Should You Learn JavaScript? Advice for Newbie Web Developers

If you want to become a web developer, you’ll be wondering what programming languages to learn.  Do you start with the easiest ones? Or the most useful ones? Both?

With so many options these days, why learn JavaScript?

You’ve no doubt heard that it’s an important web technology, but perhaps you’re not sure if JavaScript is all that relevant these days. With so many frameworks out there providing ready-to-use code, is it really necessary to learn JavaScript from scratch?

In this guide, we’ll explore what JavaScript does and whether or not it’s still useful. We’ll then look at some of the main reasons for learning the language, and consider why it’s necessary to learn plain JavaScript first, before libraries and frameworks.

If you’d like to jump into it, get started learning JavaScript with our free coding short course.

If you want to skip ahead to a certain section, just use the clickable menu below:

  1. What is JavaScript and what does it do?
  2. Is it still worth learning JavaScript in 2024?
  3. Why learn JavaScript?
  4. Why learn vanilla JavaScript first?
  5. What’s the best way to learn JavaScript?

So—should you learn JavaScript? Let’s find out.

1. What is JavaScript and what does it do?

Before you start learning something new, it’s important to understand exactly what it is and what it does. This is especially useful when it comes to mastering a new programming language.

In simple terms, JavaScript is a programming language used to make websites interactive. If you think about the basic makeup of a website, you have HTML, which describes and defines the basic content and structure of the website, then you have CSS, which tells the browser how this HTML content should be displayed—determining things like color and font.

With just HTML and CSS, you have a website that looks good but doesn’t actually do much. JavaScript brings the website to life by adding functionality. It’s is responsible for elements that the user can interact with, such as drop-down menus, modal windows, and contact forms. It is also used to create things like animations, video players, and interactive maps.

Nowadays, JavaScript is an all-purpose programming language—meaning it runs across the entire software stack. The most popular application of it is on the client side (aka frontend), but since Node.js came on the scene, many people run JavaScript on the server side (aka backend) as well.

When used on the client side, JavaScript code is read, interpreted, and executed in the user’s web browser. When used on the server side, it is run on a remote computer. You can learn more about the difference between frontend and backend programming in our guide.

JavaScript isn’t only used to create websites. It can also be used to build browser-based games and, with the help of certain frameworks, mobile apps for different operating systems. The creation of new libraries and frameworks is also making it possible to build backend programs with the language, such as web apps and server apps.

If you’re interested in learning more, we’ve covered more examples of what is JavaScript used for, including code in more depth elsewhere. But now that we know some of the array of uses of this twenty five year-old language, why learn JavaScript right now?

2. Is it still worth learning JavaScript in 2024?

The world of web development is constantly moving. With so many new tools popping up all the time, not to mention the proliferation of generative AI and the programming tools that come with it it can be extremely difficult to know where you should focus your efforts.

As an aspiring developer, you’ll want to make sure that what you’re learning is still relevant in today’s industry.

If you’re having doubts about this language, don’t. It’s important to note that since its creation in 1995 JavaScript is pretty much everywhere on the web—and that’s not likely to change any time soon. According to the 2023 StackOverflow developer survey, it’s the most commonly used programming language for the 11th year in a row.

A glance at the PYPL index and the Tiobe Index show that JavaScript is right up there in terms of popularity and searches by coders.

It’s currently used by 94.5% of all websites and, despite originally being designed as a client-side language, JavaScript has now made its way to the server-side of websites (thanks to Node.js), mobile devices (thanks to React Native and Ionic) and desktop (courtesy of Electron). Package managers like npm make it even more powerful.

As long as people are interacting with the web, you can assume that JS is highly relevant—there’s no doubt that this is a language worth knowing! With that in mind, let’s look at some of the key benefits of becoming a JavaScript expert.

3. Why learn JavaScript?

The most obvious reason for learning JavaScript is if you have hopes of becoming a web developer.

Even if you haven’t got your heart set on a tech career, being proficient in this language will enable you to build websites from scratch—a pretty useful skill to have in today’s job market!

If you do want to become a web developer, here are some of the main reasons why you should learn JavaScript:

JavaScript experts are versatile

JavaScript is an extremely versatile language. Once you’ve mastered it, the possibilities are endless: you can code on the client-side (frontend) using Angular and on the server-side (backend) using Node.js.

You can also develop web, mobile, and desktop apps using React.js, React Native, and Electron, and you can even get involved in machine learning.

If you want to become a frontend developer, JavaScript is a prerequisite. However, that’s not the only career path open to you as a JS expert. Mastering this key programming language could see you go on to work in full-stack development, games development, information security software engineering, machine learning, and artificial intelligence—to name just a few!

Ultimately, if you want any kind of development or engineering career, proficiency in this language is almost a must. So the next step is to check out the range of JavaScript bootcamps out there and find the one which is best suited to your needs!

JavaScript experts are in-demand (and well-paid)

JavaScript is the most popular programming language in the world, so it’s no wonder that it’s one of the most sought-after skills in the web development industry today.

According to the Devskiller IT Skills and Hiring Report 2020, 72% of companies are looking to hire JavaScript experts. Enter the search term “JavaScript” on job site Indeed and you’ll find over 81,000 jobs requiring this skill (in the US). Run the same search on LinkedIn and the results are in excess of 110,000.

At the same time, the global demand for the language seems to outweigh the expertise available on the market. According to this HackerRank report for 2023, JavaScript is the fifth-most popular language that companies look for in a web developer, four times more than its nearest competitor, Bash.

