Jumpstart Your Year With JavaScript

With the start of a new year, many people take the opportunity to start learning new skills. For anyone interested in learning web development or webGIS, JavaScript is the backbone for getting things done. Here’s a guide to get you started!

Chart of the most popular programming languages, as of June 2018. Left side of chart is popularity by number of tags on StackOverflow. Bottom of chart is popularity by number of projects on GitHub. JavasScript is in the top right.
Most popular programming languages – June 2018 – Source

Why JavaScript is Important

If you talk with any of the developers at Geo Jobe, or web developers anywhere, you’ll hear JavaScript mentioned a lot. JavaScript, JavaScript, JavaScript – what’s the big deal? Well, let me let you in on a little not-so-secret: JavaScript makes the web work. Some of the ways it does this include:

Dynamic Elements

Have you ever started typing a value into a form and seen suggestions appear? Have you ever seen part of a web page fade in or out as you scroll, or perhaps it slid onto the screen? If you mistype a password, does the box get highlighted in red? Any time you see an animation or part of a web page change, that’s JavaScript. It listens for users’ actions, then responds with a specific action.

Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design is making sure a website looks good on a variety of different screen sizes and devices. If you’ve ever noticed a website looks a little different on your phone than it does on your laptop, that’s the result of responsive web design. It’s a vital part of the modern web, and JavaScript is what makes it work.

Validating User Input

If you’ve ever formatted a date differently than a form expected or skipped a required field, only to have some feedback telling you to go back and fix that field before you submit, that’s JavaScript. JavaScript can listen for user input and check to make sure input is valid before submitting forms or making calls to a server.

Communicating with Servers

Often, when you query a database for information, JavaScript takes your input and translates it in a way the server can understand. Similarly, when the server responds to a request, JavaScript interprets that data and places it where it needs to go on the web page. This happens any time you use a search engine or when you’re scrolling through products while shopping online.

Man sitting before two monitors and a laptop working on code. Man is looking out the window to the left at a city.

JavaScript and GeoDev

If you want to be a geographic developer (also known as a GeoDev), you need to learn JavaScript. You’ll be pulling data from geodatabases, displaying it in maps and in applications, listening for map clicks or edits, and pushing changes back to those geodatabases. JavaScript is what’s going to let your maps be interactive. It’s how you’re going to know when a user has selected a point or drawn a polygon. It’s what’s going to let you query and filter your data. While there are a number of tools for working with geospatial data on the web, they’re almost exclusively built using JavaScript. Knowing how the language works allows you to learn those tools faster and use them more efficiently. As one of Esri’s GeoDevs, Rene Rubalcava, said, “Be a geodev second and a web developer first.

JavaScript Resources

At this point, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of alright, alright – JavaScript’s important. Tell me how to get started! Well, fear not! There are plenty of resources for learning online, and JavaScript is no different. Below are a number of resources we recommend.

  • Free Code Camp – Learn for free while building a portfolio.
  • Udemy – Lots of different courses. (Bonus – I used this course by Colt Steele to learn some basics while interning at GEO Jobe).
  • GitHub – Keep track of your projects as they evolve and host your code in an environment where it’s easy to get feedback. You can also look at what other developers are doing and learn some by reading their code.
  • StackOverflow – Ask questions and get answers from a community of developers.
  • Mozilla Web Docs – Guides and references for the language, complete with examples.

Need a custom widget or web application, but don’t have the time to learn? Contact us, and we’ll build it for you!

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Courtney Kirkham

Application Developer

Courtney is an enthusiastic and motivated GEODev with a focus on web development. She works as a member of our Professional Services team building custom Web Appbuilder Widgets and stand-alone applications. When not working, Courtney relaxes by gardening, practicing shotokan karate, and playing board games.