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Five Reasons to Learn JavaScript

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Rithm School

Sep 29, 2016

Over the past few years, JavaScript has exploded in popularity. According to StackOverflow's 2016 developer survey, JavaScript is the most popular technology for full-stack, front-end, and back-end developers, and isn't showing any signs of losing momentum. So how did we get here, and what does it mean for someone who wants to learn to code? In this article, we'll trace back some of the history, project a little bit into the future, and offer up some reasons why, if you're interested in programming, you should give JavaScript a shot.

laptop with coffee and google

1. JavaScript is the language of the browser.

If you want to build a sleek website or a modern web application, it's almost a guarantee that you'll need to write some JavaScript. JavaScript is how we make websites interactive. It can hide and show chat windows on Facebook or Gmail, it's responsible for telling you how many new tweets are in your Twitter feed, and it controls the gameplay and high-score persistence in a game like 2048.

JavaScript's history is intimately tied to the Internet itself. It was originally created by Brendan Eich while working at Netscape in 1995, and eventually was adopted by all browsers as the de facto way to build interactive websites. (For more on the history, check out A Short History of JavaScript.) There are currently over a dozen active JavaScript engines competing for market share; the most popular is Google's V8 engine, used to power the Google Chrome web browser.

server room

2. JavaScript is a language on the server.

While JavaScript can do a lot of things, until relatively recently there were also a lot of things it couldn't do. For example, when you try to log in to your account on a website, your credentials are sent to a remote server, which authenticates you and logs you in (assuming you provided the right credentials).

There are many different tools you can use for authentication, but they're often written in languages other than JavaScript. This is because, until recently, JavaScript was not a language that one could use to write server-side code.

However, once Google released their open-source V8 engine, things changed. The advent of Node.js made it possible to write server-side code in JavaScript. Previously, one needed to know some other language to write code for the server (also known as back-end development). Node allowed developers to unify the browser side and the server side of an application under a single language. Node has exploded in popularity, and is now used by some of the world's largest companies for parts of their web applications.

javascript logo

3. One language to rule them all?

Being able to write JavaScript on the server is great, but this is only really valuable if the community rallies around it. Over time, we've seen that the ecosystem around Node has grown quickly. Node comes with a package manager called NPM that lets anyone write a library that they can share with other developers around the world. While there have been some bumps in the road, the rapid expansion of the ecosystem means there is an incredible amount of tooling available to someone who wants to build applications in JavaScript.

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4. Future-proofing your education

In 2012, when immersive coding bootcamps were first coming on the scene, many of them focused on Ruby as the primary programming language. Ruby on Rails, a popular and robust framework for building web applications, was all the rage. Using Rails not only enabled students to build interesting web applications more quickly, but it also aligned with the job market.

Over the years, however, the landscape has started to shift. While there are still plenty of companies seeking Rails developers, the advent of Node has also resulted in a surge of demand for JavaScript developers. And since people still need to know JavaScript to work on the browser side of their applications, many schools have shifted gears and have begun teaching more JavaScript. In some cases, schools teach JavaScript exclusively.

If you're a potential student, it's natural to see this pattern and wonder: what will the landscape look like four years from now? Will a deep knowledge of JavaScript be as important as whatever the new hotness is in 2020?

There are a couple of points that should help ease these fears. First, JavaScript isn't going anywhere. There's plenty of competition from other languages on the server, but this has not stopped Node's rise in popularity.

Second, and more importantly, the first language you learn is less important than the underlying concepts you learn, along with honing your ability to solve problems. While every language is distinct, there's also overlap: concepts you learn in one language will often transfer to another. You shouldn't go to a coding school because you want to learn JavaScript, or Ruby, or whatever the hottest new web framework is. You should go to a coding school because you want to learn how to program.

books in circular pattern

5. Free resources abound!

Having said that, every school needs to make a choice about what its curriculum will be. At Rithm, we teach JavaScript and Python. But if you can't commit to a full-time program, or you don't live in the Bay Area and want to learn JavaScript, what should you do?

There are a number of free options that serve as a low-risk way for you to dip your toe in the water and see if programming is something that you genuinely enjoy. Codecademy and Code School both have free materials on JavaScript.

At Rithm, we also offer a few free course materials which we'd love for you to check out. The full list of courses is here; right now we offer an introductory JavaScript course and an intermediate JavaScript course. Over the coming months we'll be adding more free resources as well. We understand that putting your life on hold to come to a coding school is a significant undertaking; our hope is that by offering these free courses, we can give people a taste of what web development is like, and what learning with us is like too.

If you want to learn web development, there are plenty of languages you could choose, and plenty of resources as well. But JavaScript is a great option for a first language. It's the one we begin with here at Rithm, and if you're interested, we've got the resources to help you make it your first language too.

Happy coding!

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