Demystifying JavaScript with Todd Motto

Craig Buckler

Todd MottoTodd Motto is helping to demystify some of the misconceptions about how difficult JavaScript really is. Craig spoke to him about his talk coming soon at Future of Web Design.

SITEPOINT (Craig Buckler): Hey Todd. Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

TODD: Hey! I’m Todd, I’m 23, and a JavaScript and HTML5 developer. By day I’m lead front-end engineer at Appsbroker – we’re a Google Enterprise company that specializes in Cloud Platform technology solutions, which means we develop lots of fantastic software. By night, I’m an open source evangelist where I write scripts, utilities, plug-ins, frameworks and boilerplates. I’ve worked for Intel and Rolling Stone magazine during the past year and love teaching others about web and software development.

SITEPOINT: How did you get into conference talking?

TODD: I started doing a few smaller presentations — nothing bigger than a roomful of people — until last year when I flew out to San Francisco for HTML5 Dev Conf. While I was there, I visited a friend at Google who invited me to teach a workshop. I absolutely loved it! I wanted to do more sharing knowledge and teaching when I was contacted by Future Insights to speak at FOWD. I’ve spoken at a few meet-ups and events since last year to a variety of audiences.

SITEPOINT: Your FOWD talk is titled “Demystifying JavaScript: You Don’t Need jQuery”. There’s been a recent up-swell in anti-jQuery sentiment on the web; why do you think that is?

TODD: There has indeed, but unless you’ve a valid reason, anyone preaching “No jQuery” should tread carefully.

I hope my talk excites jQuery and new JavaScript developers into learning some great new things and opens doors they didn’t know were there. I’m looking to show developers the similarities between modern JavaScript APIs and jQuery.

Rather than being anti-jQuery, I want to show developers the alternative options. JavaScript isn’t perfect — there are bugs but, as we learn to combat them, we do our jobs better and get more experience. Sometimes, it’s good to know how to fix something than let a library gloss over the implementation details.

I recently wrote about the topic. It was well received which inspired me to pick it for my FOWD talk.

SITEPOINT: Developers often use jQuery as an unnecessary crutch. Does JavaScript have a reputation for being difficult?

TODD: It definitely does have that reputation and with good reason. Douglas Crockford dubbed it one of the most misunderstood programming languages ever and there are many good and bad parts. It’s taken me great effort to understand JavaScript at the level I do today. It comes from reading books, studying and researching anything I didn’t know. As a front-end developer, I wanted to master the front-end stack.

jQuery will provide a crutch for those who do not want to learn JavaScript beyond a certain level — and that’s OK for them. I used to do the same but it can lead to sticky situations. Some problems can only be solved in JavaScript — not jQuery alone.

SITEPOINT: Is jQuery useful for novice JavaScript developers or can it lead to bad practices?

TODD: jQuery provides great sugar syntax and developers love it. But it does allow us to write terribly verbose and ugly code. I have but, when you begin to learn JavaScript, you uncover the great parts of the language. Some code I was writing in jQuery I’d never do in JavaScript.

SITEPOINT: Do you think developers can drop jQuery completely or are there situations when it’s justified?

TODD: Dropping jQuery altogether is perhaps not always suitable. I’ve written a few JavaScript-only projects with no libraries, the biggest was around 1,000 lines. The point isn’t to use jQuery or not — the point is to not be reliant on jQuery.

jQuery should be used sensibly and I’d encourage developers to look at learning some of the JavaScript equivalents to learn more about what’s happening in jQuery’s methods. In some cases, mixing JavaScript and jQuery is a perfect solution. The more JavaScript you learn, the less you’ll probably want to use jQuery.

SITEPOINT: Can you see a time when the jQuery project is abandoned altogether?

TODD: Maybe. Who knows?! JavaScript is changing rapidly — it’s an exciting time. I love the jQuery project and would hate to see it abandoned but we may reach a point when jQuery is merely providing shorter or alternative wrappers to methods which are almost identical in modern JavaScript. ECMAScript 6 (the latest version of JavaScript) is the biggest change of the language since inception and it’ll be interesting to see how jQuery adapts.

SITEPOINT: Are you looking forward to seeing any other speakers at FOWD?

TODD: I’m looking forward to seeing all the speakers and meeting them in person!

SITEPOINT: Many thanks, Todd.

Todd Motto joins Paul Boag, Peter Gasston, Harry Roberts and other amazing speakers at Future Of Web Design (FOWD) in London from April 7th-9th. Craig will also be there begging for article ideas! A few tickets are still available so don’t delay!