Javascript – The Good Parts

This isn’t going to be a shameless ripoff of Douglas Crockford’s work in the book Javascript – The Good Parts, which used to be a highly recommended book in the Javascript community before ES6 took off. Rather, I’m going to write what are, according to me, the good parts of the Javascript programming language. I’m not keen on making this sound like an endorsement or otherwise. I am more interested in exploring the reasons that make Javascript such a popular language even if not the most loved. Why is it that the language you find at most programming bootcamps is Javascript? In this little post, let’s try to reason that.

The motivation for writing this post came from my company, which is launching a new course that will teach people with no programming experience full stack web development. The course will teach a student all they need to know to write a complete web application, in Javascript. That made me wonder, why teach (just) Javascript? Why not Python, or Ruby, or something even fancier? Following are some of my ideas.

Because ease of learning

Javascript is a high level language, and the learning curve is somewhat flat until you get to the last 20% or so of the language. You don’t need to know a lot of computer science and computer organization to pick something like Javascript or Python. On the contrary, the typical first languages that are taught in colleges (in India), C and C++, require you to understand memory, stacks and heaps, platform that you write code for and so on.

Also, given the event driven nature of the web, Javascript makes a lot of sense when you’re interacting with user actions (Javascript supports event-driven style of programming). It is easy to express intentions in Javascript, and given that it has been around for some time now, most problems that you’d face are already solved somewhere by someone.

Because community and support

Javascript has a huge user base, and I’m not talking about the end users. I’m talking about developers. Many people I know started their careers in software technology with Javascript. There’s good reason for that. One that there’s no shortage of resources on learning Javascript, debugging, utility libraries, UI libraries, testing and frontend frameworks. It is easy for people to pick something up and stay motivated when they have their questions answered easily with google searches, and they find people with whom they can relate the learning process.

Because jobs

It is easy to find jobs that require Javascript, which is something that definitely matters if you’re learning how to write code for getting employed (which many of us are). The salary might not be as high as for some other languages and frameworks, but it would in general be high enough. Also, it is always possible, and much easier, to move in between different tech roles than getting into one in the first place.

Because frontend and backend

If you’ve been programming for some time now, picking a new language isn’t at all difficult, and that’s part of what is expected of us programmers. But for someone who’s just starting out, being able to program an entire application in a single language is a huge plus, as compared to spending a lot more time learning their second language for backend specifically. You can always learn a new language later on specifically for backend or anything else, once you are a decent Javascript developer.

Because JSON

JSON, or Javascript Object Notation, is a format for representing data as key value pairs in a text document (Douglas Crockford, mentioned earlier, is the creator of JSON). As the name suggests, it is the same format that you’d use to represent an Object in Javascript. While JSON is not exclusive to Javascript (since it is a file format), it is well integrated into the Javascript-verse and accepted as the de-facto format of data exchange.

To make things simpler, many NoSQL databases use the same key-value representation which means all of your data, from the database, to backend and eventually the frontend, is in one format. It makes things easy to understand. It shouldn’t then be surprising that many of the bootcamps choose such a NoSQL database to go along with their full stack development course.

Because time-to-productive

If you’ve written code in Java or C++, you know that it takes an awful lot of time to go from a complete programming novice to someone whose software might be useful to others. Compare that with Javascript (or Python). You can start learning it today, and within a week, you’ll have your very own sign up forms and what not. In a couple of months, you’ll be pushing out code of the quality you find in production at most startups (if you’re not sure whether to be happy or sad at that line, be neither. You’ll discover one way or the other).

Because it works (..for now)

And because we do not have an alternative. Javascript is installed universally. You don’t have to ship it with your app. I think that’s a huge point in its favour, and enough reason to learn some Javascript even if one doesn’t plan on writing a lot of it. It is the language of the application layer of the internet. It is far from elegant. But remember this

There are only two kinds of languages: the ones people complain about and the ones nobody uses. – Bjarne Stroustrup

That quote is particularly appealing to me, and not just because I had a mini-crush on Stroustrup ever since I missed his talk back in 2015.

In closing

Javascript can be a very good language to start with. It makes all the more sense if you’re learning to get employed as a developer. I must say that the ecosystem is not the best at this point. There are new libraries and frameworks popping up and fading out every other day, and there are way too many best practices for anything to be seen as a standard. But if you do get started with Javascript, spend some time later in your career figuring out how computers and the internet work. Javascript isn’t going to force you to, but it comes in handy.

If you liked this post, check out 17 tips after a year in Javascript development for exactly what the link title says. Thank you for reading!

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