Can you get a job with just JavaScript?

If you know JavaScript, there are plenty of jobs available to youโ€”even if it's your only programming language. The most common role is front-end developer, but increasingly, you can also become a full-stack or back-end developer.

However, you'll want to add some other skills like HTML, CSS, Node.js or databases, depending on your area of focus.

What is JavaScript?

JavaScript (or JS for short) is a programming language best known as a scripting language that runs in web browsers, but it's also used on web servers (via Node.js) and in many other non-browser environments as well.

It's easy to learn, and very widely used today for controlling web page behavior and application logic, which makes it a popular beginner programming language.

It is not to be confused with Java, which is an entirely different programming language (despite the similarity in name).

What jobs can you get with just JavaScript?

Remember I said there are plenty of jobs you can get if JavaScript is your only programming language?

While it's true you don't have to learn another language, you can't just take a beginner JavaScript course and expect to be job-ready. You're talking about becoming a professional web or software developer, and this requires many other skills beyond just knowing a programming languageโ€”JavaScript or otherwise.

Let's take a look at some of the most common roles you can get with just JavaScript, along with the complementary skills you need to learn.

Front-End Developer

Front-end developers are responsible for building the visible, user-facing parts of a website or application. They work closely with designers, taking a visual design and transforming it using code to produce the interface that end users see and interact with in web browsers.

They need to know HTML, CSS and JavaScript. They also frequently use JavaScript libraries or frameworks like jQuery, Angular or React.

It used to be the case that HTML and CSS were enough on their own (no JavaScript required!) but as frameworks like React have gained in popularity, knowing at least some JavaScript has become more of a requirement for front-end developers. Other topics you'll need to learn about for this role are accessibility and performance.

If you enjoy visual work and have an eye for design, this role might be for you.

Front-End Engineer

The line between front-end developer and front-end engineer is often blurred in the industry, but it's useful to know that not all front-end roles are the same.

Front-end engineers also work on the front end of web applications, but this role tends to be less visual, and more focused on the application logic. They might use an existing component library which takes care of all the markup and CSS, or they might not touch this at all, only working on things like fetching and manipulating data, and managing application state.

As such, this is a much more JavaScript-heavy role, and advanced JavaScript skills are necessary. You'll usually be expected to know at least one JavaScript framework (like React or Vue.js), and often an extension of the language like TypeScript. You'll also need to be comfortable using external APIs.

Not all companies make the distinction between front-end development and front-end engineering (the smaller the company, the more likely you are to do both), but if you are less visually skilled or interested, look for a role that's more heavily focused on JavaScript.

Full-Stack Developer

This role involves working on both the front and back end. Can you really do this if you only know JavaScript? Yes! If you find a company with the right tech stack.

Look for companies who use Node.js, which is essentially server-side JavaScript. If you know the JavaScript language already, there are a few extra concepts and frameworks you'll need to learn, but it's still all just JavaScript.

Full-stack development is about breadth of knowledge. You're expected to understand multiple layers of the stack, but not to the same level of expertise as a developer that specializes in one particular area. That said, most full-stack developers do have a slight preference for either front or back-end development.

If you like to be able to do a bit of everything, you'll probably enjoy full-stack development. It's also useful if you ever want to work for a small startup, where wearing multiple hats is often necessary.

Back-End Developer

Back-end developers work only on server-side code. It's not common to find back-end developers who only know JavaScript, but it is possible to find roles focused on Node.js.

You'll need the skills of any other back-end developer: the ability to design and build APIs, deploy services with AWS or similar cloud infrastructure, and have strong database knowledge.

Node.js isn't suitable for every type of application, so you'll need to look for companies that make heavy use of it. It's well suited to data streaming or chat-based applications, but is also often used for simple web back ends serving JSON APIs, or applications using serverless functions.

If you definitely do not like front-end work, it is possible to find a job with only JavaScript, but it's an unusual path. You will likely have an easier time finding a role if you learn a different server-side language like Python or Go as well as JavaScript.

Freelance Web Developer

It's possible to go freelance as any of the types of JavaScript developer mentioned above, but you'll often need more of a generalist skill setโ€”and the ability to jump into many different kinds of projects that may use different tech stacks or conventions than you're used to.

Unless you freelance for modern tech companies, a lot of the technology you run across will likely be less cutting edge. You can definitely get by with a broad front-end or full-stack skill set, but expect to run into older technologies like jQuery (not everywhere keeps up with the latest JavaScript frameworks).

If you want to freelance but offer more than just front-end services, a common request for back-end work is often for WordPress sites, and that means PHP may be a more useful skill to learn than Node.js.

Skills all JavaScript developers need

No matter which path you decide to follow, here are some career skills you'll need in addition to JavaScript:

  • Version control using tools like Git and GitHub: Whether you're working on your own or in a team, you need a way to track the history of your code changes. This lets you keep a record of your progress and revert any mistakes back to a previous working state.
  • How data is passed around the internet via HTTP: If you're building JavaScript applications that use data from external sources, you'll need to understand APIs and how to fetch the data you need. Today, there are several different ways of doing this, but all use the same core underlying technology: HTTP.
  • Testing frameworks like Jest and Cypress: If you write more than a trivial amount of JavaScript, you should be able to write automated tests for it. Useful tests give you confidence that your code does what you think it does without time-consuming manual testing, and protects against future code changes breaking existing features.
  • Knowledge of agile development methodologies: Software development teams need some kind of way to manage projects and predict when they will be able to deliver which features. Agile is one of the most popular ways of doing this today.

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