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S1 E4: Creating Something from Nothing (Shawn / @swyx)
Episode 422nd June 2022 • WebJoy • Eddie Hinkle
00:00:00 00:18:26

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Shawn Wang joins the show to talk about his origin story, starting in the finance industry and how feeling like just a code monkey in a system drew him to learn front-end engineering and start working on product development and ultimately become a developer advocate.

We discuss what the career path for a developer advocate might look like, as well as podcast listening tools Listen Notes and Listenbox and how they help allow people to look up and listen to podcasts on their own terms rather than being stuck in a corporate garden.

Transcripts

Shawn:

it is just really refreshing when someone else says

Shawn:

people deserve better and makes it . So I really appreciate that.

Shawn:

It brings me a lot of joy.

Shawn:

I think people have a lot of trepidation when they change careers at age 30 and

Shawn:

so I don't want to the impression, like I just took a leap of faith or anything.

Shawn:

You can actually test this out with the resources available today and de-risk

Shawn:

significantly the career transition.

Eddie:

Welcome to Episode 4 of the WebJoy podcast.

Eddie:

I'm your host, Eddie.

Eddie:

In this podcast, we interview guests about their origin story and what

Eddie:

makes them excited and joyful to be part of the tech community.

Eddie:

I hope you enjoyed today's episode "Creating Something

Eddie:

from Nothing" with Shawn Wang.

Eddie:

Hey, thanks for coming on the show, introduce yourself to the community.

Eddie:

Who are you, what do you do, where do you work?

Eddie:

You know, just a brief introduction about yourself.

Shawn:

Thanks Eddie.

Shawn:

This is exciting.

Shawn:

So my name is Shawn.

Shawn:

I'm originally from Singapore and moved to the U.S.

Shawn:

for a career in finance which then turned into a career in tech because I got so

Shawn:

obsessed with creating user experience and applications and all that good stuff.

Shawn:

I worked at Two Sigma as a software engineer, was the second developer

Shawn:

advocate hire at Netlify, and then joined AWS to do the same thing.

Shawn:

Most recently I'm Head Developer Experience at Temporal

Eddie:

Awesome.

Eddie:

That sounds like a very fun, exciting journey.

Shawn:

I think what's interesting about the web is the vast majority of us are

Shawn:

actually not formally trained for it.

Shawn:

It's inclusive field and it's such early days that it's still possible.

Shawn:

I think a lot of other well paid jobs or six figure jobs, you'd have to go

Shawn:

through years of formal training before you even get to practice the thing.

Eddie:

Yeah, absolutely, and it's so interesting too, because a lot

Eddie:

of times formal training doesn't even move you really far ahead.

Eddie:

With some companies and businesses, you know, it will.

Eddie:

But, I know I was going for a bachelor's in computer science back I was in college

Eddie:

and I was learning less in college than I was just going out and programming with

Eddie:

freelance and with different companies.

Eddie:

You learn a lot more on the job than you do, studying and education and

Eddie:

everything with tech, just the way it is.

Eddie:

What got you interested in tech, right?

Eddie:

You were interested in finance and then you found yourself, you know,

Eddie:

swinging over into the tech area.

Eddie:

What stood out to you?

Shawn:

I think the ability to create something from

Shawn:

nothing is always compelling.

Shawn:

And I was in a hedge fund looking all these IPOs that were coming out and a

Shawn:

lot of our job was to evaluate the IPO.

Shawn:

See if there are good investments and then continue to cover

Shawn:

them after a public offering.

Shawn:

I realized a lot of the value that was being created in the private

Shawn:

markets and it was mostly by software engineers and that I could also do that.

Shawn:

So I was interested in pursuing value creation, activity,

Shawn:

or whatever you call that.

Shawn:

It's all so abstract.

Shawn:

And I thought that, there's just more money to be made in private markets than

Shawn:

in public markets, and so I switch over.

Shawn:

The other thing that really motivated me personally, was that

Shawn:

I was a quantitative traders.

Shawn:

In other words, I was running a lot of models and accessing a lot of trading

Shawn:

strategies and presenting that to my portfolio manager, my boss, but the

Shawn:

problem was that every time he needed a change he would tell it to me and then

Shawn:

I have to translate that to code, and then I have to rerun it and give to him.

Shawn:

So in other words, I was a script monkey and I was the limiting

Shawn:

factor for the usability of my code.

Shawn:

So in order to divorce my time for my output I had to create a user

Shawn:

interfaces that other people could use and that's essentially what led me

Shawn:

to focus on JavaScript and move away from the sort of number crunchy Excel,

Shawn:

Python, Hascal world that I was in.

Eddie:

I think it's so interesting.

Eddie:

Cuz a lot of career switchers are in a career.

Eddie:

They get frustrated with that career and then they just kind of jump

Eddie:

ship and they think tech is easy or interesting, but it's not necessarily

Eddie:

tied into what they're doing.

