It's never too late to learn

A lesson from the web teacher

Created date

September 21st, 2009

[caption id="attachment_3107" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Widely published and well-respected Web expert Virginia DeBolt. (Photo courtesy of Virginia DeBolt)"][/caption] Virginia DeBolt was well into her career as a schoolteacher when she started working with computers in the early 1980s. Even though her training was in English and writing, she served as the school s go-to person for all things high-tech at a time when the term referred to a computer with no mouse and a keyboard attached to the monitor. DeBolt had a natural interest in computers and a knack for understanding them that continued into retirement, leading her to enroll in some courses at her local community college in Austin, Tex. Elder geekdom What started out as a hobby quickly became a new career, with a class in Web design marking the beginning of her conversion into what she calls elder geekdom. Today, DeBolt is a widely published and well-respected expert on everything from blogging to building websites, and a veritable encyclopedia of just about any computerized gadget and its features. Taking that class changed my life, she recalls. I absolutely fell in love with it, and everything just seemed to build from there. Before long, DeBolt was working as a contractor for IBM, coding technical information and posting it on the Web. She seized every opportunity to learn about Windows and UNIX operating systems and the Internet s HTML coding, becoming so proficient that she began teaching the subject in the late 1990s at Austin Community College, where she had been a student only a few years earlier. Eventually, the professor who was teaching the Web classes wanted to leave, and he asked me if I would be willing to take over his HTML course, she remembers. That s what really got me interested in the writing aspect of computers, particularly because I couldn t find a book that taught the class the way that I thought it should be done. DeBolt recognized that Web design was evolving much more quickly than the published materials on the subject. She started a blog called Web Teacher (, where she earned a reputation as a critic who reviewed the existing catalog of textbooks without fear or favor. [caption id="attachment_3108" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Published in 2005, Integrated HTML and CSS is one of several books that DeBolt has written on Web design and computer software. (Photo courtesy of Virginia DeBolt)"][/caption] For her, it was all about whether or not the book truly taught the subject, and it didn t take long for publishers to catch on to this. When I started Web Teacher, I was writing these scathing critiques about these books, always talking about all the things that were wrong with them, she says. It sounds strange to say, but that actually got me in with publishers. I started getting letters from them asking if I would mind reviewing their table of contents or a particular chapter before it went to print. And out of this came the first of several college-level books that DeBolt would write. Integrated HTML and CSS was the first and only book to teach the subjects of HTML Web coding and cascading style sheets (which set a Web page s colors, margins, and backgrounds) at the same time, the way that DeBolt always wanted to teach them. Besides this title, she s written books on specific computer software and is also a regular blogger for several websites, including Time Goes By (, where she offers readers computer tips ranging from how to make your Web browser s print bigger to cutting, pasting, and copying text between programs. Always plugged in All of this, plus the articles she writes for the how-to website, keeps DeBolt in a constant stream of activity. I always have a certain number of articles that I m required to write for eHow, and that s on top of keeping my blogs going, so I spend a lot of time at the computer writing, she says. Part of that means keeping up with the rapidly evolving world of technology, whether it involves developments in familiar staples like word processors or new additions like Twitter and the iPhone. It seems that no matter what the topic may be, her readers can be sure that she knows about it.