His first job was writing code for a nuclear power plant. Now @Swizec teaches #D3js and #Reactjs

Hrishi Mittal

Hrishi Mittal

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Swizec Teller is our guest on the newest episode of the Learnetto podcast.

Swizec is a talented and accomplished software engineer, originally from Slovenia, now based in San Francisco.

Now he helps startups, having previously collaborated with MasterCard, Google, and Mashable, among others. A self-proclaimed writing addict, Swizec has published several books including
Data Visualization with d3.js and Why programmers work at night, with tips on work-life balance, productivity, and programming flow.

His latest book is called
React+D3.js in which he teaches how to use React.js with D3.js for building modern interactive data visualizations.

In this interview, we discussed his beginnings as a tech whizzkid, writing about code, coding live, supporting indie tech writers, and using videos as the next hot thing in teaching programming. There was also an unexpected guest on the show!


Hrishi Mittal (HM): Hi Swizec, how are you doing?

Swizec Teller (ST): Hey, thanks for having me! I’m great, how about you?

HM: Yeah, I’m doing great, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.

ST: You too.

HM: Yeah, we’ve known each other for a while, we haven’t spoken in a long time so… So I’m actually quite excited to not only catch up with you but also sort of find out what new things you’ve been working on and help our audience learn more about your work. So, just to get started, would you like to introduce yourself to our audience?

ST: Yeah, so I’m Swizec Teller. I’ve been a programmer since I was 9 and in the past couple of years I have started focusing more on teaching others how to code and how to do interesting things. I’ve worked for the couple of startups and these days I’m also at the startup that just got featured by Apple which was a lot of fun. Outside of that, I’m working on a couple of React books and playing with data visualisation and things like that.

HM: Sounds great! You said you’re working in a startup right now?

ST: Yes!

HM: Do you mind… Can you say what startup that is?

ST: Yeah.  The startup right now is called Yup and what we’re doing is we’re teaching high school kids how to do maths, chemistry, and physics.

HM: Oh nice.

ST: Yeah, and the way it works is, the kid, they switch on the homework and within 5-10 seconds they connect to a live tutor, and then the tutor uses a chat interface to teach them how to do that particular problem and, like, a more general approach to solving that problem so they can learn.

HM: Wow!

ST: It’s a lot of fun.

HM: Yeah, sounds really cool! Sounds like some of our audience might find that interesting to check out.

ST: Yeah, we’ve just rebranded so you wouldn’t have heard of it.

HM: Ah, I see. Ok, and where are you based right now?

ST: Right now I’m based in San Francisco but originally I’m from Slovenia.

HM: Right, yeah, ‘cuz I think we first met in London when you were visiting from… Your hometown is Ljubljana, is that right?

ST: Yes, Ljubljana.

HM: Ok, great. So on your website, you describe yourself as a “digital nomad” and a “full stack developer.” Do you still consider yourself a nomad?

ST: I would like to still consider myself a nomad! It’s… It’s probably been like a year since the last time I actually... Yeah, it’s been a year since the last time I changed countries, and probably like eight months since the last time I moved-moved but I used to pretty regularly move across… across the ocean. I was mostly moving back and forth between Slovenia, between Ljubljana, and San Francisco. I had a short stint when I went on a road trip all around Europe. Did something like 8000 or 9000 km in a month.

HM: Wow!

ST: And spent all the downtime in the car to work on one of my books.

HM: Oh wow! That sounds exciting! When was that?

ST: That was, I think, that was like two years ago now. Maybe even three years ago.

HM: Wow, and you were working on a book while you were travelling?

ST: Yes.

HM: Which book was that?

ST: That was my first book called Why programmers work at night.

HM: Ah yes, yeah! That’s on my list of things I wanna talk about! Ok! We’ll come back to that in a bit. 

ST: Cool.

