Nodevember: Five Observations About the JavaScript Community

Nathan shares five JavaScript takeaways from the fourth annual Nodevember conference.

Following the long Thanksgiving weekend, eight of us Sparkboxers traveled to Nashville for some hot chicken and two full days of JavaScript. This is Nodevember’s fourth year and its growth necessitated changing the venue from Lipscomb University to the larger Vanderbilt University. The conference included many great talks with a variety of speakers from all over. There were experienced presenters and those giving their first tech conference talks, including Tracey Berg-Fulton (married to Sparkboxer Patrick Fulton) who hit a home run with her talk on lessons from being a newbie developer.

While there are plenty of details to share from the conference (some of which you can pick up from the Twitter feed), I wanted to share five general observations about the current state of JavaScript that I took away from the conference.

Javascript in the Browser

Even though the conference has Node in its name, there was very little discussion of this server-side version of JavaScript. While there is plenty going on with JavaScript running on servers, JavaScript is still vastly more popular in the browser. During his “Welcome to the New NPM” talk, Laurie Voss pointed out that the vast majority of NPM users are not writing server-side application but are using NPM packages to build frontend applications or compile client-side JavaScript.

React All the Things

Without a doubt, React is a major force in the JavaScript dev community right now. There were so many talks about React, either directly or indirectly, that the conference could have changed its name to Reactvember (though not quite as pun-y). Thankfully, there were no death matches comparing React to other competing frameworks, but the love for React was overwhelming. One slide from keynoter Ben Ilegbodu (credited to Cory House) summarized some of the less technical considerations making React so popular with both developers and the businesses they work for:

  • Deep commitment by Facebook

  • Dedicated Facebook dev staff

  • Rapid feedback loop

  • Huge ecosystem

  • Simple API

  • Popular

  • Stable

  • Evolving

  • Codemods

  • Developer Tools

  • Browser compatibility

  • Composable with existing apps

Whatever the reasons may be for any particular developer or organization, React is most definitely the JavaScript flavor of the month.

TypeScript Is Taking Over

Do you like yourself some strong types? Well, if you don’t, there are lots of JavaScript devs who do. And not just with Angular, which is well-known for its use of TypeScript. There were plenty of React and Vue.js developers using it as well.

For the uninformed, TypeScript is a superset of JavaScript developed by Microsoft that can be compiled down to plain JavaScript. It offers the option of specifying and enforcing types in our code that can reduce errors and allow our editors and other tools to provide more insight and help us write better code.

Atom Is Out, VS Code Is In

Have you tried Microsoft’s new open-source editor? If you haven’t, you might be the only one. Visual Studio Code (or just VS Code) is taking the JavaScript community by storm. The vast majority of live coding and code examples I saw in presentations were in VS Code. There was even a dedicated session to the editor that was standing room only.

As a long-term WebStorm user, I didn’t find too much in VS Code that was particularly novel, but the big difference is that WebStorm is $129/year and VS Code is $0/year. This fairly new cross-platform IDE is free and open-source with an already rich and quickly growing ecosystem of extensions. Its most touted features are:

  • IntelliSense, which provides smart code-completion

  • Node/JavaScript debugging in-editor

  • Powerful Git integrations

Really, these features are just the tip of the iceberg, and Microsoft seems to be constantly cranking out new features or extensions that add tremendous value to developers.

Microsoft + Open Source + Javascript

One thing you might have noticed about the last two observations about TypeScript and VS Code is that they both come from Microsoft. It’s no secret that, for years, Microsoft has been the frequently-abused tech giant of the web community for all the pain and suffering inflicted by their aging browsers that just wouldn’t die out. But over the last few years, Microsoft has been making tremendous strides to court the web community, especially when it comes to JavaScript and Node.

If you go to any JavaScript conference these days, you’ll find Microsoft folks there speaking or promoting their latest tools and infrastructure products around JavaScript development. The creators of IE6 have made quite the turnaround. Once spurned and derided, Microsoft is now cool again.

If you are writing lots of JavaScript these days, consider checking out future Nodevember conferences. You’ll find lots of great people, enlightening talks, and amazing food, and it will help you keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the JavaScript/Node community.