Notes from a JavaScript Learner

Ed Gordon

July 01st, 2014

When I started at Packt, I was an English grad with a passion for working with authors, editorial rule, and really wanted to get to work structuring great learning materials for consumers. I’d edited the largest Chinese-English dictionary ever compiled without speaking a word of Chinese, so what was tech but a means to an end that would allow me to work on my life’s ambition? Fast forward 2 years, and hours of independent research and reading Hacker News, and I’m more or less able to engage in a high level discussion about any technology in the world, from Enterprise class CMIS to big data platforms. I can identify their friends and enemies, who uses what, why they’re used, and what learning materials are available on the market. I can talk in a more nebulous way of their advantages, and how they ”revolutionized” that specific technology type. But, other than hacking CSS in WordPress, I can’t use these technologies. My specialization has always been in research, analysis, and editorial know-how.

In April, after deploying my first WordPress site (exploration-online.com), I decided to change this.

Being pretty taken with Python, and having spent a lot of time researching why it’s awesome (mostly watching Monty Python YouTube clips), I decided to try it out on Codecademy. I loved the straightforward syntax, and was getting pretty handy at the simple things. Then Booleans started (a simple premise), and I realised that Python was far too data intensive. Here’s an example:

· Set bool_two equal to the result of-(-(-(-2))) == -2 and 4 >= 16**0.5

· Set bool_three equal to the result of 19 % 4 != 300 / 10 / 10 and False

This is meant to explain to a beginner how the Boolean operator “and” returns “TRUE” when statements on either side are true. This is a fairly simple thing to get, so I don’t really see why they need to use expressions that I can barely read, let alone compute...

I quickly decided Python wasn’t for me. I jumped ship to JavaScript.

The first thing I realised was that all programming languages are pretty much the same. Variables are more or less the same. Functions do a thing. The syntax changes, but it isn’t like changing from English to Spanish. It’s more like changing from American English to British English. We’re all talking the same, but there are just slightly different rules.

The second thing I realized was that JavaScript is going to be entirely more useful to me in to the future than Python. As the lingua franca of the Internet, and the browser, it’s going to be more and more influential as adoption of browser over native apps increases. I’ve never been a particularly “mathsy” guy, so Python machine learning isn’t something I’m desperate to master. It also means that I can, in the future, work with all the awesome tools that I’ve spent time researching: MongoDB, Express, Angular, Node, and so on.

I bought Head First JavaScript Programming, Eric T. Freeman, Elisabeth Robson, O’Reilly Media, and aside from the 30 different fonts used that are making my head ache, I’m finding the pace and learning narrative far better than various free solutions that I’ve used, and I actually feel I’m starting to progress. I can read things now and hack stuff on W3 schools examples. I still don’t know what things do, but I no longer feel like I’m standing reading a sign in a completely foreign language.

What I’ve found that books are great at is reducing the copy/paste mind-set that creeps in to online learning tools. C/P I think is fine when you actually know what it is you’re copying. To learn something, and be comfortable using it in to the future, I want to be able to say that I can write it when needed.

So far, I’ve learned how to log the entire “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” to the console. I’ve rewritten a 12 line code block to 6 lines (felt like a winner). I’ve made some boilerplate code that I’ve got no doubt I’ll be using for the next dozen years. All in all, it feels like progress. It’s all come from books.

I’ll be updating this series regularly when I’ve dipped my toe into the hundreds of tools that JavaScript supports within the web developer’s workflow, but for now I’m going to crack on with the next chapter.

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