HM: First, let’s go back a little bit and I wanna…. You mentioned that you started learning… started programming at the very early age. So I wanna find out, like, how did you get into it? What interested you? Why did you start?
ST: You know, it’s been so long ago that I don’t know the exact origin story. I think it’s a combination of… my dad’s cousin having a computer at home because this was like… ‘95, Actually, no, ‘94-’95, and when computers weren’t popular. At least in Slovenia, it was like… In Slovenia, it was the beginning of the PC revolution, people just started having computers at home, like, IBM 486 and things like that. And I think my dad’s cousin had a computer, and I was really excited. And I always played video games and messed around the computer and every time we visited. And then my parents kinda decided to put me in a programming… like, a computer class, but it turns out it was one of those fancy computer classes where they actually taught us programming. And we were doing like, Logo at the time and then eventually we switched to Pascal. And I liked it a lot so I basically just never stopped.

HM: Cool! Ok, and so what did you… What other stuff did you move on to learn from there, from first… from that sort of code?

ST: Ooh, so many things! So I started with Logo, continued with Pascal, then at some point… I think I only got the internet, like, five or six years after I started programming which… It would’ve been very helpful if they got it earlier…

HM: Yeah! How did you learn anything?

ST: I remember, back then I would spend hours and hours every day just going through the help files in Turbo Pascal and reading function descriptions, and then playing around to figure out how to actually use them. One thing I remember is that I only started learning about functions and procedures because go-to statements wouldn’t jump that far anymore. There was like a 4000-line limit or something.

HM: Oh wow, so you  were writing pretty big programs! What kind of programs were you writing?

ST: At the time, I was bent on reinventing Windows. So… You know how… I don’t know if you remember how those really old DOS machines used to have some sort of windowing system?

HM: Uh-uh.

ST: Made out of ascii art.

HM: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I remember that.

ST: I basically built one of those. Made it like a general thing, like, built a calculator into it and notepad, a few games…

HM: And you did it all in Pascal?

ST: Yeah. I did it all in Pascal in my afternoons and evenings when I was like 12.

HM: That is amazing! That is… Ok, so you’re definitely one of these whizzkids.

ST: I had too much time on my hands, right?

HM: All of us did but most of us were just… you know, playing around and goofing around, not building cool things. Ok, cool, and then… I mean, that was when you were 12. Like, did you continue through to your teenage years and then, you know, university?

ST: I did! Yeah. I had a stint of being a cool, rebellious kid around 14-15 but I still kept up coding. I… In the meantime, I switched to C which didn’t last very long just because C is really hard. But then, in like, 2001-2002, I discovered web programming, like, PHP, HTML, and I spent a lot of time on that. I think I started as just a couple of… Name little websites and then I worked on modifications for phpBB which was a very popular form software back then. Even I did get to the modification approval team which didn’t last long because apparently, being a flaky high schooler does not work well with working in a team. And I think it was around that time I… That was also the first time I ever got paid to write code which was an amazing experience.

HM: How old were you then, you said?

ST: I think the first time somebody paid me to write code was… I was 16, maybe 17? It was like a summer job and I was implementing the web interface for the control panel for the nuclear power plant in the country.
HM: What?! Ok, you gotta tell me that story! How did you end up doing that?
ST: They were basically… So one of the things that people in Slovenia do, is we have a thing called student labour where you have student unions that make it easier for high schoolers and college kids to get jobs. And what people do, is they use that to hire essentially interns or people who are pretty cheap. So what I did, was I wanted to make money, I knew that people, like… That coding is useful, and people will wanna pay me for that because I… I think I decided that I’m gonna be a programmer when I grow up at, like, 10? So it seemed that, you know, most people start getting jobs in high school, right? They get jobs waiting tables or something like that, but I wanted to get a job coding. So I sent e-mails to a bunch of these people looking for interns and said that I’ve been coding since I was 9 and I’ve done all these amazing things. I showed them a couple of, like… ‘Cuz, like, essentially I had a portfolio, I had… At the time, I had one of the most popular modifications for phpBB with something like 10… I think it was 10.000 downloads, something like that. But all of this was open source. It wasn’t making any money. It wasn’t like now where high school kids release an app and become rich and famous, you know.

