Is there any value in people who cannot write JavaScript?

I recently had the opportunity to speak at Web Directions Code 2017 over in Melbourne. While there, I was part of a panel with Mark Dalgleish and Glen Maddern (who gave spectacular talks I might add). We’d just finished a set of talks about CSS, and during the panel we got a question along the lines of (paraphrasing): “Is there a place in the industry for people who just write css and html”

To me, this could easily be interpreted as, “Is there any value in people who cannot write JavaScript?”, based on some comments from the audience after, this seemed to be how many understood question.

I want to be very clear and upfront: this is not a CSS vs JS post. If you are looking for another one of those, stop reading this now. This post is not about something being better, it’s about people and expectations.

So, we asked the audience if they hire people who just write CSS and HTML. No-one put their hand up. And I, for one, was disappointed.

I understand the desire to have people who can do a lot of things. What I don’t understand is why it’s okay if you can “just write JS”, but somehow you’re not good enough if you “just write HTML and CSS”.

When every new website on the internet has perfect, semantic, accessible HTML and exceptionally executed, accessible CSS that works on every device and browser, then you can tell me that these languages are not valuable on their own. Until then we need to stop devaluing CSS and HTML.

Just to be clear, I am not putting down JavaScript. I love JavaScript. I love all the awesome things ES6 provides us. It’s also creating very exciting and awesome opportunities in the styling space. If all you do in your job is write JS, that is fantastic and you are awesome, just like all the people that write CSS or have a focus in a particular area like accessibility, SVG, animation etc.

What I am very concerned about is that many still don’t see value in being skilled in CSS & HTML. This attitude is something I just don’t understand. All of us working together provide value in our industry. HTML & CSS are very important pieces of this puzzle, and I (perhaps naively) thought we had evolved to a point where we were starting to appreciate the challenges each of us face in our different areas of expertise. I guess I was wrong because this attitude is still clearly still prevalent.

Of course, there are people who are amazing at a lot of things, and that is totally awesome but just because that works for them, doesn’t mean we should be forcing it on everyone. It’s like “Should designers code” or whatever the phrase of the week is.

You know what the answer to that question is? “If they want to”.

Knowing everything is not always helpful, especially if you only have a surface level knowledge of it. Sometimes it might be completely what you need, and sometimes you might benefit from someone who has dedicated their career to getting an in-depth understanding of a particular thing. This applies to a whole range of things, not just the front end space.

The worst part about pushing the “know everything” mentality is that we end up creating an industry full of professionals suffering from burnout and mental illness. We have people speaking at conferences about wellbeing, imposter syndrome and full stack anxiety, yet despite that, we perpetuate this idea that people have to know everything and be amazing at it.

It’s our own fault that this idea has spread throughout our industry. We are the ones who hire, write job descriptions and set this expectation, and worst of all we allow people to disrespect the work of our colleagues and friends.

But the good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way, we don’t have to keep pushing people to breaking point. We have the power to change things and we can create an industry of people with better mental health, who, instead of being in a constant state of anxiety, channel that energy into creating, collaborating and discovering new ways to solve problems.

Post panel I had many people come up to chat or DM me on Twitter, thanking me for questioning this mentality. We have talented, hard working people out there struggling, stressing out and suffering because we don’t know how to respect someone whose passion and commitment is to CSS and HTML and not JS.

Imagine what the web would be like if we poured our energy into innovation and collaboration, instead of devaluing each others’ work.


TLDR Summary: I love CSS, I love HTML and I love JavaScript. They are all important and all valuable in the front end space. What I don’t love, is the constant infighting and devaluing. Let’s stop that and appreciate all the things. If you want to and have capacity to learn all the things, awesome, but if you don’t that is also okay.


Special thanks to Sandy for editing my post!