The JavaScript Learning Landscape in 2018

Avatar of Jason Rodriguez
Jason Rodriguez on

Raise your hand if this sounds like you:

You’ve been in the tech industry for a number of years, you know HTML and CSS inside-and-out, and you make a good living. But, you have a little voice in the back of your head that keeps whispering, “It’s time for something new, for the next step in your career. You need to learn programming.”

Yep, same here.

I’ve served in a variety of roles in the tech industry for close to a decade. I’ve written a bunch of articles on design, coding, HTML, and CSS. Hell, I’ve even written a few books and spoken at conferences around the world. But there’s still that voice that keeps telling me I need to tackle programming; that I’ll never be fulfilled until I learn how to develop my own ideas and projects from scratch. Being a web guy, the obvious language to learn: JavaScript.

Like a lot of people, though, I’m intimidated by the current JavaScript landscape. With the constant influx of new tools, techniques, and frameworks, it’s hard to figure out where and what to start learning. Still, I need to start somewhere. So I thought a review of learning resources and tools would be a good first step.

The Burden of Information

How about this, does this sound familiar, too?

You’ve attempted to learn programming before with a few different languages. You’ve read books, you’ve subscribed to online courses, and you have a bunch of folders littering Dropbox with half-completed code and copied exercises.


I’ve gotten halfway through The Rails Tutorial and Learn Python The Hard Way. My bookshelf is full of massive tomes on everything from ActionScript to Processing. But nothing ever seems to stick.

I can figure out what a PHP file does and understand a bit of jQuery, but if you asked me to sit down and write the most basic of programs, I’d be hard-pressed to do it. After so many failures, I think I’ve figured out the problem.

Any time I start learning something new, I immerse myself as fully as possible in that topic. I buy books, I watch videos, and I listen to podcasts. It’s the same tactic that a lot of companies push as the best way to learn a new topic, whether it’s programming, cooking, or picking up Mandarin in a weekend. Immersion is a key part of learning, apparently.

But the problem is that people (or at least me) have a threshold for how much information they can process before feeling overwhelmed. I call it the “burden of information.” Information is wonderful, but too much of it weighs down the mind, leaving you burnt out and hopeless, and leading you to give up and feel like a failure.

I don’t want this attempt to be like all the others. I know that I need to immerse myself in JavaScript but I don’t want sink into the quicksand of the JS world only to suffocate myself. So I decided to review the JavaScript learning landscape and pick out a few resources—but not too many—that I can use to finally scratch the programming itch.

I broke resources out into four categories, based around the different ways that I like to learn (and I suspect others like to learn, too). Those categories are: reading, watching, listening, and, most importantly, doing.

Here’s what I found.


My favorite way to learn new things is by reading about them. While that mostly means books, I also love filling up my RSS feed with good blogs and my inbox with great newsletters.


Fortunately for me, there are a ton of acclaimed books about JavaScript. Here are some of the most recommended:

When I was attempting to learn Python, my favorite resource was Zed Shaw’s Learn Python The Hard Way. It was a no-BS approach to learning by actually coding. While he has a similar book about JavaScript in the works, it’s not available yet.

The closest I could come to it was Eloquent JavaScript by Marijn Haverbeke. From what I’ve heard, it’s a wonderful introduction to JavaScript and, looking at the contents, it appears to follow a similar approach as Zed’s Hard Way books: starting off with the nuts and bolts of the language and progressively getting more challenging as more advanced concepts and projects are introduced.

All of the other books in my list look excellent but most seem a bit too advanced for where I am right now. The two exceptions are Jon Duckett’s JavaScript and jQuery and Mat Marguis’ JavaScript for Web Designers. I loved Jon’s book on HTML and CSS but don’t feel like the visual approach used in his books will work for more complex topics (at least for me). And Mat’s book looks like it addresses my use case perfectly but seems like it won’t be in-depth enough for longer term learning. Still, as I have most of the other A Book Apart books, I’ll probably supplement Eloquent JavaScript with JavaScript for Web Designers.

I’m sure there are a ton of other fantastic books on JavaScript out there, but those will have to wait until after I finish my chosen book. Remember, I want good information, but not too much of it right away.