HM: Yeah…

ST: That’s probably one of my biggest mistakes. Deciding to be an open source person early on and then taking way too long to actually start making real money from my creations and products. Anyway, the nuclear power plant story. I basically locked out... Somebody… I got on the phone with somebody and I was able to convince them that I’m a legit programmer. And they paid me what was a crazy amount of money back then, this was before the euros. I think it was actually like €2 an hour. Maybe €3 an hour. And I was just… I was basically an intern, I was doing a subsystem of, like, one page, of one… just the web interface that people would use to monitor the nuclear power plant. And I did that for the summer. It was a lot of fun. And I got to say that I did that. Which I then turned into a better job and so on.

HM: That’s definitely one of the best first jobs I’ve ever heard of! Cool! Ok, and then, did you actually go to university to study programming or computer science?

ST: I did. I did five years of was essentially a Masters equivalent. I didn’t do very well at school. I think at some point they kicked me off the Masters and they kicked me down a notch to bachelors… This was when the system was changing so it was like… We were all on a Masters because that was the only course that there was. And then, when we… And then with the Bologna reform we got… We actually got the Masters and the bachelors. So people who had enough class credits got into an actual Masters and everybody else got into a bachelors, and they kicked me down to a bachelors, and then I never finished because… I still think I had like two exams and a thesis left.

HM: Oh really?

ST: But I never got around it.

HM: Why didn’t you do well at university?

ST: I was… I had the problem that a lot of, as you labelled me, “whizzkids” have, I think, which is… I was always, like, maybe a year, a year and a half ahead of the class curriculum. Or maybe even more at start but then everybody caught up with me. And I was way too cocky to actually calm my ego and go there and just learn-learn. So I remember, one of the people who turned out to be one of the best professors I’ve ever had, in his undergrad, in his bachelor’s course, I think on the first… At the time, I was exploring non-deterministic algorithms and like, evolutionary algorithms and machine learning and things like that. But he had a bachelors-level course on algorithms, and I asked him about… about, like, non-determinism and things like that, and he was like, “Oh no, no, don’t worry about non-determinism! We’re not gonna do that in this class.” Because he… Obviously, he didn’t wanna scare everybody else in the class. And because he was a proper computer scientist, he had a better definition of non-determinism than I did. ‘Cuz I just picked it up on the internet somewhere and I thought I knew what it meant but it actually means something else. But when he said, “No, no, we’re not gonna worry about that,” I basically never came back to his class.

HM: Wow. Ok.

ST: I did end up passing this class with my usual approach of “Do your own shit for the entire semester and then take a month off and just cram for exams and pass as many as possible in the exam period and then go back to doing your own shit.”

HM: Yeah, I remember doing that. I was no whizzkid but I remember doing that at university. Ok, that’s… That’s… Yeah, that’s pretty interesting. Ok, and so you never finished your degree?

ST: No, I never finished my degree.

HM: What did you then do? Did you go to get a job? What was your next step?

ST: While I was a full-time college kid, I was also running a startup of my own which went well at first and then stopped going well, as startups usually do. And after college, I basically had the choice of trying to find the job in Slovenia where pay is really, really bad usually and where a lot of people are very, very obsessed with degrees, and I obviously didn’t have a degree. So what i did instead was, I started freelancing, or rather, I went to freelancing full time because in the senior year of college, maybe a bit before, I started freelancing a lot for US clients from Silicon Valley based on the fact that I understood startups because I had run a startup before and I did a lot of research into how startups work and I had, like, intuitive understanding of them. So I had… I found this niche market of people who are just starting their startup and they need quality workers, quality engineers but can’t exactly afford, like, a San Francisco engineer immediately. So I would freelance for them remotely and that worked pretty well for, like… For a while. I’ve been doing that for the last three years, I guess. Actually, it was two and a half years, and now it’s been a years since I kind of joined this startup Yup because… If you wanna move to the US, it turns out it’s not that easy to just get a visa on your own and kind of sponsor yourself.

HM: Yeah, yeah… Even with a company, it’s pretty hard so…

ST: Exactly.

HM: Ok, cool. So did you leave university about three years ago? Is that right?

ST: I think the official time I stopped… ‘Cuz I didn’t, like, leave-leave the university, I just didn’t re-enrol for more classes. That was September 2012.

HM: Ok, cool. By the way, is that a bird in your room?

