How to Bluff Your Way in CSS

Pretending to be a CSS guru is fairly easy in non-geek circles. Talk the talk by learning some basic terminology and catching up on the current buzz. Once you can spout off some semi-techie terms, the average normal's eyes will glaze over and they will edge away slowly...and then tell anyone who asks that you really know your stuff. So remember: Obfuscate! The good news is that this will often work even in a job interview. It's pretty rare to find an HR guy who's also a geek, so chances are your interviewer doesn't have a clue what the IT department does all day (play World of Warcraft).

The first thing you should be at least passingly familiar with is the definition of CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets. CSS is a styling language that is attached to an HTML document, either inside the page or accessed from an outside source page. Web developers love CSS because it works in nearly every browser and doesn't freak out browsers that can't handle it. In tech-speak: CSS style sheets offer global control of style elements with cross-browser compatibility that degrades gracefully. See? Your eyes are glazing over already. Another thing you should be able to discuss at some length is divs vs tables. Think of tables as the Axis of Evil, nemesis of CSS developers everywhere. Keep that image firmly fixed in your mind as you go forth to be a fake programmer. Hatred of tables is like the secret handshake into the CSS clubhouse. Should you accidentally wander into a gaggle of CSS geeks, just chuckle about a site you recently visited that was loaded with nested tables. Someone will erupt into a diatribe, and then you have only to nod and smile until you can safely escape with your reputation intact.

The next step to setting yourself up as a CSS expert and getting website development business is to make a portfolio. There are tons of free template sites out there where you can grab free code and pass it off as your own. Customers aren't likely to look at the source code anyway, so they won't know you didn't change anything but the text color. And if they DO look at the source code, you can always say that you used it only as a jumping-off point, but customized the structural elements to reflect the needs of the business. Obsfucate! The proof is right there on the page, right? The business logo, the right colors, the content? How could you have cadged all that from another source?

Here's where you can find some great free templates you can download:

Free layout designs from CSS Zen Garden
Template Fusion
Open Source Web Design

Now, the bad news is that if you use one of these templates, the graphics will have to be replaced and the content loaded, so you will need to learn a little...sorry! On the up side, you can save your new graphics with the same name and in the same size as the template examples, and then no code alterations are necessary. The business owner probably won't notice that his logo image is now called "happyballoons.jpg"

Knowing CSS can be a powerful skill. In addition to designign and maintaining your own company web site or blog, many systems will let you customize the branding of their site with your company logo and colors if you know some CSS and a little bit of Photoshop.

That's all you need to know to bluff your way into the world of CSS design. Use this knowledge wisely to get a job, start your own business, or simply entertain and amaze your friends.

If you ever want to really learn CSS, here are some great beginning resources:

Interactive CSS tutorial by Dave Kristula
HTMLdog's basic CSS tutorial 2 part tutorial
Lissa explains CSS - for kids, so it's written in language even a faker can understand.

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