Holy crap, there are a ton of blogs out there on JavaScript. It actually makes figuring out which ones are good kind of tricky. I’m open to any suggestions you might have (leave them in the comments!) about who I should follow, but my initial take is that these are a good place to start:

There are a bunch more that I came across but most seem too complex at this point in my learning. Or others belong to individuals that talk mostly about their own projects and less about the basics or the process of learning. I’ve bookmarked all of them, though, to dig into once I’m more up-to-speed.


I’m an unabashed lover of HTML newsletters, as evidenced by my previous writing on the subject. So, naturally, I hunted down a couple to subscribe to:

But I get the sense that there are more out there that I just couldn’t find. I mean, there’s a newsletter for damned near any topic. With JavaScript being so popular, there have to be more than the two newsletters I found above. If you have any tips, send them my way via the comments below.


Another good way to learn is by watching others do the thing you want to do. But this is almost always secondary to me reading to learn. Still, when I get stuck on a topic or want to dig deeper into certain aspects of coding, watching videos will be a good way to do it.

For the most part, there are two categories of videos online: courses and standalone videos (mostly on YouTube). There are a ton of options for both, but these are the best from what I can tell:

I’ve heard amazing things about Wes Bos’ courses, so I’m going to dig into those at some point. The same goes for both The Coding Train and Fun Fun Function. But again, I don’t want to be overwhelmed, so I’m planning on setting all of those aside for after I work my way through *Eloquent JavaScript*.


Podcasts are an excellent way to learn about concepts and immerse yourself in a particular culture without needing to be actively tied to a screen. Basically a good way to keep learning while I get the dishes done or pick up after my kids.

But, like with email newsletters, I found it difficult to track down good JavaScript podcasts. Looking around, it seems like there are a ton out there but most are inactive and outdated. I came up with the list below but I’m hoping that y’all can point out a few more to add to my podcasts feed.


The last, and arguably most important, part of learning JavaScript is the actual doing part: writing code, getting it to work, and repeating.

Like I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve been writing HTML and CSS (and playing around with other technologies) for years, so I’m a bit biased on some of my tools. I mostly work with Sublime Text on my Mac, so I plan on sticking to that for writing code locally. But, as I’ve been working more on my iPad Pro lately, I’d like to augment Sublime Text with a few additional tools for writing and testing code while I’m learning.

The main one will be CodePen. I’ve been a Pro subscriber for a while and find that it’s tremendously useful for writing code no matter what platform I’m using. Since it works in the browser, it’s easy to pop open a pen on my iPad while I’m hanging out at the coffee shop and have a full-fledged JS development environment ready to go. It also has a few features that I’m sure will come in handy at some point: private pens and collections for when I want to keep embarrassing code secret, projects for when I want to work on more substantial stuff and have it hosted somewhere without any pain, and collaboration mode for if I ever need to tap some friends to help me out with some tricky code in realtime.

I looked at other tools like JSFiddle and JSBin, but I’m comfortable in CodePen and their features are killer, so I’m sticking with it.

One other online tool that I plan on using at some point is Glitch. It’s a relatively new tool for writing code and sharing it online and has a wonderfully eclectic community that’s built up around it. While I think most of my coding will be done in CodePen or locally in Sublime Text, I think Glitch will be vital when it comes time to learn about more complex things like interacting with APIs, making weird bots, and testing out some of those scary frameworks.

My Learning Plan

So, taking into account all of the resources above, here’s what I’m planning on doing to learn the basics of JavaScript over the next few months:

  • Work through Eloquent JavaScript
  • Code locally in Sublime Text but primarily online with CodePen
  • Keep up with news via the blogs, newsletters, and podcasts I found
  • Dive into JavaScript 30 and ES6 for Everyone after I’m done with Eloquent JavaScript
  • Start working through the videos and books listed above after I’m done with Wes Bos’ tutorials
  • Build some (hopefully) cool stuff in the process

One of the most important aspects of learning, though, is getting feedback on what you’re actually doing. For that, I’m going to be calling on a few friends and anyone reading this who wants to pitch in.

I’ve set up a new collection on CodePen to house my JavaScript projects throughout the learning process. I’ll keep that collection public so that anyone can see what I’m doing, fork examples, and school me on the best way to do things. If that sounds like your bag, then follow along on CodePen.

Finally, if you have any other resources or strong opinions on the ones I’ve listed above, let me know in the comments below. I’m sure a lot of you have been through a similar learning process and have some amazing tips you can share. I’d love to hear from you, so drop some knowledge right here on CSS-Tricks or email me.