Should you learn Java or JavaScript first?

Choosing between learning Java and JavaScript when you are a beginner can feel like a daunting task. Both languages are among the ten most popular programming languages in use today, and for the initiated the names make them hard to tell apart. 

Whether you should earn Java or JavaScript first depends on which area of software development you want to work in. If you create applications and websites that run in the browser learn JavaScript first. But if you want to work on mobile and desktop apps, or focus on back-end development, learn Java first.

So despite their namesake, the two have very few similarities and developers use them to create applications on different platforms.

Let’s first take a look at the differences between the two. Then dive into the different reasons behind learning Java or JavaScript first and the reasons you may opt for one over another. 

Java vs JavaScript


Before deciding whether to learn JavaScript or Java first you need to understand some crucial differences between the two. In reality, you’d rarely see a Java vs JavaScript battle play out because they are just so different. Not only in terms of language structure but the way we use them.

What is JavaScript?

JavaScript first came onto the scene 25 years ago and was developed at Netscape by Brendan Eich. At the time it Java was hot in the programming world so many think the naming convention on javaScript was a marketing ploy by Netscape. It is one of the three core web technologies alongside HTML and CSS.

It is predominantly used to build browser-based web applications and websites. However, with the advent of Electron and Node.js, desktop apps and server service programs are built using JavaScript. JavaScript is the technology responsible for making websites and applications interactive, without it we wouldn’t have the modern web as we see it. Without JavaScrip every website would be a plain HTML document that couldn’t update, modify, or move any information.

JavaScript has its quirks and isn’t what most people coming from object orientated languages expect to encounter. However, it remains the most popular programming language in use today and has improved a lot since its inception. The introduction of ECMAScript 2016 and TypeScript has done wonders for the language. 

What is Java?

Java was released in 1995 and developed at Sun Microsystems. Java can be used to develop applications on a multitude of devices such as desktop and mobile. It is predominately used on back-end development projects and is often used for mobile computing, games, and Android development. 

The barriers to entry to entry for Java are higher than JavaScript because you need a Java virtual machine to run it. It also requires you to install the Java development kit and the Java Runtime Environment, in contrast, JavaScript can be written and viewed immediately via the browser.

Java is a typical class-based object-orientated language that uses a similar syntax to C and C++. Overall, It is a fast and reliable language that remains incredibly popular and in demand. 

Should you learn Java or JavaScript first? 

Stack Overflow Survey

JavaScript is still the most commonly used programming language and has been for close to a decade. Java is also incredibly popular with 35% of developers in the Stack Overflow 2021 survey stating they used it on a daily basis.

So which one should you learn first?

There is no right or wrong answer when deciding on whether to learn Java or JavaScript first. You should learn Java first if you want to become a back-end developer and work on server-side projects or create Andriod or desktop apps. But you should learn JavaScript first if you want to become a front-end developer and create applications that can be used on the web. 

Let’s take a look at when it would be more relevant to learn JavaSript or Java first.

JavaScript

If you want to be a front-end developer and work on web-based projects, learning JavaScript before Java is essential. HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are the three core web technologies. They are used on every single web-based project and are essential learning for anyone wanting to follow this career path. Make sure not to skip HTML and learn JavaScript first, you need the context of HTML and CSS to make JS make sense. 

JavaScript is also rapidly expanding into other areas of development. With Electron you can now build desktop apps, and Node.js allows you to build projects on the server-side. The language itself has also improved immensely over the last ten years. You can even create cross-platform mobile apps with React Native, so JavaScript pretty much covers it all.

 The 2007 quote by Jeff Atwood springs to mind: 

Any application that can be written in JavaScript, will eventually be written in JavaScript.”

There are plenty of JavaScript-based opportunities for those starting, although software development is competitive. JavaScript jobs outnumber Java significantly in most cities and tend to be the technology of choice for a broader range of companies. 

