Reporting in From the JavaScript Rabbit Hole!

It’s been dead on my site, and work has mostly been at a standstill. In fact, I doubt hardly anyone will even read this for some time. And while that is all expected at this point, it still stings a bit! However… this was all 100% necessary. Let me explain.

My WordPress and CakePHP “Bubble”

The world of web design and development has been making huge leaps and bounds, and I certainly wasn’t paying much attention to it. I was feeling safe and secure in my own little WordPress and CakePHP bubble for several years, and then in early 2015 I (unexpectedly) took several months off to help my dad while he was battling cancer… and then a little more time to mentally recover from that experience. (Cancer is a hideous disease.) Finally, in late 2016 I tried to re-enter the work world and get my business going full-time again – but I was obviously not in much demand anymore. Not only had I lost connections due to being away for so long, there were several big technology changes staring me in the face:

  • The increased growth and adoption of Node.js had brought a new player into the mix: mainstream usage of JavaScript on the backend (server side) of sites/apps.
  • NPM had exploded with tons of useful and powerful new JavaScript packages/libraries… some authored by familiar names from my old days hacking away at MooTools and jQuery.
  • While revisiting all of my favorite web design and web development ‘hubs’, I quickly noticed that they were constantly buzzing about JavaScript… and were full of foreign terms to me like MongoDB, React, Express, Babel, and ES6 syntax. (“What in the world is ANY of this stuff?”, I thought.)
  • Learning that Google had refactored how it indexes and ranks sites… and how speed is now a huge factor with page ranking – much more than ever before.

I quickly (and painfully) realized that my skill set had become quite outdated over the past few years… so I started doing some research. I may be an “old dog” in this profession at 40 years old, but I am far too young to admit defeat yet – and I still love to learn new things.

JavaScript, It’s Friggin’ Everywhere!

In a nutshell, this is what I discovered. JavaScript-based sites and apps have obviously become the new “thing”… and PHP has been proportionally losing ground to it. Several well documented and powerful JavaScript front-end libraries/frameworks like React (created by Facebook), Vue, and Angular (created by Google) have surged into mainstream usage. They’re fast, lean, have TONS of great documentation, and have extremely active developer communities. Combined with the fact that we can now do entire backends using JavaScript, and the question for me stopped being “Why JavaScript?”, and rapidly switched to “Why NOT JavaScript?”

Seriously… why build an app/website using 2, 3, or sometimes 4 (or more) different languages when I can construct it all with some different flavors of JavaScript, and with tons of useful & well-documented libraries available to me? (And to be clear, I’m not inferring that PHP is dying – but it is certainly shrinking proportionally to the growth/adoption of JavaScript-based technologies.) Maybe it’s the old ActionScript developer in me… but the notion of using JavaScript for everything is immensely appealing!

Also… there is the rise of IoT, a.k.a. the Internet of Things! We can now speak to a little hockey puck-sized device in our homes, and it turns our lights on/off, changes Spotify songs, tells us what is on TV, locks the doors, makes meal suggestions, and much more. The internet is becoming integrated with everyday household appliances, instead of being limited to just PCs and mobile devices. This technology is still in its infancy… but it will ultimately grow to change everything about our daily lives. And the kicker? PHP isn’t really used for coding any of that stuff… but often JavaScript is! I very much hope to be programming some of these things soon… in some capacity, great or small.

Back To Web Developer ‘School’

No, not that kind of school! In my last post… I wrote that I was going “down the Javascript rabbit hole” – and I wasn’t kidding. I have basically shut myself away in my office since that post, 6-7 days a week, learning like mad and taking on no new work. Let’s call it… the StoutLabs Coding Bootcamp. No… “The StoutLabs Code Dungeon” is far more accurate!

It did not take long before one thing was clear: WordPress will no longer be my automatic “go-to” solution for nearly any project ever again… since many new and faster/lighter options are available, and especially since loading times are such a high priority. Things like JAMstack sites and the resurrection of (much evolved) static sites clearly reveal WordPress to be what it actually is: a slow, bloated behemoth. I’ve actually known that for years, but I ran with it due to the incredibly high adoption rates it has held. It was a nice bandwagon to ride on, but I’m extremely happy to be moving away from it! (And no, I’m not saying that WordPress is going anywhere anytime soon! I’m just not letting it be my focus any longer… and I’m evolving beyond it.)

Having said that, let’s talk about all the fun stuff I’ve been learning instead! I’ll definitely go into more detail in later posts, but I want to share a quick overview before ending this post. This is not an all-inclusive list, but some of the major technologies I’ve been studying include:

  • Node.js
  • Express.js
  • React.js (and Redux)
  • MongoDB
  • Google Firebase
  • OAuth flows
  • Stripe payments API
  • RESTful API usage and creation
  • GraphQL
  • Setting up Linux webservers on the cloud from scratch, with Nginx and SSL (Digital Ocean)
  • Becoming MUCH more comfortable with the command line (Windows and Linux)
  • Heroku deployments
  • Several modern CSS and JS libraries that are much smaller/lighter than things like Bootstrap and jQuery
  • Several fun and interesting APIs
  • Twitch and Reddit “Bot” scripting
  • Dabbling with blockchain programming and smart contracts (solidity)
  • Dabbling with Python, which I am growing fond of
  • Dabbling with AI and machine learning… which I find extremely interesting, and hope to dive deeper into soon!

Final Thoughts

I’m still deep in learning mode over here, but I felt the need to check in and write an update. There will be several posts coming soon, further detailing my learning adventures these past few months. Will all of this eventually land me some new work, perhaps even on something interesting/fun? I don’t know… but the potential is very exciting to me! Stay tuned…

And one last thing: if you’ve got an interesting project idea and want to discuss it with me – please drop me a line! I’ll likely be doing several discounted projects with these new skills in order to build a brand new portfolio up as quickly as possible…

Cover photo by Irvan Smith on Unsplash

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