Eddie:

So it really intrigues me that you found your love for coding while in the other

Eddie:

job that's a really awesome transition.

Shawn:

Yeah, and it wasn't a cold switch as well.

Shawn:

I took about a year to test the waters.

Shawn:

I became a non-technical product manager at a startup just to see if

Shawn:

I could work with software engineers.

Shawn:

And if I got the space and then on the side, I also learned JavaScript on

Shawn:

my own with the help of FreeCodeCamp.

Shawn:

I think people have a lot of trepidation when they change careers at age 30 and

Shawn:

so I don't want to the impression, like I just took a leap of faith or anything.

Shawn:

You can actually test this out with the resources available today and de-risk

Shawn:

significantly the career transition.

Eddie:

I really love that.

Eddie:

Bringing analysis, intentionality and methodology to making big,

Eddie:

dangerous leaps like that.

Eddie:

I think that's best for everyone, right?

Eddie:

It helps you feel more safe and secure and also make sure

Eddie:

you're making the right choices.

Shawn:

Yeah, in another world I would be interested in starting like a bootcamp

Shawn:

to help others do same thing that I did, but I feel like you should only do that

Shawn:

when you've made it and you are kind of retired and you're all right, let

Shawn:

me give back to the next generation.

Shawn:

I feel like it's a bit too soon for me.

Eddie:

Nice.

Eddie:

I look forward to seeing that in 20, 30, 40 years, whenever you decide to retire,

Shawn:

sure.

Eddie:

So just kind of wrapping up your journey now you're a developer

Eddie:

advocate what sticks out to you as a developer advocate versus a straight

Eddie:

developer and what do you enjoy in that and what keeps you going day to day?

Shawn:

So I guess the main difference is that you don't maintain production code.

Shawn:

It's not true that you don't write code at all because you actually have

Shawn:

to write code really well for your demos to work and for your ability

Shawn:

to answer questions from your users.

Shawn:

The main responsibility for a dev advocate would be content.

Shawn:

Because that's the thing that startups most need and specifically

Shawn:

developer focused content.

Shawn:

And really it's just a rebranding of marketing because most marketing fails

Shawn:

so epically when trying to relate things that developers want and need.

Shawn:

So the idea is to hire developers, to talk to other developers.

Shawn:

And it seems to have worked out such that people are really investing in that.

Shawn:

I think that can get over excited about it though, because at the end of the

Shawn:

day, you're still not a real engineer.

Shawn:

there's still a ceiling in terms of what a developer advocate can go.

Shawn:

There's no established career track from standard engineer

Shawn:

to manager, to VP, to CTO.

Shawn:

You're never gonna do that.

Shawn:

So a lot of developer advocates probably end up as teachers as independent teachers

Shawn:

doing their courses, because if you could teach for one company, why can't

Shawn:

you teach 10 different companies and get a pretty good income based on that.

Shawn:

The other people, for example, like myself, I tend toward more products.

Shawn:

So in other words, if I ever left developer advocacy, I would want to

Shawn:

work more on product management because that's where I have more impact.

Shawn:

The tricky thing about developer advocates is that it's kind of regarded to be your

Shawn:

job, to talk to as many users as possible.

Shawn:

But at the same time, you have the least power to do anything,

Shawn:

to change the product apart from just begging and pleading with

Shawn:

your product engineering team.

Shawn:

So there's a spectrum and I think this is an industry that's still being developed.

Eddie:

It's good to see the different routes people can take.

Eddie:

I know a lot of people don't know about developer advocates so gaining kind of

Eddie:

preview into that, like if they to go that route, what that holds for them is great.

Eddie:

Thank you.

Eddie:

I guess let's dive into the goal of this podcast is to talk about

Eddie:

different things that bring us joy.

Eddie:

So for you, what's something that brings you joy that you'd

Eddie:

like to talk about today?

Shawn:

We did a bit of prep before this and the one I picked

Shawn:

was something a left field.

Shawn:

It's a website called Listen Notes and it gives me joy as a user and

Shawn:

as a developer who someday hopes to start a business that's similar.

Shawn:

Listen Notes is an podcast search platform, it indexes all

Shawn:

podcasts and it gives you a very simple, straightforward search.

Shawn:

But the user interface is actually so sensible and it does so much I

Shawn:

just have the best time every time I need to look up something from a

Shawn:

podcast, I need to find a podcast.

Shawn:

It's the first place I turn to because everything else is so bad at it.

Shawn:

Apple, Spotify or everything else, basically doesn't

Shawn:

really respect the open web.

Shawn:

Doesn't really respect the MP3 distributed nature of podcast.

Shawn:

Everyone wants to try to their own podcasting platform on you.

Shawn:

When really, I just wanna look up an episode a simple task

Shawn:

that doesn't do very well.