ST: Yes, that is a bird in my room. I have a jenday conure who is very annoying sometimes.

HM: Sorry, what bird is it?

ST: It’s like a small parrot, about… 12-13 inches in size, and when he screams...
HM: And that’s your pet parrot?

ST: Yes, it’s a pet parrot.

HM: Nice.

ST: Although San Francisco actually has a population of wild parrots.

HM: Ok, wow. Did you get this while in San Francisco, or did you bring this with you from Ljubljana?

ST: No, we got him with my girlfriend last year, so he’s like a year and a half old now. And he’s going through his… essentially, teenage years right now. So he’s been very annoying and very rebellious.

HM: Sounds awesome! Ok, great, now we also have a bird on the show. This is amazing. You’ve got to send me a picture. I want to include that in the show notes.

ST: I will.

HM: Ok, I wanna switch gears a little bit here and now get into how you got into teaching. Like, when did you start teaching people online and with your books and things?

ST: So I always liked writing. And I started writing a blog like, 10, maybe 11 years ago. And this was when blog were really popular so obviously everyone who’s in need would need to have a blog. But I’m one of those crazy people who kept it up, at least roughly. And the niche I found for myself was basically writing about things that I learnt on web development and coding in general. Because that’s easy for me to write and it’s also how I learnt most of the things I know. So it seemed like a good idea to also do that as a way of writing ‘Cuz it’s easy to remember, I still… It still helps me to this day, I sometimes… I know I wrote a blog or something but don’t remember how it worked, so I just google “Swizec” and a couple of random words, and it finds a blog post from a couple of years of when I wrote that and I knew it well. And I read it and it helps me remember do stuff.

HM: Cool. Wow, so you’re your own reference library now!

ST: Sometimes, yeah. I mean, I do have over a thousand articles out there, I think.

HM: Wow. Actually, now that I think of it, that is probably how I first came across you online. Yeah, I probably saw your post on Hacker News. And then, later on, I think I started following you on Twitter and then I saw you were visiting London, and that’s how we’ve met a couple of years ago.

ST: Yeah. I meet people like that.

HM: Yeah, so you’re obviously… Like, you write a very good blog and it’s been fairly popular. Is that what led to your first book? You wrote a book called  Why programmers work at night. 

ST: It did.

HM: Tell me a story behind that.

ST: Oh, that’s a crazy story! So Why programmers work at night came out of an essay that I wrote about… Well, I was basically venting my frustrations about how people in my life are distracting, how I can’t work and how, because of that, I end up staying up like 3-4 a.m. writing code and then being crazy tired in the mornings. Which finally has started happening again, now that I live with a girlfriend! When I was living on my own, for like two or three years, I stopped… I completely stopped being a night owl. I went to bed at like a normal 1 a.m. hour, I woke up at 9 a.m...

HM: Normal 1 a.m… Ok...

ST: That’s… I mean... Before that, when I was still in college, I often had times when I would go to bed like, 5 or 6 a.m. Now, because I have to be at the office and because, like, I’m an actual adult, I have responsibilities, I can’t go to bed at 6 a.m. because then I’m dead for the entire day. But I can still swing with 3 or 4 a.m. on most days. Anyway, I wrote an essay called “Why Programmers Work at Night.” It had an amazing response. It was on the top of Reddit programming for, I think, several days.

HM: Wow!

ST: It even peaked on the Reddit frontpage. And I don’t think the programming sub-Reddit gets on the frontpage ever.

HM: Yeah, that’s an achievement.

ST: And I got something like 300 or 400,000 visitors. It made my Twitter completely useless. I was getting so many tweets and retweets that I had to get off Twitter for like a week. And then I was like, “Well, maybe there’s something here?” You know, like, there’s something here that seems to resonate with people. So I wrote a book about it and then, while I was writing a book, eventually Business Insider picked up the story and it became the most… At the time, it was the most shared story on Business Insider that got over a million views.

HM: Wooow.

ST: And that also led to a bunch of book sales because I was like, “Can you just add a link to my book at the bottom or at the top?” And I sold something… I think something like a thousand copies in a day or two.

