Being a 15 year old JavaScript hack isn't necessarily a bad thing. If the Internet craze has taught us anything, it's that a age, gender, race and creed truly mean nothing (at least, I hope we've learned this). Never before has the world been so open to skilled youth with a thirst for knowledge and success to get a good share of both. The trick is simple and really involves just one key element - at all costs, avoid stagnancy.

Stagnancy is a very common and very simple trap, especially for kids in rural or suburban areas where they don't have much competition at any level to achieve technologically. In my town of three thousand, there are a handful of tech inclined kids, some of whom I've hired to try and help grow (and because they make great employees!) And among adults, those with skills all work in IT for the local companies. As far as Internet development goes, there is zilch, especially back in '94 when I expanded my father's communications consulting firm into the digital market (from print and video it was logical), and our only viable competition was the ever popular niece or nephew, the 15 year old JavaScript hack.

I was 15 at the time. What made me different? I was brought up in the family business, and understood more than HTML and FTP. 70% of work in this business is NOT design. My Internet knowledge merged with the processes and work ethic my father had developed in the previous five years of the business, and that made all the difference. Starting with our first Internet project, our focus was always on perfection in the client's eyes, quality work and quality support. I've never stopped learning - new technologies, new procedures, new services.

So my point is this: don't let yourself think you're professional, let your work speak for you. Some stories float around about millionaires who never went to college. Try that if you like, but don't ever ignore the whole package in this business. Learn how to work with a client, learn how to push yourself at any level of adeptness, never think in terms of good enough. Never let success go to your head. And never, ever design crap - digital graphic design is every bit as demanding as it is for print and more so, and requires study, practice, time and passion.

If I can give a 15 year old JavaScript hack one piece of hard advice, it's be this: review everything you do, even if it's just for yourself (like your homepage of your quake 3 clan page or whatever) once a month with a pen and a pad of paper in light of what new things you've learned or what new concepts you've considered, keep all your notes, and review them for changes. Watching yourself grow in skill and knowledge will allow you to keep perspective, help you see what more you should do, and motivate you to be better.

Grow Up.

No, really. It's not just you'll be a 16 year old JavaScript hack. The JavaScript world is tiny. So is the whole HTML / XML / Java applets / Web services world. Not that you can't spend your entire life there (and have the appropriate amount of fun). It's just you need some perspective.

Things were being done with computers before the first httpd was run. A great deal of them were very clever. Most of them are still relevant today, if you know of them, if you know enough of their background to appreciate them, and if you know enough of the fields they came from to understand them.

When I was a wee lad, "everybody" was mucking around with home computers. 16 bit machines were just around the corner. They were going to crush the minicomputers; VMS was slowly but steadily extinguishing UNIX. Oh, and the future of professional programming was in Ada.

So how come so many of us old 8 bitters are "still" (after nigh on 20 years) computing? It's not our ninja-like skillz with BASIC which kept us here. It's not zealous study of 6502 and Z80 (and 8080/8085) opcodes. Those are irrelevant today. But the principles behind them aren't. You want to understand the principles, and apply them on JavaScript or whatever the flavour du jour is.

So don't stick just to Javascript and the rest of the Web. It isn't all there. Educate yourself. Learn about other fields of computing and Computer Science. Give yourself a broad base. Learn several different programming languages. At least one of C, C++ and Java, maybe Perl, Python or Ruby, and at least one "crazy" language: OCaml, Haskell, Forth or the like.

Who knows? You might find something else you like doing. Or you might decide that the Web really is the best. But at least you'll know enough to bring new ideas to your field. You'll have an easier time seeing others' new ideas in their context (and seeing if they're really new!).

Knowledge is Power (no, really).

The bottom line is this. If you're 15 years old and hacking any kind of code (yes, Javascript counts), then you're probably in pretty good shape for the future. There's no shame in being a 15-year-old hack, so long as you develop at least a few more tricks before you turn 65. At that point you've missed the boat and death will catch up before you do. So for all the 15-year-old javascript hacks, I present:

How not to become a 50 year old JavaScript hack.

JavaScript is fun. It's a very effective gateway drug for web development. Not quite so much as Flash, but definitely more than CSS. For the type of projects 15 year olds typically do, JavaScript can provide a lot of bang for the buck. Run with it! Learn how to make it work across browsers and platforms, or at least on Mozilla. Implement every half-baked idea that comes into your head. Push the envelope!

Along the way you may find that you have more than a passing interest in the Web. Branch out from JavaScript and slapdash HTML into full W3C-inspired creation. Start with the requisite web technologies like CSS and XHTML, but don't stop there. Become a Photoshop expert, learn how to configure Apache, and study a good server-side language. Get into the world of XML and web services. Build Flash animations if that sort of thing appeals to you.

Once you have a little perspective, the true power of JavaScript becomes apparent. It's not in the gawdy DHTML rollover animation madness of yesteryear, or the ill advised attempts to offload server processing to the client. The power of JavaScript is its singular ability to subtly manipulate a web page without a reloading anything from the server. When implemented correctly it need not detract accessibility or provoke epileptic seizures. JavaScript is for the little things that make a website more usable, like pre-populated secondary menus and basic input validation.

See, JavaScript is only a miniscule part of the Web, but the Web is huge and growing fast. With all due respect to the old-timers, there is enough diversity in the Web to keep even the generalest of generalists satisfied for the rest of their life. The Web shares the timeless combination of simplicity and ubiquity that will ensure its survival in one form or another for a very long time to come.

Technologies come and go, but the Web has become more than a simple protocol and markup language. It's an infrastructure; one that is recognized by most of the general public. unlikely, but the evolution of the Web will be incremental and easily followed. Why? Because the anarchic web with it's open protocols and free programs is too big to be accelerated quickly. The end users will demand a smooth transition. Though the Web is still being pioneered, it is already the defacto standard of multimedia publishing. The significance of that fact is easily lost as we take the Web more and more for granted, but for those with interest in these things, many promising careers are on the rise.

The Web has a finger on every area of traditional computer science along with heavy doses of communication and graphic design mixed in. It bridges the worlds of design-centric QuarkXPress publication, the heavily engineered PC application, and the populous Microsoft Word document. When you combine fields this diverse, you're bound to raise new issues. Usability, interface design, and information architecture are just a few buzzwords that represent huge problem sets in the web development.

Don't come to the web as a designer or a programmer, the results of a singular path are numerous and mediocre. Embrace the new medium for its diversity. Once you look at web development from more than one perspective (eg. technical and visual) you are quickly approaching unexplored territory. Be a pioneer! Be a designer and a programmer! Stick it out and make a name for yourself! The Web is just beginning.

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