A lot has changed over the past 20 years. 2 decades ago, we were getting spammed with AOL CD’s in our physical mailboxes.  Mobile bag-phones filled up bulky backpacks. You’d have to get off the Internet if someone in your house was expecting a call. So a lot has changed.

We looked back at the last 20 years of web development, and we picked the 14 milestones that had the biggest impact. Let’s get into it.

1997: ECMAScript is standardized.

ECMAScript, the organization, wrote the spec for the programming language JavaScript. Prior to this, “JavaScript” was a quirky programming language that was famously developed in 10 days without a specification.

1999: Microsoft invents Ajax, and it’s totally ignored.

Microsoft invented Ajax, which was the idea of performing an HTTP request within a web browser using JavaScript. At this time, people would laugh at you if you said you only programmed in JavaScript. It made you appear to not know what you were doing.

Nobody knew what Ajax was. It would fly under the radar for a 6 full years before the world caught up.

2001: Douglas Crockford specifies the JSON format

Transferring data across websites and services traditionally was done through:

  • SOAP
  • XML

Plus other much more robust systems. The fringe “JavaScript” programmers didn’t appreciate the robustness of these systems.

2004: Google releases Gmail, which uses this super cool “XML thing” to be wicked responsive.

By “XML thing,” I’m obviously referring to Ajax. Programmers who had scoffed at Javascript began to realize that it had a ton of potential.

Other early notable uses of JavaScript in web UI’s were:

  • Google maps
  • Kayak

Thanks, Google!  

February 2005: YouTube launches.

In 2005, online video was such a foreign concept. This video, a video of a guy at a zoo, was the first video uploaded to YouTube.

This was an enormous step in video becoming a core part of the web.

December 2005: DHH Releases Ruby on Rails, a web framework with a bunch of crazy ideas.

The HTTP specification was developed nearly a decade earlier, but it was largely ignored by web developers. At the time, the norm was to stick only to using GETs and POSTs and come up with all sorts of convoluted ways to transfer data.

Up until this point: it was almost like the world was wearing shirts as pants. You have 2 arms and 2 legs.  You probably could make it work, right. But why? Shirts weren’t intended to be used that way.

In a similar fashion, Ruby on Rails (and DHH) pushed people to use HTTP the way the spec was designed. Still,  it wasn’t just immediately accepted as a good idea.

August 2006: John Resig creates jQuery.

John Resig is known today as one of the most influential developers in recent memory. But back in 2006, he was just a recent college graduate.

Today, 96.4% of websites that use a JavaScript library use JQuery.

June 2007: Apple launches the first generation iPhone.

Smartphones would eventually become the most important piece of technology to the everyday lives of people across the world. Mobile’s impact on the web has been huge.

As people started to view websites on mobile devices more and more, smart web developers needed to start prioritizing the mobile experience of the stuff they were building. This changed everything.

July 2008: Apple releases the App Store.

Third parties could now build native applications and submit them to the App Store.

December 2009: CoffeeScript launches.

CoffeeScript launched as an alternative to JavaScript.  CoffeeScript was one of the earliest examples of transpiling one programming language into the JavaScript language.

This transpiling idea has been used more recently with advancements of JavaScript ahead of web browser support.  

October 2010: BackboneJS

BackboneJS is one of the earliest “JavaScript frameworks” to gain reasonable traction.

Many JavaScript frameworks have come and gone.  

Avalanches of JavaScript frameworks, like KnockoutJS and Sproutcore have been released.  Since then, the frameworks that have stood up to the test of time so far are most notably:

  • AngularJS
  • EmberJS
  • ReactJS

October 2014: HTML5

HTML5 and CSS3 make it possible to do the things that you’ve come to expect from modern web applications.

June 2015: ES6 is standardized

The ECMAScript community agrees on ES6, the next version of JavaScript. This sets forward the next language that the web will use.

I’ve probably missed a ton of milestones from the past 5 or so years.

But the interesting common thread is this:

In the programming community, the ideas that seem wacky at first are typically the ideas that end up being the most useful.

My best bet about where this is all heading…

I wrote a blog post about the technology I’m excited about in the upcoming years. In short: I’m pretty bullish on:

  • ES6
  • ReactJS
  • WebSockets
  • Elixir and Erlang

If you’re just starting to learn to program, don’t be intimidated. I could easily be wrong.

Don’t worry about the amount of hours you’ll need to learn enough programming to land your first job.

And don’t invest too much time and energy into learning the cutting edge stuff first. It’s a much safer and wiser move to learn the fundamentals first.

AuthorKen Mazaika

Ken Mazaika is the CTO and co-founder at Firehose. Previously, he was a tech lead at WHERE.com (acquired by PayPal) and a member of the PayPal/eBay development team in Boston.

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