page layout using CSS. Now, at lot of guides are posted as videos on youtube or on blogs such as wordpress, where you need zero knowledge of HTML/CSS to get started.

You might think I’m ranting. Well, yes I am. And I will explain why.

Today I came across a video tutorial for CSS. I’ve not used CSS since 3.0 came out, so I thought “Hey, maybe this will show any basic things added to CSS3”. The slides in the video had a watermark for a university in the UK. Ok, good. These slides are reliable and probably up to date as the video was posted today.

And this is where the problem is. I assumed that these slides would be correct because they were from a university and on a basic topic. When actual CSS examples began to be shown, I spotted something fishy. My initial reaction was “this example is wrong”. I decided that, since I was so out of practice, I’d test this out on a CSS sandbox. It turned out the example was indeed wrong. Maybe it was a typo! No, 2 minutes later another error reared its head.

These were errors in basic element selection in CSS, the kind I would expect from someone new to CSS trying to share what they’ve learnt and making a few mistakes. I would not expect this from a set of university slides.

The problem is, if you can’t even trust tutorials from a university, what can you trust? Well, nothing if it is your single source. In my experience it is unwise to take any programming tutorial or code example as fact. Programming is considered a science, and scientists experiment.

When I was at university I would often read code samples before reading the accompanying explanation. Next I would copy the code into my IDE and dissect it. What happens if I delete this bit? What does changing this do? From there I could explore other methods that the IDE was kind enough to tell me existed. I learn by exploring code, and I believe you should too.

Another solution is, of course, to cross-reference tutorials. Does what they say match up? If there are discrepancies look up another one and see which, if any, it agrees with.

My 3rd approach is to crowd-source. Sites like Stackoverflow where you can ask questions in a forum are fantastic. You get a variety of answers, and those answers can be rated and commented on by other users. Even the comments can be rated. More often than not, if I’m googling a programming problem I will restrict the search to stackoverflow. For those not in the know, this can be done by adding “site:stackoverflow.com” to your search.

My point is, don’t take things on the web to be 100% accurate. 1 typo on a code sample can completely change the behaviour of the code. 1 flaw in a person’s knowledge could be passed along to anyone that reads their tutorial. Protect yourself from misinformation and double or triple check what you are learning.

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