Learn JavaScript if you want to land a web development job

Veteran developer Tony Patton lists five reasons why he believes JavaScript is the first language a person should learn if they want a job in web development.

Image: iStock/arhon

The other day I was asked what language a person should learn in order to have the best chance of quickly landing a web development job. My mind travelled back to college where I was introduced to programming via Pascal, Fortran, C, and assembly language, but that was another time with different goals.

The answer was relatively easy to come up with given the current landscape and trends: learn JavaScript. Look around and the once lowly browser scripting language is now everywhere, from the server to the client with more options seemingly available daily.

Humble beginnings

I remember diving into web development years ago and learning HTML and building CGI scripts in Perl. Netscape introduced a scripting language called LiveScript in version 2.0 of its Navigator browser, and the name change to JavaScript came shortly thereafter. It was a cool language, but support was restricted to Netscape's browser as Microsoft added support a year or so later during the browser war years. Its early life was restricted to simple tasks like field validation, but it was a much better option than server-side scripts. JavaScript has evolved into a standard under the ECMAScript name.

JavaScript was a cool language for browser interactions for years, but it gained more acceptance when AJAX burst on the scene and allowed developers to send and receive content to and from a web server without a full-page reload. The next wave could be called the jQuery revolution, as it and other frameworks provided easy-to-use features for building powerful web applications. Even Microsoft jumped on board with its WinJS framework; plus, the Redmond giant chose JavaScript as the platform for building Windows 8 applications.

JavaScript leapt forward when Google included a high-performance JavaScript engine called V8 in its Chrome browser. This advancement was instrumental in the development of a whole new paradigm of JavaScript on the server with Node.js. The adoption of Node.js has been astounding, as well as the creation of a number of JavaScript-based frameworks for building everything from websites to full-featured applications. The final piece is the data, as the JSON standard has emerged as one of the most popular ways to transfer data with full support in most backend data stores.

Momentum continues

There have been many new technologies over the years, with some having short lives while others are still with us (The Evolution of the Web site offers a great timeline of technologies), but a key aspect of JavaScript is that it has been around for approximately two decades. It has steadily matured into the full-featured language available today.

This is a far cry from its beginnings, when learning JavaScript was never proudly displayed on a resume, because it was seen as something real programmers did not bother to master. Now, JavaScript is a keyword most recruiters use when looking to fill positions.

These are the key points as to why I think JavaScript is a great language to start with when you're seeking a web development job.

  1. Low point of entry: JavaScript is relatively easy to learn compared to other languages — you can find a lot of ready-to-use scripts and resources online. In addition, JavaScript can be created with any text editor or various free tools, including Atom, ChromeDev Editor, and jsFiddle.
  2. Cross-platform: JavaScript is supported by all browsers along with the server support via Node.js, and it works on most mobile platforms. A JavaScript skillset can be used to build applications that target most platforms. (Note: JavaScript is not a tool for everything. For instance, a resource-intensive application, such as data analysis, would be better served by another language.)
  3. Established technology: While JavaScript on the server may be a relatively new concept, the core JavaScript language has been around for years, and it has matured over time and is universally accepted as the standard web scripting language.
  4. Springboard: JavaScript plays well with other development platforms, so your JavaScript skills will be needed when or if you ever venture to other environments like Ruby on Rails, ASP.NET, PHP, and so forth. You still need to learn HTML and some CSS to build robust web applications via JavaScript.
  5. Hot technology: The language is established, but the industry is falling over itself to find those with JavaScript knowledge and skills. Take a look at job postings, and you will see the trend.

Not your brother's JavaScript

I once heard JavaScript described as a language that is easy to learn and hard to master. This may be true for a lot of languages, but JavaScript's saturation of the web means a budding developer can quickly copy battle-tested code from other sites, make the necessary tweaks to get it working, and use it without needing to fully understand the code.

JavaScript is now the backbone of the web, so those with an inclination to be a web developer should focus on it as the first language they learn.

Do you agree? If not, what is the first language you think developers who want a job in web development should learn? Tell us in the comments.

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Tony Patton has worn many hats over his 15+ years in the IT industry while witnessing many technologies come and go. He currently focuses on .NET and Web Development while trying to grasp the many facets of supporting such technologies in a productio...

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