For a more concrete example, I learned php by creating a phpbb instance for my friends and then making addons/changing how it worked. The ratio of work done to results accomplished was high.
It's also very valuable to learn how codebases might be laid out and how to just find the parts you want.
Yes, this is spot on. I work in an industrial R&D department where engineers are expected to be fairly independent; on a recent project, an engineer whose skillset we had misestimated during the interview had a really hard time starting the codebase from scratch, architecting the software, etc. It had to be saved close to the last minute by a senior engineer (to be fair, the manager should have kept a closer eye on the project).
For that engineer's next project, we assigned her to something already established and architected, and she's been doing great. Her programming/architecture skills grew tremendously in a few months by being immersed in that codebase.
(I was the senior engineer who had to be called in for the first project, and lead on the second project. The engineer in question was great in many other areas critical for the job, just her software carpentry skills that were lacking).
Right now I'm TA'ing a C++ class and the sheer stupidity of some of the questions that I get asked is ridiculous (I say stupidity, but it's really a mix of (1) some actual stupidity, (2) students not thinking for themselves, (3) students having no idea where to look and/or stuff was explained by hand-waving it away.)
One thing we've done, for instance, is require that students submit their code via GitHub and make their code compile under both GCC and Clang on Travis. On the last assignment, the professor made a mistake when duplicating the Travis config file, so Travis kept trying to run a binary that wasn't there, because the new assignment had a different name for the compiled binary.
The sheer number of emails and questions I got was absolutely ridiculous - and granted, I didn't blame the students for asking, because the entire toolchain side of things had sort of been hand-waved away from them, but the fix was literally replacing "./hw4-submission" with "./hw5-submission" in the Travis config.
The point I'm getting at, I guess - because this isn't so much a thing about codebase architecture as knowing the tools you have to use - is that too much time is spent in the traditional CS education telling students to fill in code, or giving them frameworks and saying "make your thing work with this", instead of making them design stuff ground-up.
I wonder what a course teaching debugging from the error message backwards would look like? I was a semi-decent programmer before I started working but learning to debug took a lot more on-the-job WTFs to get the hang of.
I actually have an outstanding PR into the Travis docs to update this which hasn't been merged yet for reasons unbeknownst to me https://github.com/travis-ci/docs-travis-ci-com/pull/746
I found it really useful to look at Ruby projects on GitHub after reading a book or two: I wouldn't even had known where to begin if I opened up a GitHub project on day one.
YMMV, though–I've always got the sense that PHP would be an easy language to jump into and begin hacking on. Same with the classic HTML/CSS/JS stack, which this project focuses on. Maybe it's a language-dependent thing?
If you're looking for Rails-specific knowledge, the Hartl tutorial (I think it's just called Rails Tutorial) is fantastic. There's a print version, but the web one is free (at least when I read it) and stays updated.
Added to which on large projects there's often an element of fear over changing things and breaking other things.
How is it hosted, how do the pages come together, etc.
That would make a great tutorial, even if it's at a high level.
If you take a look at the html files, along with the CSS - you may get an idea. I plan to make a tutorial on making a personal website from scratch like how I did (no frameworks, etc.) and then making a tutorial on technologies like Jekyll, etc.
same thing happens when you click the link in the confirmation email.