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Jeremy Schuurmans
Jeremy Schuurmans

Posted on • Updated on

A Year Ago I Never Would Have Been Able To Do This, But I Just Built My First Web App. Here It Is!

It was almost a year ago when I created an index.html file in my Atom editor, typed "Hello, World!" in it, fired up httpserver, and saw it rendered in my browser for the first time. From that moment until today, I've been spending my time learning Ruby, SQL, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. I've failed more often than I've succeeded, but I've been happier than I've ever been. And, anyway, today makes up for those past failures, because (thanks to them) I just finished building my first full web app.


When I was trying to figure out what to build, I took to heart the wise words of

[deleted user] image

[Deleted User]

who told me once to keep it simple, especially when building something for the first time. "Your goal is to learn," he said, "not impress; besides, simple projects done well are impressive for someone at your level."

Given that, I knew I only wanted my app to have a has_many/belongs_to relationship, nothing more. Two models, no join table, no problems. That meant that I would have a User model and something that belongs to User. So I thought a wine journal would lend itself particularly well to this. User has_many wines, and Wine belongs_to User. The user would input information about wines they like and store them for future reference. It was perfect!

However, I had a hard time getting excited about the idea, despite my commitment to keep it simple. The idea kept popping into my head to allow all users to view every wine entry, not just their own, and before long I had this concept of a wine-centric social media platform in my head. Once I had named it Vino, there was no turning back.


I knew I wanted to build Vino in a test-driven way, which of course meant I would need to write tests first. The problem with that was I didn't know how to write tests. But I knew how to read tests, and I figured now was as good a time as any to learn how to write them.

I started by mapping out the basic structure of my project. I took out a piece of paper, scribbled out the seven RESTful routes, their corresponding views and what each would contain, and then I had a basic idea of how a user would interact with Vino from log in to log out.

As a former chef, I'm used to learning from people who have come before me. A chef, especially in the early stages of development, researches and uses recipes that they alter to fit their needs. With practice, they start to rely on the recipe less and less. This is similar to the way I decided to learn how to write tests. I searched through repos I had forked on GitHub until I found good examples of RSpec and Capybara tests. I copied them into my spec files, and went through them line by line, rewriting them to suit my expectations for the application. In the end, I had 42 tests in my test suite. They consisted of tests for both models, verifying they had the attributes I wanted them to, and the rest were application controller tests, covering everything from a user being able to log in, to not being able to hack a URL and modify another user's data. Writing the tests was a whole day's work, but I gained in-depth knowledge of how tests work and how to write them, and it made building Vino a much more efficient process.


Once the tests were written, I felt more confident about building, because I was used to running tests and debugging. I started by running the model specs, defining my classes, and writing migrations for the User model and Wine model. Once that was done, it was time to run the application controller specs and define my routes. I really enjoy databases, but when you start defining your routes, that's when you really get to dig in and figure out the logic. That's the stuff I live for when programming, so I really enjoyed debugging my way to a working app.

Pry was my best friend. Since I was building this using Sinatra, I also heavily utilized a gem called Tux, which, when you run bundle exec tux in your console, opens up an interactive environment that's pretty much like the sexy lovechild of Pry and IRB.

Before long, all my tests were passing, and my data was behaving as it should. My app was working!

Unfortunately, it was also ugly as sin.


I wanted Vino to look nice. It was really important to me that even though I had kept it as basic as I could, that it was something I could be proud of. Something I could point to and say "I did that" without embarrassment. I came pretty damn close to succeeding.

My design skills are limited, and I still wanted to keep the app simple. So rather than writing all my HTML and CSS from scratch, I decided to Bootstrap it. This was advantageous for several reasons. It meant first of all that I could use a bare-bones Bootstrap template (I didn't use a theme), and write a ton of custom HTML and CSS without necessarily needing to worry about things like clearfix. All the pieces would just fit together nicely, as long as I paid attention to the grid and didn't screw up the size of my rows and columns. It meant I didn't have to worry about making the app responsive because it would be automatically. It also meant that I could give Vino some nice features using Bootstrap's javascripts that I normally wouldn't try to incorporate myself at this stage in my learning. For instance, I used a lot of modals for different features, and I could code those out in HTML, style them in CSS, and they would work.

To learn how to do this, I followed a tutorial on that walked me through adding BootstrapCDN scripts and building out a basic grid for a social media-style website. I altered the grid somewhat to suit my needs, and started styling. I thought it would be fun to make it look like Facebook, so I wrote the CSS to make it happen, Googling around whenever I ran into an issue.

