7 Reasons Business Professionals Should Learn JavaScript

Are you a business professional who uses the Internet to perform research, use web-based business software, manage your customers, prepare reports or analyze data?

Then you should learn JavaScript.

JavaScript used to be just for geeks. But increasingly JavaScript is becoming the lingua franca of the web. The skill of writing JavaScript lies where typing was in the 80s. It’s not required yet, but it gives you a competitive advantage.

JavaScript can help you:

  1. Add functionality to your spreadsheets
  2. Customize your web-based business software
  3. Automate your Windows applications
  4. Enhance your desktop
  5. Tailor your browsing experience
  6. Build database reports
  7. Visualize your data

Marc Andreessen wrote a recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Why Software Is Eating the World. While he focuses on software companies, software inside companies, particularly simple scripts, is having the same dramatic impact.

But isn’t programming hard?

Not JavaScript. Visit Codecademy for online, interactive lessons designed for non-programmers. You can learn the basics in a few hours.

More importantly, you don’t have to become an expert. Start learning just enough so you can customize other people’s scripts. The benefits? Read on.

1. Add functionality to your spreadsheets

Use JavaScript to write functions in Google Spreadsheet. Still on Microsoft Office? For Office 15, Microsoft may be adding support for JavaScript. And for those who have a geek to install it, XLLoop supports custom JavaScript functions in Excel today.

Even if you mostly use Microsoft Office, Google Spreadsheet’s ability to import and manipulate data from web services gives you powerful tools to analyze public and private data. See my post on open APIs for examples.

Or use ExcelEverywhere to convert calculators and forms built in Excel into JavaScript-enabled HTML forms. Speaking of forms, Google Spreadsheet let’s you build interactive forms with mail merge, workflows and alerts using JavaScript.

2. Customize your web-based business software

Increasingly web software relies on JavaScript to allow you to customize it’s operations.

Most web customer relationship management software can be customized using JavaScript. In Salesforce.com you can add custom JavaScript buttons to perform new operations or force dashboards to automatically refresh. In Microsoft Dynamics CRM, you can customize forms, format telephone numbers and more. Once you’ve learned JavaScript, check out the Microsoft Dynamics CRM JavaScript Cheat Sheet. Siebel CRM and Sugar CRM also provide JavaScript customization.

NetSuite provides extensive customization using JavaScript, including allowing you to define business rules, create calculated fields or automate workflows. Intuit’s QuickBase allows you to manipulate database records using JavaScript.

Mashup servers like Lotus Mashups, Presto and WSO2 allow you to automate business process, link together web applications and custom dashboards using JavaScript. Or you can customize the TargetProcess project management software with JavaScript.

Create custom geographic maps with ArcGIS or customize Google Maps, again with JavaScript. Or add functionality to Visio diagrams in SharePoint using JavaScript. In fact, there’s entire web sites on how you can customize SharePoint with JavaScript.

3. Automate your Windows applications

Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign all use JavaScript to automate repetitive tasks and add new functionality. Check out the many tutorials and script samples that can show you how.

Adobe Acrobat has extensive support for JavaScript to customize PDFs and automate operations, including form validation and importing and exporting data to and from Excel.

On Windows, you can use use Windows Script Host with JScript, a variant of JavaScript, to manipulate files and automate programs like Word, or create macros for any program. You can use JSDB to extract data from Outlook, read text files aloud, query databases and moreJDSB can be installed on Mac and Linux machines too.

On Mac OS X, you can use the jsc utility to automate your system using JavaScript or install JavaScript OSA to use JavaScript instead of AppleScript to control your Mac.

4. Enhance your desktop

Use JavaScript to build or customize Google Widgets, Apple Dashboard Widgets, Microsoft Gadgets or Yahoo Widgets, mini-applications for your desktop. Search for existing widgets and then modify their code.

5. Tailor your browsing experience

The Greasemonkey plugin on Firefox, the JavaScript Extension functionality of Chrome and the User JavaScript functionality of Opera allow you to customize your browsing experience by installing or customizing scripts. Visit UserScripts.org to browse thousands of scripts you can install. You can also browse by tag or search by keyword.

For instance, I hate that top frame that LinkedIn adds when I read news articles linked from their site. No problem. The “LinkedIn news – top frame remover” script removes this for me.

To get started, watch Start Using Greasemonkey in Under 5 Minutes. If you use social media extensively, check out Greasemonkey Scripts For the Social Media Addict.

If you use Internet Explorer, try the Trixie or IE7Pro add-ons to install user scripts. If on a Mac and using Safari, you can install SIMBL and GreaseKit, a SIMBL plugin, to get the same functionality.

6.  Build database reports

In IBM Cognos, you can use JavaScript to access real-time data, modify prompts and embed Google Maps. To get started, read IBM Cognos and JavaScript. In BIRT , you can use JavaScript to add calculated fields, insert business logic and customize reports. Oracle’s Hyperion allows you to create interactive reports with JavaScript.

Newer NoSQL databases such as CouchDB, MongoDB and Riak make extensive use of JavaScript for querying and administration.

7. Visualize your data

JavaScript visualization libraries like d3 and JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit allow you to import and visualize your data. While currently these libraries require stronger JavaScript skills, over time they’ll become easier for the average business user to use and customize.

Convinced yet?

Here’s an answer for you. Visit ShouldILearnJavaScript.com.

Again, go visit Codecademy for online, interactive lessons designed for non-programmers. Once you have the basics down, use the Mozilla JavaScript Guide as a reference. Then go and read JavaScript: The Good Parts to learn the best practices in writing JavaScript.

Finally, practice. Find scripts that you find useful and read their code. Start editing scripts, moving on to combining scripts together. In no time you’ll be writing scripts from scratch.

Did you go through the Codecademy tutorial? What did you think? What scripts have you written that have improved your work?

[Note: I don’t have any affiliation with Codecademy. The ease of their approach impressed me, so I’ve been recommending it to others. Though since I already know JavaScript, I can’t evaluate it’s effectiveness. I really do want to hear your feedback so I know whether to keep recommending the site. Thanks.  – Trevor]

1 comment

  1. Matt says:

    I just had a whiz through the Codeacademy stuff and thought it was pretty good. I’m experienced in VB/VBA and found it very easy to follow and got through the lessons without any trouble. Not too sure how easy it would be for complete beginners however, as there seemed to be some bits missing in the explanations of how the code is structured and why.


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