HM: That’s really cool!

ST: What’s not amazing is that I didn’t know anything about selling books back then so I only made, like, $2000 out of that.

HM: Oh no, that’s a shame! How much were you selling the book for?

ST: I had this stupid idea of being… Well, this book is unfinished so I’m gonna sell it for like $4-5 and then I’m gonna increase the price the book becomes more finished and so on. Don’t do that. That’s a stupid idea. Just put the real price on the book and sell it like a normal person.

HM: Yeah, you can always send people updates, right, as you improve the book.

ST: Exactly. And if I was doing that now, with all the marketing tricks and conversion stuff that I know now that I didn’t know back then, that book could have easily made like a $100.000, with being on Business Insider.

HM: Yeah, I mean, that’s a lot of traffic and a lot of copies sold.

ST: But, you know…

ST & HM: You live and you learn.

HM: And you wrote this book while travelling across Europe?

ST: I wrote a big part of this book while travelling across Europe. It is actually still unfinished because at one point I realised that I don’t have enough life to continue writing it. So I spend the last three years… “lifing” and getting more experience so that I can put more stuff in the book and make it better.

HM: Cool, awesome. And then you went on and… To write some more books? You’ve written two books, one called “Data Visualisation with D3.js” and another, your latest one, “React+D3js”  Tell us about those. Those are more, you know, practical, hands-on programming books.

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ST: Those are very hands-on programming books. The first one is about two years old now. It came from Packt asking... seeing one of my tutorials on my blog and saying, “Hey, you are an expert in data visualisation!” even that was the only thing I ever wrote about it. “Do you wanna write a book about it?” Sounds like, well, you know… I’ve always wanted to write a book, who doesn’t want to write a book? Sure, I’ll do it! That was a fun and painful process. But, in the end, I got a book that apparently is still selling and still making money, and these days Packt is… They send me an e-mail every couple of weeks, asking, “Hey, can you please write a new d3 book? That thing was awesome!” And I’m like, “I really don’t want to work for the publisher ever again!”

I mean, it is useful to have a book published by an actual publisher, just in terms of having it on your CV being something… Being able to say that you’re “published author.” Things like that.

HM: Yeah, definitely, yeah, there’s definitely still some sort of weight attached to that. It’s a bit like having a university degree, right? Like, it doesn’t practically mean much but, you know, people kind of… give a lot of meaning to it.

ST: And, I mean, I was able to leverage that book and subsequent work in the area to get an O-1 visa from the US. 

HM: Oh wow!

ST: Which is apparently very hard to get.

HM: That’s great, that’s a good idea. I should look into that. And then the next book, that was self-published, was it? The React+d3 book

ST: Yes. “React+d3” is completely self-published. I wrote it last year when React was just becoming super popular and a friend of mine was like, “Hey, why don’t you write a book on React?” “You know, I don’t really know React and I haven’t really played with it. I don’t really feel like an expert in the field enough.” And he said, “Well, no no no, you should try the book on React and d3 because you already know all d3.” React is getting really, really hot. And then we had some banter and he… It was essentially a bet whether I can write a book in one month or not.

HM: Wow, ok.

ST: So in one month and a half I learnt React and published a book on it.

HM: Cool.

ST: Which sounds crazy but actually the best time to write a book or to do… to write any teaching material of any sort, is when you’re learning because you still have that empathy of knowing what others don’t know.

HM: Yeah, that’s a really good point actually! I think… I think, yeah, I did do that a bit with my book which was on R, also on data visualisation but using R. Yeah, I didn’t know everything I wrote in the book when I started writing. I learnt along the way as well.

ST: Yeah. Writing a book is also the best way to learn something, at least in my experience. ‘Cuz it kind of forces you to keep learning because you’re immediately explaining it, that also cements knowledge really well. But yeah, I published that book, it was pretty good, it had some… I think I sold like 1500 copies in total.

HM: Nice.

ST: A lot of it was with the React Indie Bundle that we did last November which was also a crazy, fun story. Most importantly, I now know how to turn books into better money than I did when “Why Programmers Work at Night” came out. So I just published an update to the book that uses ES6 and React 15, and all those crazy new things. And I think it’s actually a much better book.
HM: Financially, has this book done better than the other two books for you?

