You don’t have to be a survivor of the vi and Emacs holy wars to appreciate the beauty of fully hand-crafted code. There was a bit of attention a couple of weeks ago on the soon-to-be-launched Adobe Muse which lets you “Design and publish HTML websites without writing code”. If you want to be a kick-ass developer, you must realise that tools like this aren't designed for you. They're designed for people who want to do what you can do but either don't have the time or the inclination to learn how. Although drag 'n' drop application do lower the barrier to entry for creating a website, there is still a need for web developers to know exactly what's going on in their pages.

In much the same way as with JavaScript (See “You must be able to read before you get a library card”), building your HTML using that extra level of abstraction might work for almost every situation but will eventually leave you stuck somewhere you don’t want to be. By all means, pimp up your text editor with all manner of handy tools, shortcuts and code snippets but make sure you still know exactly what each bit of mark up means and does. If you structure your code well (more on that in a later post), your natural feel for the code will be as good a validator as anything automated (by which I mean prone to errors and worth double-checking).

Learn the keyboard shortcuts. If you learn nothing else from this, learn the importance of keyboard shortcuts. You might start off thinking you'll never need a key combination to simply swap two characters around but one day, you'll find yourself in the middle of a functino reaching for ctrl-T.

Also, there is no easy way to tell if a text editor is fit for you until you have tried it, looking at screenshots won’t work. You don't need to build an entire project to figure out whether or not you're going to get on with a new text editor, just put together a couple of web pages, maybe write a jQuery plugin. Do the key combinations stick in your head or are you constantly looking up the same ones again and again? Do you have to contort your hand into an unnatural and uncomfortable claw in order to duplicate a line?

The final thing to cover about text editors is that it's okay to pay for them. Sure, we all love free software. “Free as in pears and free as in peaches” (or whatever that motto is) but there are times when a good, well-written piece of software will cost money. And that's okay. You're a web developer. You are going to be spending the vast proportion of your day using this piece of software. If the people that made it would like you to spend $20 on it, don't instantly balk at the idea. Think back to the idea of web developers as artisan craftsmen. You're going to be using this chisel every day to carve out patterns in stone. Every now and then, you might need to buy your own chisel.