The growing popularity of TypeScript also helps the popularity of JavaScript remain steady, as TypeScript is built on top of it.

Not only are JavaScript experts in demand—they are also well-paid. In the United States, JavaScript developers earn an average yearly base salary of $103,590 per year. We’ve covered this topic in more detail in our JavaScript salary guide, but as you can see, learning this language can really boost your earning potential as a developer.

JavaScript is beginner-friendly

Compared to many other programming languages, JavaScript offers one of the more beginner-friendly entry points into the world of coding.

The great thing about it is that it comes installed on every modern web browser—there’s no need to set up any kind of development environment, which means you can start coding with JavaScript right away!

Another advantage of learning JavaScript as your first programming language is that you get instant feedback; with a minimal amount of code, you’ll immediately see visible results. There’s also a huge JS community on sites like Stack Overflow, so you’ll find plenty of support as you learn.

Not only is it beginner-friendly; it will also set you up with some extremely valuable transferable skills.

JavaScript supports object-oriented, functional, and imperative styles of programming—skills which can be transferred to any new language you might learn later on, such as Python, Java, or C++.

The language provides a crucial introduction to key principles and practices that you’ll take with you throughout your career as a developer.

4. Why learn vanilla JavaScript first?

When deciding whether or not to learn this language, what you’re really asking is whether or not you should learn “vanilla” JavaScript.

Vanilla JavaScript just means the basic language without any libraries or frameworks. Let’s explore what this means in more detail now.

What is meant by vanilla JavaScript, libraries, and frameworks?

If you research the term “vanilla JavaScript”, you might run into some confusion; however, all you need to know is that vanilla JavaScript is used to refer to the native, standards-based, non-extended version.

There’s no difference between vanilla JavaScript and JavaScript—it’s just there to emphasize the usage of plain JavaScript without the use of libraries and frameworks.

So what are libraries and frameworks?

JavaScript libraries and frameworks both contain sets of prewritten, ready-to-use code—but they’re not the same thing.

You can think of a framework as your blueprint for building a website: it gives you a structure to work from, and contains ready-made components and tools that help you to build certain elements much quicker than if you were to code them from scratch. Some popular JavaScript frameworks include Angular, Ember, and Vue.

Read more: 8 of the Best JavaScript Frameworks for Beginners

Frameworks also contain libraries. Libraries are smaller than frameworks, and tend to be used for more specific cases. A JavaScript library contains sets of code which can be called upon to implement certain functions and features.

Let’s imagine you want to code a particular element into your website. You could write, say, ten lines of JavaScript from scratch—or you could take the condensed, ready-made version from your chosen library. Some examples of JavaScript libraries include jQuery, Lodash, and Underscore.

The easiest way to understand how frameworks and libraries work together is to imagine you are building a house. The framework provides the foundation and the structure, while the library enables you to add in ready-made components (like furniture) rather than building your own from scratch.

You can learn more about the relationship between languages and libraries in this post explaining the main differences between JavaScript and jQuery. For now, let’s go back to our original question: How important is it to learn vanilla JavaScript?

Should you learn vanilla JavaScript first?

When it comes to learning the language, it can be tempting to skip ahead to those time-saving frameworks and libraries we just talked about—and many developers do. However, there are many compelling arguments for learning plain JavaScript first.

While JavaScript frameworks may help you get the job done quicker, there’s only so far you can go if you don’t understand the core concepts behind these frameworks. Frontend developer Abhishek Nagekar describes how not learning vanilla JavaScript came back to bite him when he started learning the JavaScript frameworks Node and Express:

“As I went to write more and more code in Node and Express, I began to get stuck at even the tiniest problems. Suddenly, I was surrounded with words like callbacks, closures, event loop and prototype. It felt like I got a reintroduction to JavaScript, but this time, it was not a toddler playing in its cradle, it was something of a mysterious monster, challenging me on every other step for not having taken it seriously.”

If you want to become a developer who can innovate, not just execute, you need to understand the underlying principles of the web—not just the shortcuts. This means learning vanilla JavaScript before you move on to frameworks. In fact, understanding plain JavaScript will help you later on when it comes to deciding whether to use a framework for a certain project, and if so, which framework to use.

Ultimately, if you want to work as a web developer, it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter this web development language at almost every turn. Learning plain JavaScript first will make you a versatile engineer who can work on both the frontend and the backend, and it’ll equip you to solve complex problems independently—a key skill in the industry.

5. What is the best way to start learning JavaScript?

So: if you want to become any kind of web developer, you absolutely need to learn this language—and you should start with plain old vanilla JavaScript first.

If you’re to work out how long to give to get up to speed on the language, senior developer Marven shows you how long it should take to pick up JavaScript.

The best way to start learning JavaScript is to get hands-on. Once you’ve read up on what the language is and how it works, give it a go in your browser. If you’re using Google Chrome, just click “View” then select “Developer” from the drop-down menu. From there, select “JavaScript Console” and you’re good to go!

As with most things, there are plenty of good resources on the web for teaching yourself JavaScript. However, if you want a more structured approach, consider a mentored web development course.

Whichever route you take, make sure you spend enough time learning all the basics. Once you know JavaScript inside out, you’re well-equipped to tackle the more complex languages of the web, as well as to show the benefits to the next person who asks themselves why learn JavaScript when there are other coding options out there.

Further reading

As one of the most powerful web development languages out there, the future for JavaScript is bright. Along with Python for web development, expect budding coders to be starting out by learning these for many more years to come.

If you’d like to learn more about forging a career in web development or just what’s going on in the coding world at the moment, check out the following articles:

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