ST: Oh, it’s done so much better. I think… So “Why Programmers Work at Night” is still selling and it’s still unfinished, and I think in its total lifetime, in like three years, it’s made like $6,000, maybe $7,000. The “Data Visualisation with d3.js” made… It’s made a lot of money. But I only get a small percentage of it.

HM: But the latest book.... You keep pretty much all of it, right?

ST: Yeah, I keep pretty much all of it. My margin is essentially zero because once the book is produced, it’s digital and it goes out, and people buy it, and people are happy, and I just spend time responding to people’s e-mails and marketing, things like that. And that has gone pretty well so far. I’ve been able to pretty consistently make an extra $1000 to $2000 a month with.

HM: That’s amazing! That’s great. And I noticed on Twitter that you’ve… You’re now also making videos? Are they related to the book?

ST: Mhm. What I’ve been doing is weekly live coding sessions where every Sunday at 2:30 p.m.  Pacific Time I livestream coding stuff in React and d3. People can call, they can ask me anything, I’ve answered questions from “How to get a visa and get a job in Silicon Valley?” to how to do something specific in React and d3. It’s… It’s a lot of fun, I get all these crazy questions and the real… The background reason why I’m doing it, is I wanted to practice more on doing video and I’m gonna edit them and, once I have enough content, I’m gonna release it as a course, a companion course for React and d3, the book.

HM: Awesome! That’s an awesome idea. Yeah, that sounds like it would make an amazing course. Especially because you’re kind of live coding and you’re showing stuff like you’re building with some interaction from...

ST: Exactly, like, oftentimes while I’m building something, they either give me ideas on how to do it better, or they ask me questions and then I’m able to better drill down into the parts that people don’t understand which has been very useful.
HM: Awesome! Cool. Ok, I’m gonna change topics a little bit and sort of go to the other side. Like, what are your thoughts on learning to code today? Like, if someone was starting out or someone’s trying to pick up new skills, whether it’s React or d3, or any of these things? What do you think, how do you think one should go about it?

ST: Oh wow. That’s so much easier than it used to be. These days, I think the best approach is finding an indie author that you like and… First of all, decide the technology you want to learn. Pick whatever you prefer, it’s still solid. Even though a couple of years ago we had the crazy idea that mobile is killing web, it’s not. And mobile is also a good thing to learn. And then just find an indie author, find somebody who is teaching this from experience, not somebody who is, like… who has a supermassive career of publishing books with publishers and doing all these crazy things because those people don’t… often don’t have time to sit down with you and teach you, and answer your e-mails if you have specific questions. Because a lot of them are actually targeting corporate training ‘cuz that’s where, as they say, the real money is. And they use their books and teaching materials as marketing. So I have a friend who publishes books with publishers and doesn’t really care how much money he makes on them but then leverages them to do corporate trainings where he makes, like, $20-30.000 in a day to teach software department in a company a specific skill.

HM: Oh yeah, there’s definitely some big money there. People charge… you know, hundreds of dollars per seat in corporate training.

ST: Exactly.

HM: Yeah, that’s the whole different business, whole different world. Yeah, that’s interesting that, like you said, some people use books as a lead gen for that business, right?

ST: Exactly. And I mean, if you send… If you’re just a guy learning how to code, how to make a better app in your spare time, and you send an e-mail with a detailed question to somebody like that, it’s… I don’t think it’s very likely that you will get a detailed, in-depth response.

HM: Yeah, I guess they are not… You know, you’re not their ideal customer. So they probably don’t care much.

ST: Exactly. You’re not the target market. But if you pick an indie author, somebody like me or one of the people that was on the React Indie Bundle… If you send us an e-mail, we… We might not respond immediately because we do have a lot of stuff going on but you’re very likely to get a detailed response. I’ve even hopped on Hangouts calls with people and answered specific questions.
HM: Cool.

