I was asked recently to join the Starter League JavaScript class as a TA. As a graduate of the Starter League Web Development program from a few years ago, I felt honored and validated to come back to the classroom as a teacher and “expert.” While I certainly now know my way around JavaScript, I like everyone else have much to learn. This made me think, when can someone legitimately call himself or herself an expert?

TL;DR: Always and never

There are a lot of definitions for “expert web developer.” All require a person to be constantly learning whether it is completing the 10,000 hour rule or being a jQuery core team member. Web technology changes at a crazy fast pace. One day you’re the top expert in the latest and greatest framework, the next you’re a relic of the past.

To avoid this pitfall, expert web developers must constantly be sharpening their skills. Jakob Jenkov does a great job in outlining a path to expertise that developers must follow:

  1. Learn it
  2. Do it
  3. Discuss it
  4. Teach it

Simple – only four steps. The key is not the number of steps, but rather that these steps are part of a cyclical process. Step four leads right back into step one; always be learning, improving and sharing your knowledge.

Learn it

Focused learning on a particular subject is a must to establish expertise. My focus is JavaScript – jQuery and AngularJS. In-depth knowledge of a particular subject is crucial to refining your expertise. However, expertise must be supplemented with a working knowledge of other areas. In my case, JavaScript’s interaction with HTML and CSS necessitates understanding how each affects the other. Each language must be properly used for its intended purpose.

Do it

Putting your newly minted skills to the test by building is absolutely essential to your learning. My experiences building interfaces for trading platforms and healthcare applications challenged what I knew and forced me to improve as new obstacles arose. Only by “Doing it” can you gain confidence in your skills and knowledge as a developer.

Discuss it

With this confidence, start to give back to the community that provided so much guidance. StackOverflow and Google Groups are a great way to offer your thoughts and improve the community. Identifying helpful resources will be key in teaching others and improving your own skills.

Teach it

Being a teacher is not about having all the answers. You have to be able to troubleshoot a myriad of issues, recognize solution patterns and apply them in new instances. Teaching others is as much about helping others learn as it is about you being able to teach yourself.

Becoming a JavaScript TA has forced me to take my skills to the next level, making me a better overall developer and teacher. Being an “expert” in the classroom is not a validation of my current skills, but rather a challenge to strive to be better. The four steps above lay out the roadmap, it is up to the budding expert to follow them repeatedly. My story with JavaScript is still in its early stages. Teaching has accelerated my learning and shed light on how much there is yet to learn from so many talented peers in the field.

Time to get back to becoming an Expert. Thanks for reading.

Brendan Hennessy

Co Founder & CTO

Never stop building. Brendan manifests this passion, first seen in his love for Legos, by creating and building web products. He relies upon his formal background as an engineer to solve problems. His experience in both front- and back-end development is invaluable to making ideas come to life.

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