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My journey of becoming a Full Stack Developer

Javascript, Typescript, NodeJS, Babel and Webpack are taking the world by storm. In this article I share my journey from being a traditional developer to becoming a full stack developer

I’ve been developing code professionally for almost 30 years. Back in the day it was COBOL on AS/400, then RPG and RPG/ILE on AS/400. Around 1998 I discovered Java 1.0 as a way to create Applets in Web pages and later, as a server side language. I fell in love with the language and I learnt it really well, from client side, to server side. I can say that Java really changed my life, allowing me to find a job in the UK as a professional developer. Since then, I started leading teams of Java developers and I entered the banking world, leading teams of Java developers at first, coaching people in working with an agile mindset, leading DevOps and testing automation strategy after that and finally, a few years back, entering an Architecture role which saw me leading the API, Integration and Microservices Practice for the bank I’m working for now. Although I often changed path during my career, I’ve never stopped writing code.

Back in my golden Java days (2004-2017), for me Java was the best language there was. The introduction of the Spring framework and Spring Boot after that, gave developers the power to build any application of any kind, whether on the client side, managing Web requests and APIs, or on the server side, allowing easy integration with databases and middleware technologies alike. At that time I looked at Javascript and I dismissed it as a language for Web designer geeks who wanted to create dynamic user experiences. Coming from a Java world, I was looking at similarities between Java and Javascript (I guess the Javascript name led me in that direction) and when I saw that there were none, no types or object oriented concepts, I felt the language was too flaky to even consider and it was a poor marketing attempt to steal the Java scene.

More recently I’ve been wanting to learn and master Serverless applications, based on functions and API Gateways. The first port of call was (and still is) AWS Lambda, AWS GW and its serverless architecture. I then started an AWS Serverless course. Few lessons in, all Lambda functions were written in NodeJS and I realised that I couldn’t fully understand what was being taught because I didn’t know Javascript or Node. Since mastering Serverless architectures is still one of my goals and passions, I’ve decided to learn NodeJS. I then started a course on NodeJS but I realised that to fully grasp the language I needed to learn Javascript. So guess what? I’ve enrolled on a Javascript course. The course was extremely good. I actually Tweeted about it.

The course showed me how beautiful Javascript was and towards the end it introduced Babel (a Javascript compiler which compiles modern language constructs into strict, backwards compatible Javascript) and Webpack, a packaging tool which creates bundles that can be used in production applications. The course showed me how the combination of Javascript, Babel and Webpack would enable the creation of modules. I could keep my code organised in small modules and import them where I needed them. It blew my mind.

As I was learning the language I fell in love with it. I found it elegant and powerful. I could use Object Oriented features, like classes and inheritance. Arrow functions are beautiful and fun, looping through collections of any sort is elegant and easy. I learnt async and await constructs, Promises, etc. I couldn’t see any of the limits I had seen few years back. I guess ECMAScript 6 (the basis for modern Javascript) did really change things.

Once I finished the course, I was ready for NodeJS. So I continued from where I left off and now I could follow the course as a breeze, so I entered the magic world of NodeJS.

Although both Javascript and NodeJS run on Google V8 engine at present and both use Javascript as the basis of their language, Javascript is really intended for Web development, while NodeJS for backend development. For example Javascript can access the document object to manipulate the DOM (a fundamental capability to create modern and dynamic web applications, even more so with serverless architectures) which NodeJS can’t, and NodeJS can access the filesystem which Javascript can’t. However what really opened a new world of opportunities for me was that now, with a single language, which was elegant and fun I could write full stack applications. The combination of Javascript, NodeJS, Babel and Webpack opened the doors to building end-to-end, professional applications.

The NodeJS course was brilliant and the instructor is, as of today, the best instructor I’ve come across in video courses. His name is Andrew J Mead and if you’re thinking of mastering Javascript or NodeJS, I strongly recommend enrolling on his courses, available both on O’Reilly and Udemy. I’ve tweeted about this course too:

This course will not only teach you NodeJS, but also how to build REST APIs, authentication with JWT tokens, asynchronous programming, best practices, connecting to MongoDB, testing automation with Jest and much more. A real gem.

In the meantime, one of my colleagues created an API Automated Governance engine as an Inner Source project. It was written in NodeJS. Since automated API governance is really important to us and close to my heart I wanted to help and contribute.

After only a couple of months since learning both Javascript and NodeJS I was finally able to contribute to our Inner Source project. In a couple of weeks I became a key contributor and thanks to what I’ve learnt, I was able to change the frontend to Bootstrap 4 (oh did I mention that I finished a Bootstrap 4 course as well?) for the static content, using Javascript to fill the dynamic parts of the page, while at the same time reorganising the NodeJS code so that it could be tested and it could scale easily, as more code is being added. This really showed me the power of learning and how learning new skills can really change one’s life and the life of others around us.

Any NodeJS course will introduce you to either Yarn or NPM, the latter being the more modern version of the former and currently the de-facto standard for NodeJS modules. NPM is beautiful. It’s to NodeJS what Maven Central is for Maven applications with the difference that it has more of an open source approach and there seems to be a library for everything. By default one has free access to all public modules but it’s possible to have a paid subscription to use and publish private packages and to set up organisations. NPM looks like the future for housing modules as Javascript / Typescript emerge as the dominant languages. NPM is now part of the GitHub family and GitHub has started doing some pretty cool things with it, like automatically scanning checked in code for vulnerabilities. Recently I checked in some GraphQL code based on some older libraries and GitHub not only sent me an email with a warning, but it automatically issued a PR (Pull Request) for my code to fix the security vulnerabilities. I mean, how cool is that?

My suggestions for your journey to Javascript and full stack development

  • Learn Javascript well. Either the course I mention above or the courses from Andrew J Mead
  • Learn Babel and Webpack
  • Learn NodeJS
  • Learn how to build REST and GraphQL APIs
  • Learn Typescript (a superset of Javascript which adds some syntactic constructs and, if wanted, type safety) and which Babel can compile in POJS (Plain Old Javascript)
  • Learn Bootstrap (the latest version). This course from Brad Traversy should help you
  • Learn SCSS
  • Learn MongoDB, a perfect database to store and manage JSON documents and the perfect database for NodeJS applications

My current feeling…

I believe that the family of Javascript, Typescript, SCSS, Babel, Webpack, NodeJS and Deno will be the stack of the future and that Java is on the sunsetting path. I loved the language, it served us so well for so many years, but there is no comparison with the power of these modern technologies to build modern and responsive applications.

A look ahead…

There’s a new kid on the block: it’s called Deno. Many say that in few years it might replace NodeJS despite the fact that its creator, who incidentally created NodeJS as well, said that currently that’s not the intention. Deno has just released its first 1.0 version. What I’d say is this: watch this space as it promises to stir developers land in the coming months.

By Marco Tedone

I lead the API, Integration and Microservices (AIM) Practice for a world’s leading international bank. My team is in charge of defining and maintaining standards, best practices and accelerators for everything that relates to APIs, Integration and Microservices. We also act as an internal consultancy helping other teams with AIM adoption, architecture reviews, pair programming and technology choices. We are chief problem solvers. I also specialise in building high performing technology teams. I have experience and a passion for Lean Enterprise transformations with the goal of helping organisations to deliver business value faster by looking at product delivery as business value delivery and as a system flow, where BDD, Agile, DevOps, Testing Automation, Portfolio and Budget Management, Regulatory and Compliance, Security and NFRs are all parts of a single journey. My favourite execution tool for Lean Enterprise transformations is the Improvement/Coaching Kata, by Mike Rother. I’m well versed in Followership, Leadership and Coaching.

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