Peter Griffin frustrated

It may sound easy, but my first attempt was a miserable failure. Bugs were popping up like crazy as I tried to do things like create cards for each wine entry, and whenever I fixed one bug, another would pop up someplace else. It was like the worst game of Whack-A-Mole I had ever played. I was getting so far down the rabbit hole with my changes, I knew I needed to start over. So I ran git checkout, started a new branch, and began rebuilding the HTML. After a day or two of work, I had a layout that I liked, and that functioned properly.

git checkout master
git merge revised-layout

When I was as satisfied as I could be with every little detail, I started refactoring the code. I tried to make it as DRY as I could as I started cutting out lines of code that served a purpose in the beginning, but were unnecessary in the finished product. I tried hard not to repeat myself more than necessary. When I was building, all the HTML and CSS for each view was together in each .erb file. I moved all the CSS to a stylesheet and as much repeated HTML as I could to a layout. It could definitely be more DRY, but I did as much as my lack of experience would allow. With a sigh of relief, I arrived at the moment when I couldn't think of anything else I needed to do. At least for the time being.

git add .
git commit -m "done."
git push

With a smile, I opened a bottle of wine, poured myself a glass, and sat back ...

... then looked at the label, fired up shotgun, logged in, and put it in my app.


I'd like to add features like comments which would be a good way to incorporate a many to many, or a has_many through relationship. I would like stricter authentication, flash messages, log in with Facebook OAuth, the list goes on. The next thing I want to do is build a Rails app, so I may rebuild Vino in Rails and add these features.

Programming can sometimes be so frustrating I think about doing something else. And then I build something and remember how much I love it. I hope I always find a way to fall back in love with programming.

If you want, you can check out the GitHub repo.

Top comments (24)

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Woohoo!!!! Congrats!!

bengreenberg profile image
Ben Greenberg

Well now I am just blushing. This is amazing Jeremy! You have made such incredible progress and I'm really honored that I got to be a part of your coding journey!

jeremy profile image
Jeremy Schuurmans

Our conversations were a real game changer for me. I'm glad you saw my post! I'm really lucky that I have so many people willing to help me learn how to do this. I'm looking forward to being able to pay it forward one day.

david_j_eddy profile image
David J Eddy

"...Programming can sometimes be so frustrating I think about doing something else..." This happens to me every week; then something works, I feel amazing; and keep going at it. The constant creative cycle + analytical requirement is such a great match for so many people from such a wide background.

onecuteliz profile image
Elizabeth Jenerson

Congrats fellow Flatiron-er!

There's nothing to it but to do it.

I envy you re: the creating tests.
Articles out there that convince you why you should but few talk about how to approach it, if at all.

Cardinal sin: programming and then writing tests afterwards. But I felt overwhelmed trying to figure my app out AND rspec AND trying to figure out decent tests. 😩

Can I got you up to talk more about your process on that?? Please? 🤓

jeremy profile image
Jeremy Schuurmans

I've actually been wanting to write about writing tests for a while, as a way to sharpen my own knowledge and help other people learn to do it. I think I'll make it happen. Stay tuned ...

kristjankoppel profile image

Very good result. Really good video! Like'd it much.

Some questions:

  1. Whats your tech stack here?
  2. I saw a loading indicator in textarea when you wrote demo data - what did you use there? Is this somekind a JS plugin? I saw something similar in one Atlassian product.
jeremy profile image
Jeremy Schuurmans


  1. The back end is Ruby, using Sinatra, and SQLite3 and ActiveRecord for the database. I used Bootstrap when writing the front end.

  2. That loading indicator is actually just the Grammarly plugin that I have installed in my Chrome browser. It appears in every textarea I type into, and I neglected to disable it.

klauseverwalkingdev profile image
Klaus Ferreira

Thanks for sharing. Stories like yours is what make me don't quit studying about the lovely and seductive world of programming. Since 2001 I'm trying to do something useful to no avail. But I won't quit! :)

jeremy profile image
Jeremy Schuurmans

Thank you for sharing this! And no, please don't give up. It's well worth the struggle.

charlieinthe6 profile image
Charlie Reese 🦖

Well done!

jeremy profile image
Jeremy Schuurmans

Thank you!

devlon profile image
Oguntayo Mathew Adekunle

Congratulations Jeremy.

ecemac profile image

Congratulations! I'm loving the Harry Potter references.

erne_vizcaino profile image
Ernesto Vizcaino

Amazing where did you learn that?

jeremy profile image
Jeremy Schuurmans

I'm a student at a code school, which is where I got most of my information. The rest was trial and error, gut feeling, and A LOT of Googling for answers.

muuvmuuv profile image
Marvin Heilemann

Nice, congrats! Maybe you should check out I think it is something similar to urs.

jeremy profile image
Jeremy Schuurmans

Thanks! Vivino looks like more of an online store, which would be a fun feature to try and implement in the future. Thanks for pointing me to it!

ruouthanhnien profile image
Rượu Ngoại Thanh Niên

I'm new to single malts, having only had Old Pulteney, Clynelisch, Dalwinnie, and Glenmorangie before I bought this Ardbeg,......but the smokey, biting peat taste really knocked me back. Adding a little water seemed to open the nose somewhat, but this whisky will have to grow on me. Or, maybe not,....

rượu ngoại thanh niên

klauseverwalkingdev profile image
Klaus Ferreira

Mmmm... it seems that a wild spam appeared....

zymawy profile image

Nice Shoot Jeremy,

I Like The Way You Deal With TDD :),

shubhamkhandare profile image
Shubham Khandare

Nice ..congrats !! Please will you deploy it somewhere like heroku !