ST: And I mean, there’s a lot of material out there right now. It’s… It’s definitely a good idea to shell out those 10 or 20 bucks to buy a book and get some curated material. Because, in my experience, when you’re just learning from random blog posts, you… You learn a lot of details and you learn… Yeah, you learn a lot of specifics but it’s not a very good way to get a general understanding of a technology or a stack.

HM: Yeah, and I guess there’s also a danger of becoming a… You know, a copy-paste-driven developer, right?

ST: Exactly.

HM: Where you read a blog post, you see exactly the problem that you have because that’s how you find it, and it’s a danger of just kinda copy pasting and just not understanding why it works the way it works.

ST: Exactly.

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HM: Ok, great, and in general, when you think of online education, where do you think it’s heading? What do you think, how do you think it’s gonna improve in the next few years, both for teachers and for students?
ST: I’m noticing a definite trend towards video instead of books. First of all, I feel that blogs are winding down a bit because Stack Overflow has taken over pretty much all of that market. ‘Cuz I remember, like, 10 years ago, you would google for a problem and you would find somebody’s random blog posts where they wrote about how they solved that. Now you fins Stack Overflow question with a bunch of answers and copy paste from the first one instead from a random blog post. So that is really useful. And now people, I think, are… There’s a lot more indie books where it’s PDF maybe with some additional material, where you get a curated experience. And I’ve seen a lot of… I’ve seen video really take off, like, video courses and people who… Basically, video courses. Where you have, instead of a book, you have a video where you go through the problem and somebody actually shows you how it works. Because one of the big issues with books and written material for learning is what I would call “code orientation” where you see the examples and you understand how they work but you don’t know how to fit them together. You don’t know which file it goes into. Or there’s some tiny detail missing that just makes it not work. But with the video, you can follow along what the author is doing, so you kinda see where they’re going, what they’re doing and so on.

HM: Right! Code orientation, is that the technical word for that?

ST: I’m pretty sure it’s not. But it makes sense.

HM: Ok, yeah, that makes sense, right? And that’s… Yeah, I guess that I’ve been trying to put words like that, that specific thing, yeah. That’s a really nice way of putting it. Yeah, and I think that a lot of people’ll gonna appreciate it because if you hang out on Hacker News and you read a lot of what other developers thought… A lot of developers who are already in this industry, they really don’t like video, right? They really prefer text. And they always say,, you know, “Oh, you know, if you have video, just give me the transcript and I… I read much faster than I watch.” And I think they really lack that empathy as you were saying earlier, with beginners and with people trying to learn something, you know, which they really don’t know how much, like, the video means to a lot of people. And that is the reason, I think, it’s taken off in such a big way.
ST: Yeah, I’m the same. I personally find it really hard to learn from video because I usually already know the topic enough, and I just need the specifics. So it’s easier to scan a blog post, I usually don’t even read them, I just go to the code samples and look around, and kind of understand enough to do it. But for beginner, videos are a lot more important which is why I try to make my books these days so that it’s always a combination of video and book form.

HM: Ah yes! And you know, that is why we have mixed-format courses at Learnetto so we… You know, we realise that some people prefer text, some people prefer videos. So we decided we’re going to actually allow people to do multiple formats. In fact, we’re also experimenting with audio. For some... You know, it doesn’t work for all topics, like, especially programming, you need to see things. But for certain things that you can pick.. You can still learn just by listening to something. And then, of course, there’s, you know, interactive stuff, live coding and things like that. But yeah, I think there’s a lot of scope to just, like, yeah, do lots of different formats and let people learn in the way that they learn best instead of forcing them to read text or any one format.

ST: Exactly.

HM: So, that’s all the main questions I have for you. It’s a shame because it sounds like we could have, you know, talk for another hour! You seem to have lots of interesting stories. So maybe we’ll do another episode. But my final question to you is: where can people find you online and connect with you?

ST: The easiest is to go to Swizec.com or really just google Swizec Teller, and I think the first three pages of results are about me?

HM: Awesome. Great. We’ll include links to your website and your books, and your Twitter account in the show notes.

ST: Awesome.

HM: Thank you so much Swizec, it’s been really fun chatting.

ST: Yeah, you too, thanks for having me.

HM: Thank you, have a nice day.

ST: You too.

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