Why Didn’t I Learn JavaScript in Class?

Every day I go to work, I go excited. Mainly because I love what I do. It still boggles my mind that I get to go to work and write JavaScript code. As a junior front end dev, I’m very far from the best JavaScript guy I know, but I get to sit down at my desk and start typing away. Since I picked up JavaScript a few years ago I’ve prescribed to this thought about the language. There is nothing you can’t do with JavaScript. As the language progresses and as more and more of it is written it gets better and better. It has evolved in to subdivisions like node.js or JS frameworks that make the learning curve high, but rewarding. So, the other day I had to ask myself a simple question. Why wasn’t I taught JavaScript in college?

Is it Just My College?

I am finishing up the Computer Information Systems program at FGCU (in 2 weeks). That may lend itself to why I didn’t learn JavaScript. I only had a few programming classes being in CIS, and they were all Java. So maybe the Software Engineering program had some JavaScript? I asked one of the SE grads at work how much he learned at our Alma Mater. We both recalled a mention of JavaScript in an intro to computer science class, but beyond that neither of us had any formal JavaScript education. Why was this? We both spent multiple classes learning Java, a backend language for server side programming. By nature, however, I’ve always enjoyed the front end of the stack more. We didn’t even formally talk about HTML and CSS in my programming classes until after Java classes and methods. Why were client side languages being ignored?

Is it The Complexity?

To say learning JavaScript is hard is a huge understatement. Some people do pick it up quick, and there are all kinds of proposed fast track programs online meant to accelerate you through the language. However, JavaScript is a big beast. As the language has evolved, we have seen it grow in to somewhat of a beast. There is basic JavaScript, the vanilla if you will, where you create some variables, write some functions, and maybe manipulate the DOM a little. Then there is JQuery, a whole new flavor of JavaScript that adds a layer of complexity and simplicity all at once. There is the node.js movement which has turned JavaScript in to a server side language. There are frameworks like Angular, Aurelia, React, Ember etc. There is TypeScript, and ES next, and package managers, and bundlers, and on and on and on and on. JavaScript seemingly has no end in sight to beginners. But I remember distinctly having a leg up in my first Java courses because I took the JavaScript course on CodeAcademy in my freshman year of college. I understood variables and strings and conditionals and loops. I likened methods to functions, and while not the perfect comparison, it made my learning easier. This leads me to believe that it isn’t the complexity of basic JavaScript.

It’s a Teacher Issue

The heart of the issue of teaching JavaScript in schools deals with how dynamic JS is. Professors teach the Java that, for the most part, has not drastically changed since they themselves wrote Java professionally. However, they don’t have time to both learn the newest JavaScript features and nuances while teaching. How do you write a curriculum around something that changes all the time? Yes, they could teach the basics, but colleges are focused on giving students the tools they need to get a job, and the JavaScript tools change in this industry very often. So naturally, they could just set a Java curriculum and encourage their students to seek out jobs writing Java. Unfortunately, this means that students with the potential to enter the stack on the front end suffer because they don’t learn the skills they need to pursue it. It’s not the professor’s faults. They have amazing knowledge and should continue to teach what they know. However, maybe it’s time to consider the front end of the stack in college curriculum and bring on adjuncts that can teach the latest technologies. This way students are exposed to things like angular, or react, or node.js and can say they have those skills to bring to the workplace. Wouldn’t that be something.

What do you think about JavaScript being taught in colleges? Did you learn JS, or any client side languages, in school? Is it a language that can only be self-taught? Is it too big or dynamic to nail down the JS skill set to teach students? Leave a comment below or let me know wherever you found this link. Thanks for reading and have a great day!

4 comments on “Why Didn’t I Learn JavaScript in Class?”

  • Zach says:

    JS could easily be taught at the basic level, any nuances can be self-taught if the student is self motivated. It’s the same with Java, they only taught basic Java (and honestly not that well), there are a lot of facets to Java that a lot of us don’t even know even if it is becoming increasingly dated.

    I would personally cast my vote for Python to be taught instead, because I think it’s more fun to learn.

    • Ryan says:

      I use JavaScript as a representation of client side languages in general here. Python perplexes me, and I’d love to learn more about it. I agree with you that the Java we got was surface level. At some point it is up to the student to try and learn as much as they can on their own. Thanks for reading!

  • Baptiste says:

    1) Because the bulk of active teachers got their CS education at a time where Java was new and hot (1995-2005). Java was a lot simpler to learn and teach than C, the previous standard in CS curriculums, and was adopted almost everywhere.

    2) Because the importance of the web as a development platform is relatively recent.

    3) Because it takes time to upgrade teacher skills and change a curriculum.

    4) Because JavaScript still has the negative image of a toy language in academia.

    However, things are beginning to change: http://www.stanforddaily.com/2017/02/28/cs-department-updates-introductory-courses/

    PS. I’m a CS teacher myself.

    • Ryan says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read! It’s awesome that you’re a CS teacher and can lend some insight into this issue. I had never considered the perception of JavaScript in academia. I used some JS frameworks to write a couple web apps for class and my teachers referred to my solutions as “hacky”. Hopefully this perception of a language being used on 97% of the web can be overcome. Then again, as you said, the advent of the web is relatively new. According to that article it looks like a new standard may be set soon. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.

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