Should You Learn JavaScript? The answer is YES

JavaScript is where the party is AT.

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One of the most confusing things when you set out to become a web developer is figuring out WHAT to learn. And nowhere is this more true than when it comes to picking your first programming language. If you want to learn the basics, markup languages like HTML (used to define things on a webpage like paragraphs and headers) and CSS (used to define webpage fonts, colors, layouts, etc.) are always a safe place to start, but what about all the scripting and programming languages that are out there once you’ve nailed those HTML and CSS fundamentals?

Maybe you’ve heard of Ruby, and its focus on a simple, easy to use syntax seems appealing. Or someone told you about PHP, and its ability to develop and modify WordPress plugins and themes sounds useful. Or the general purpose flexibility of Python seems like a good place to start. But then you’ve also heard you should you focus on JavaScript—so where do you even begin?

Which Programming Language Should You Learn First? Hint: It Might be JavaScript

Before I tell you THE ANSWER when it comes to what programming language to learn first, I want to set up some context: Here at Skillcrush, we focus exclusively on technical skills related to web development. That means we will tell you exactly what to learn and how to learn it if your end goal is to work as a designer, developer, project manager, UX specialist, or in some other capacity building websites and web applications. So all that stuff above about wondering where to start? You don’t have to spend another second worrying about it, since we’ll take care of it for you.

Got it? Good!

Oh, and ONE MORE thing before we move on: Way more important than stressing over which language to learn first, your most important task is to start immersing yourself in programming and understanding how it works. You need to learn: what a variable is, and an array, and function, and loops. You need to understand how logic works. And the amazing thing is that—when you start to understand all of these core programming principles—you’ll see that they really apply to all programming languages. This means no matter what language you want to learn, you’ll already have a solid framework for learning it easily—by understanding those big picture programming theories, you won’t be reinventing the wheel every time you go to pick up a new tech skill.

Got THAT? Great!

Alright, so now it’s time to tell you THE ANSWER.

First: Python versus JavaScript (or Ruby or Php)?

If you’re stuck looking at Javascript vs Python or Ruby or PHP, and you’re wondering which one you should you start with?

The answer is. . .


That’s right—if you are setting out to learn your first programming language after handling HTML and CSS basics, you should start with JavaScript before Python, Ruby, PHP or other similar languages. We wrote an in-depth article about Python versus Javascript if you want to take a deeper dive, but for a quicker answer, let me tell you why:

Reason #1: You can get started using JavaScript right now.

JavaScript comes installed on every modern web browser, so you can LITERALLY start programming in JavaScript this very second on the very browser that you are using to read this article. If you’re using Google Chrome, for instance, just go to the “View” menu, click on the “Developer” sub-menu, and you’ll see an option to open a JavaScript console. No muss, no fuss.

Not all languages are as simple to get started with—while a language like Ruby, for instance, is super easy to work with once you get going, the process of installing it on your machine when you’re new to tech can make you want to tear your hair and run away screaming, never to be heard from again.

And you have nice hair.

Reason #2: JavaScript can be used to make sites pretty and to build crazy fast servers.

It’s not just that JavaScript is so easy to get started with, it’s also that when you DO start using it there is so much it can be used for. Part of what makes JavaScript versatile (and such a great candidate to learn first when you’re looking at a field of languages and puzzling over options like Python vs JavaScript) is that you can use it for front-end AND back-end development. In case you need a quick refresher, front-end development is the work that goes into building the parts of a website users see and interact with, while back-end development is the work that happens “under the hood”—building and managing the servers and databases that power websites behind the scenes. This means two important things for you:

First, because you can use JavaScript on the front-end, and because JavaScript builds and runs all the fun, dynamic elements of websites (things like animated graphics, scrolling video, and interactive maps) you can start using it immediately to sex up your website.

And who doesn’t love a sexy website?

Not THAT kind of sexy. Geez.

But secondly, you can use JavaScript on the back-end to totally streamline the way your entire site operates. Up until about ten years ago, JavaScript was really only used for the front-end stuff mentioned above. And then a new set of web development techniques call AJAX came on the scene. AJAX stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, and—while we’ve covered what AJAX is in a lot more detail elsewhere on our site—in a nutshell it’s a back-end way of using JavaScript with a markup language called XML to make websites faster and more responsive for users —stuff like loading new content on a website without refreshing the page.

Think how Gmail loads your new emails or Twitter loads new tweets.

And this added functionality made JavaScript start to explode.

The past few years have seen INSANE development in the JavaScript language. The JavaScript JSON file format has taken over as one of the most popular ways to transfer data. Node.js (a JavaScript runtime environment) was released and allows you to build servers in JavaScript. JavaScript code libraries like Mustache.js and Handlebars.js have made it possible to create awesome JavaScript templates. And frameworks (collections of code libraries) like Ember.js, Angular.js, and Backbone.js are powering the creation of thousands of crazy interactive web applications and have pushed the limits of JavaScript way further than anyone thought it could go.

Reason #3: There’s tons of job growth and high pay for those who know JavaScript.

Still don’t believe me that JavaScript is on fire?? If you’re still on the fence about starting with a language like Python vs JavaScript (or Ruby, or PHP) let’s see if this will convince you:

If you navigate over to job sites like Indeed and Glassdoor, you’ll start to see what having JavaScript skills looks like in the job market:

Currently per Indeed, the average US salary for a JavaScript developer is an insane $110,737 per year!

And, as of this writing, Indeed has 28,636 JavaScript developer jobs posted on their site, while Glassdoor is listing 21,074. That’s a LOT of opportunity.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that between 2016 and 2026 the job market for web developers in general will have grown by 15 percent (much faster than average for all occupations tracked by the BLS). And, since JavaScript is a core skill for web developers, you’ll have a direct line to those jobs.

In other words. . . JavaScript is where the party is AT.

So go ahead and see what you can start doing with JavaScript yourself! Sites like Codepen are full of project examples that you can use as tutorials, while forums like Stack Overflow and GitHub are always a great place to connect with other coders and learn the ins and outs of JavaScript and other languages.

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Adda Birnir

Adda Birnir is the founder and CEO of Skillcrush. She was named one of 20 Women to Watch in technology by the Columbia Journalism Review, has been featured by Fast Company and the BBC, and serves as a member of the New York City Workforce Development Board. Adda is a graduate of Yale and lives in Queens with her husband and two sons.