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Should Everyone Learn Javascript Deeply?

I’ve been thinking about writing about learning javascript for a while now, but seeing Brad Frost and Heydon Pickerings articles appear over the last couple of weeks has really made me consider my approach to the technology.

Ever since Matt suggested we “learn Javascript deeply” at 2016’s WordCamp US, Javascript has become more prominent in the WordPress community. Clearly Matt was already planning the project that would become Gutenberg and knew that the editor was going to be rebuilt in React.

At the time I felt I had a good grasp of Javascript. I’d written video games in it. I had made countless websites and themes. I know I’m not the best programmer, but I was comfortable. But equally – I guessed Matt was talking about ReactJS.

But, learning React isn’t learning Javascript. React is a library that sits on top of Javascript. Learning React might not be the best thing: 10 years ago learning jQuery was the thing to do, but using it now feels a bit antiquated (despite me building Brush Ninja with it).

I’ve since started learning React, and it’s not as difficult as I had imagined. I feel like I have a good grasp of the basics. I still need to learn Redux, and I need to make more ‘things’ (since that’s the best way to learn). I’m relatively happy with how things are changing. But does that mean everyone is?

A lot of themers (myself included) learnt PHP because they wanted to make more advanced WordPress themes. They learnt jQuery for the same reason. Now they need to learn React to stay ‘relevant’.

I’m just glad the Gutenberg team didn’t go down the CSS in JS route, and stuck with SASS, although that does require a Webpack build step. But, at least that makes it a bit easier for designers to contribute.

This feels like what Heydon and Brad are talking about: the technology is changing and people feel like they are being excluded. I wonder now if this is what a lot of the backlash has been about. Lots of people has spoken out against Gutenberg for various reasons, but I wonder if some of it has been a fear of the unknown. A fear of being locked out by something they don’t understand.

React is a lot to learn. New concepts, new technologies, new thought processes. In particular for designers and implementers, people who focus on CSS with some HTML. I can see how it would feel like your livelihood is being restricted.

I don’t have an answer, but I can say that I sympathise. My concerns with Gutenberg, long term, is that WordPress themes will be irrelevant. I earn a living selling themes, but with WordPress becoming a site builder the number of themes needed will shrink. If everyone is doing the layout themselves then there will be no need for me to do that in the templates.

So, I am learning React, because then I might still have some relevant skills than can help me. But it’s taking time, which isn’t a luxury everyone has.

I don’t know; I just find these discussions really interesting. Especially since similar things are happening in the wider web development community. And the fact that other people share my concerns, and worry about falling behind and gatekeeping, is a relief.

This post first appeared in MasterWP, a weekly newsletter for WordPress professionals.

Ben View All

Ben is a lifelong Nintendo fan who also likes to build websites, and develop games. He also buys way too much Lego.

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