The Three Myths About JavaScript Simplicity

There is a perception among many in the software industry that JavaScript is simpler to learn and use than, say, Java. I’ve even heard some say that JavaScript developers are easier to recruit.

While there are many myths about JavaScript that detractors cite as reasons not to use it, there are also at least as many myths propagated by advocates of this technology. These are the most common ones I’ve heard over the years.

1) JavaScript Developers are Easier to Recruit

That only holds true if you are trying to hire a 17 year old who built simple websites out of his mother’s basement. Yes, he knows JavaScript, and yes he’ll take you up on that low ball offer that no experienced developer will accept. Will you get a timely professional result ?

Lisa Eadicicco writing for Business Insider shows that average JavaScript developer salary is right up there along with C++ and Java:

  1. JavaScript – $91,461
  2. C++ – $93,502
  3. JAVA – $94,908

A cursory search of LinkedIn reveals almost 5 million people listing Java as their skill, and less than 3 million who list JavaScript as their skill. By this statistics alone, one is almost twice as likely to recruit a Java developer than they are a JavaScript developer.

2) JavaScript is Easy to Learn

By the law of Turing Equivalency most programming languages are equivalent and if you know one you can learn any other. The complexity is never in the language itself – it is in the frameworks and libraries.

I am writing this post in 2015 and JavaScript has been powering web apps for at least 20 years. One would think that by now handling HTTP and building MVC apps would be part of the platform. Yet, JavaScript leaves much to be desired.

JavaScript, for example, has multiple libraries for HTTP REST requests. In Node.js it is not uncommon to use one library on the server and a totally different one on the client. Consider the multitude of single-page app MVC frameworks – each one has a drastically different philosophy of using it.

The difference between null and undefined and between == and === as well as lack of type safety leave much to be desired. The developer has to constantly keep those nuances in mind, as if they have nothing better to do.

3) Non-Developers Can Learn to Use JavaScript

This argument usually goes along with myth #2. The only advantage JavaScript has over other languages is that the most one needs to get started writing in it is a text editor and a web browser. That is not something to be overlooked — JavaScript really is an easy language to get started in because of that.

More often than not developers will learn the business domain of their apps long before business users will learn how to program. There are languages that business users may be more comfortable writing code in — SQL comes to mind, for instance, and perhaps the data and reporting APIs can and should be built by the business analysts.

So Why JavaScript ?

The points above should not be a reason not to use JavaScript. Reality is that when it comes to building dynamic webapps and microservices there is no choice other than to use it. It is a great tool for rapid prototyping and for building backend services using platforms like AWS Lambda. Despite what I said, it is a great language and has many useful applications — but make no mistake, it is a programming language like any other.