Starting your career as a developer can be a very daunting task. And it’s not just about coding. That’s the easy part. The hard part is dealing with all the things nobody tells you. Stuff like how to deal with meetings, with new colleagues, with the culture of a new workplace and many other things.
That’s where the Dev.to community comes to the rescue. Isaac Lyman, one of the veteran members, has spearheaded a team effort that culminated in the publishing of an ebook titled “Your First Year in Code”.
I've already mentioned the book before, in a previous episode of Front End News. Today though I want to go deeper into the subject. Therefore I've reached out to the man himself - Isac Lyman, to give us all some insight into the project.
Below is the transcription of the interview Isaac was kind enough to give me. I have lightly edited the text for brevity and readability purposes, but I tried to preserve Isaac's words as much as possible.
You can see here the video of the conversation we had if you prefer listening over reading. And while you're there, you should subscribe as well. Just saying...
Adrian: I want to talk to you about your new book, "Your First Year in Code". But before we go there, why don't you tell me a bit about yourself first?
Isaac: I am a software engineer, although I've probably been a writer for longer than I've been a programmer. But I've been coding in one form or another since I was probably 13 years old and I got a Bachelors Degree in English because my plan was to go to law school.
But I realized in my senior year of college that Computer Science was a much better career for me. So I'm always trying to bring those two together - the writing and the software engineering - and this book is one example of a way I found to write about code and hopefully to help a lot of people who are finding that maybe there isn't enough high-quality content for beginning devs.
That's why we made it "pay-what-you-can" - to reach as many people as possible. And it's really the joining of those two fields of writing and computer science for me.
A: That's great! Going along, what can you tell me about your involvement with the DEV community? I know that you are one of their veteran members...
I: I don't know for sure, but I guess I'm one of the first 500 people on the site. And back in 2016, I had just written an article on Medium about the role of developers in the company I was working at the time. It really took off and it was getting a lot of reads. Ben Halpern reached out to me and asked if I was willing to cross-post it to his new community and I said "Absolutely! I'd love to!"
It's always cool to support a budding community and it looked like all the values were aligned and it was a really cool place to be. So I went ahead and cross-posted that and I've been an active member since. It's a great community. I'm really impressed with the quality of the people and the interactions that happen on that site.
A: What started the idea of a book generated by a community?
I: I had a bunch of old blog posts that were kind of in the same category of, you know, being written for beginning devs. All the stuff I wanted to get down that I've wished I have known when I started as a developer. And I started to think that a book will be a great way to present those.
But I got the idea that I wanted to involve a lot of different people in it. Because there are problems that the new developers face that I can't effectively address myself. There are a lot of problems that the women face and people of color face that, first of all, I can't ever fully understand and, second of all, I really can't effectively address myself.
And so, I put up a post on the dev community and invited people to help me to write content. To write about their unique challenges. To help me write the book that we wished we had when we started coding. And, by the end of that week, we had almost a hundred people who signed up to help, in a number of different ways.
That was in March of this year. So, I kind of put together the publishing schedule naively, because I never published a book before. But I decided that we would write it and publish this thing in five months. And, unfortunately, that was a pretty tight schedule for a lot of people and we lost a lot of people along the way. But I think what we came out was the highest quality best selection of content from some really fantastic authors, fifteen other authors on the book and it came together in a really incredible pace and I think we got a really impressive book out of it.
A: That's very inspiring in my opinion. What can you tell me about the people who worked on the book and how did you manage the entire process?
I: The first thing that I realized is that I didn't want there to be seventeen chapters on the same subject so I asked everyone who wanted to contribute content to submit me their ideas, their proposal for the chapter and I will approve those ideas and there were a lot of people who said "here are a few ideas I want to write about". And I would say "That one sounds really good, we don't have anyone writing about that."
So we all got some different things we wanted to talk about. There were a few topics left that nobody signed up for, yet I felt they were really important to cover. So I proactively reached out to a few people that I thought will be good and asked them to contribute on that topic. And once I felt that we had a pretty good range of topics, then we went through a whole lot of writing and revising process. First drafts, revisions, second drafts, a whole lot of editing and suggestions from me, drawing on the background of my English degree.
And, let's see, by the beginning of the last month, I think, we had final drafts all put together and it was just a matter of figuring out everything outside of the book. So we picked LeanPub as a publishing platform and they were really great. Just an awesome platform to use if you're publishing an ebook.
I talked to Ben and his team at the dev community and they agreed to be the producers on the book. And that's really essential to the reach and the growth that we had and it got all the legal stuff out of the way, as well as the profit sharing. All the profits are shared: some of it goes to "Girls who Code", some is going to be split between al us coauthors and some is going to the Dev community.
So we got all the details all worked out and I did the last round or two of editing and, 22 July, I've finally pushed the Publish button and that was a really exciting day, amazing day.
A: What's next in your plans for the book, now, that the first version is finally live?
I: That's a great question. There is so much that we can do. Right now I'm looking into a physical book. There are people who have trouble reading books on a screen. So I am looking into good platforms for publishing an actual paperback book and hoping to have some news on that front in the next few weeks.
Also Ben and his team have been talking about an audiobook. And there are some challenges there. It's hard to read code aloud, but there will be some more discussions on that front and we will figure out what we can.
A: One of the great advantages of an electronic product is that it can be updated very easy. Was there something that you wanted to add but you didn't have time to do it? Do you plan any updates before going to print?
I: Yes, I've definitely been thinking about that in effect. LeanPub makes revisions so easy that the first hour after we made the announcement I realized that I have made a spelling mistake in one part of the book. So I got on that and pushed an update so, probably the first fifty people who downloaded the ebook have a spelling error in there they may not even know about. But there is definitely room for revisions and updates.
Some have pointed out that the appendix B will gonna problably be updated as new technologies come out and new expressions of technology arise. That is the appendix about what you should learn if you want to build certain things. I also thought it might be appropriate at some point if a lot of people write and say "Hey there really ought to be a chapter on this or that". There could be room for bonus content later along the way.
And you're right, an ebook gives us the option to do all of that. So, I think, for now, we just kinda riding the first wave of interest and seeing what the feedback is and later on there may very well be some additions and revisions.
A: Speaking of print, what have you considered so far? Is that too far into the future at the moment?
I: Not necessarily. We talked about Amazon. We talked about Ingramspark. It's really trying to find a balance of a company that we think that is ethical in alliance with the values of the book and has a decent royalty structure so we're not getting skinned in the market so there is a lot to think about there but I think we'll start probably with a lesser-known publishing house and see if we can get some traction there and see where it goes from there.
Amazon is a possibility - it has a lot of reach, a lot of people visit Amazon, but there are some pros and cons right there. So I will definitely let everybody know when we've got some news there.
A: I've noticed a lot of interest recently on ethics in the developer community. I enjoyed reading the chapter dedicated to this very topic.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I: I don't think so. I just want to reiterate that our goal is to get in as many hands as possible so go to leanpub.com/firstyearincode. You can get a copy for whatever price you can pray from $0 to $500 and share with the junior developer in your life. You know, if you have any questions, my coauthors and I are always ready to help. So you can reach out to us on twitter, or wherever you can find us. You'll find that we're very eager to answer questions and help out anyone who's new to the industry.
And there you have it, folks! Straight from the main author itself. So don't wait anymore and go get your own copy of the book from leanpub.com/firstyearincode. It's definitely worth reading even if you've been a developer for more than one year.