The weakly typed nature of JavaScript and the simple syntax make it an ideal language for someone looking to get started quickly. You only need an IDE like Visual Studio Code to get started, so setup is easy.

Even most back-end developers have to end up learning some JavaScript eventually. Especially now as the language is proliferating with supersets like TypeScript. If you don’t learn it as your first language you are likely going to need it at some point.

Java

Despite being less popular than JavaScript, Java is still a hugely relevant development language in today’s programming world.

If you want to develop desktop applications or Andriod mobile apps then you should learn Java before JavaScript. It is also an ideal choice if you want a career as a back-end developer. 

Most developers who go to university to learn to code will likely start with Java or C#. The class-based object-orientated nature of Java is likely to teach you better programming habits. It has fewer quirks than JavaScript and is strongly typed which is an ideal first language to learn.

The benefit of learning Java is that it is used on a lot of enterprise-scale desktop and mobile applications. It means that you can apply for jobs at corporate banks and other big companies. 

If you want to work on web development, Java is not the best choice of language to learn first. Google discontinued the use of Java applets in the browser a while ago so you can no longer use it in web development.

Do you need to know Java to learn JavaScript?

You do not need to know Java to learn JavaScript. Despite their names, the two languages have very little in common and are used for completely different areas of development. You can learn either language first but learning Java is not a prerequisite to picking up JavaScript.

However, you can pick up basic programming concepts by learning Java which will then help you learn JavaScript after. Your first language is always the most difficult to learn, once you have the concepts down expanding to other languages is far easier. 

JavaScript uses OOP concepts that exist in Java but does not have classes. They both use inheritance and their naming conventions are similar. But other languages have similarities like this, it’s nothing special between these two.

They have no dependence on each other at all. You can be an expert in JavaScript without ever having written a single line of Java. The same is true the other way around. 

The reasons for learning the two languages are completely different. All modern web developers tend to learn JavaScript first and dive into frameworks that are worth learning like React or Vue. The majority of modern tech companies use these in their tech stack so it’s best to follow the jobs and money. As a front-end developer, you won’t expect to know Java if you have learned JavaScript.

Java is slowly dropping in popularity and daily use. However, its widespread use over the last two decades means it will be used for years to come in plenty of legacy systems.

Is Java or JavaScript easier to learn?

JavaScript is easier to learn than Java because you don’t need a specific set of tools to get started. JavaScript is also weakly typed so you can make a few mistakes and the code still runs. You get instant feedback from JavaScript through viewing the code in the browser t but with Java, the process is slightly longer and can make learning more difficult.

With JavaScript, all you need is a text editor and a browser to get going. Once you know the syntax you can easily modify elements on the page with a few lines of JavaScript. Then you can just open your browser and see your handy work. It is incredibly motivating and makes learning JavaScript a less arduous process.

Java needs support from its own ecosystem to run and will require you to install a few things first. You will need to download the JRE ( Java Runtime Environment) and the development kit to get going. It’s not the most difficult process but it certainly makes the learning process slightly more difficult.

Neither Java nor JavaScrip are considered difficult languages for beginners to learn programming. The strongly types nature of Java is likely to catch a lot of newbies out whereas this doesn’t exist in JavaScript. For beginners it will require a steep learning curve, making Java more difficult to learn. 

There are an estimated 12.5 million JavaScript developers worldwide but only around 8 million Java developers. In terms of communities, they are both enormous but JavaScript has the edge.

But what does this mean for learning?

A larger community means there are more people to turn to when you have a problem you can’t solve. There are also more JavaScript resources online. It makes the learning process a lot easier for JavaScript because there is more content and a bigger community.

Conclusion

Learning Java or JavaScript first will depend on the type of career you want to have as a software engineer. Front-end developers should definitely pick up JavaScript first. While back-end of mobile and desktop app developers should go with Java. 

JavaScript is slightly easier to learn than Java and the language is exploding in popularity in recent years. The number of things that can be achieved with JavaScript now makes it a must-learn language for the majority of developers.