Shawn:

Listen notes it's just the right mix.

Shawn:

It's created by one guy just indexing the entire web of podcast.

Shawn:

He ran a successful, independent solo business.

Shawn:

And I think it's just great, cuz it makes users happy , makes him happy.

Shawn:

And you know, the tech stack is pretty interesting as well.

Eddie:

That's awesome.

Eddie:

I never heard of this before.

Eddie:

I'm really into podcasts.

Eddie:

I've done a couple small podcasts myself over time and yeah, I've

Eddie:

actually never run across it.

Eddie:

I always end up using iTunes podcast cuz like the closest to the open web.

Eddie:

But like you said, it still has a lot to be desired.

Eddie:

How'd you find out about it.

Shawn:

The guy posts, about his tech stack every so often, and his

Shawn:

progress as a business on Hacker News and every single time he does it.

Shawn:

It's super outvoted because he's transparent and I think it's very

Shawn:

inspirational that one person can do such an amazing website.

Shawn:

Like you're literally indexing all podcasts.

Shawn:

And you're also doing translations.

Shawn:

To like, whatever 10, 20 different images that he also supports.

Shawn:

So it's like a fully fledged, like web app that has his very high standards

Shawn:

that most teams of 10, 20, a hundred people cannot reach they're so up

Shawn:

their asses about shipping proprietary products that they forget the core user

Shawn:

experience and Listen Notes definitely prioritizes the core user experience.

Shawn:

So one example is try to go to iTunes and try to download

Shawn:

the MP3 file for any podcasts.

Shawn:

iTunes has never heard of an MP3.

Shawn:

why, because they want you to to and subscribe on their player, and it's

Shawn:

so weird that you would take something that so open and try to put around it.

Shawn:

I get the company incentives, but it is just really refreshing when someone

Shawn:

else says people deserve better and makes it . So I really appreciate that.

Shawn:

It brings me a lot of joy.

Shawn:

Also take advantage of by the way is try to embed your podcast into other websites.

Shawn:

So for example, when I was working at Temporal, we would do podcasts and I was

Shawn:

to actually embed it into a blog and put a transcript of the podcast on our blog.

Shawn:

And so we wanted a way to embed the player and all the other players don't have the

Shawn:

right mix of seeking and fast forwarding, playing a 2X adjusting the volume.

Shawn:

Only Listen Notes shows a player in embed that you can sort of

Shawn:

chuck in there on your blog.

Shawn:

If it, it hovers.

Shawn:

It's just a really nice experience to listen while looking through the

Shawn:

transcripts, maybe looking at links that were mentioned by the guests and

Shawn:

it's all supported by Listen Notes.

Shawn:

I'm sure there's features that I don't even know about.

Shawn:

You know what I mean?

Eddie:

I'm super impressed.

Eddie:

I've just looked around it a little bit.

Eddie:

As you said, we did a little bit of prep, so I knew you were gonna mention

Eddie:

that and thought, what is this thing?

Eddie:

I've never heard of it.

Eddie:

It looks really exciting.

Eddie:

I think I'm going to be definitely spending some time here.

Eddie:

There's a lot there, like enough that I was like, let me skim it

Eddie:

and find out what all it does.

Eddie:

And I was like, yeah, I'm not gonna figure that out.

Eddie:

in a short time of skimming it.

Shawn:

It presents in the way that the authors of the podcasts, once a show

Shawn:

it to you instead of trying to hide it in favor of the platform's priorities.

Shawn:

Very simple things like show notes.

Shawn:

A lot of platforms just hide them from you because again, want you to play

Shawn:

the podcast and download their app or whatever, but Listen Notes is web

Shawn:

first, so that just shows up there.

Shawn:

It's just clean and really nice.

Shawn:

I really appreciate.

Shawn:

It's just the internationalization you can see like there's all these languages that

Shawn:

are supported and it's the same person.

Shawn:

I really appreciate that because so much of the world doesn't speak English.

Shawn:

It's not like the podcast is translated at all, but it's just

Shawn:

more usable software for people.

Eddie:

Yeah, that's amazing.

Eddie:

I worked at another company couple years ago and we had like an engineering

Eddie:

team of like 40 and the topic of internationalization was brought

Eddie:

up and it was like, hush, no one say that word because of the upkeep

Eddie:

and all of the burden and stuff.

Eddie:

So to have one person doing that, that's absolutely amazing and super inspiring.

Shawn:

So there's one feature that I wish Listen Notes had that's in a

Shawn:

different app, so It's called Listen Box.

Shawn:

And so what happens is a lot of people start publishing video podcasts on

Shawn:

YouTube, which is just live streams or edited live streams and it's a series and

Shawn:

they don't publish the MP3 anywhere else.

Shawn:

So what Listen Box does is it starts to help you strip the audio from the

Shawn:

video and just listen to the audio.

Shawn:

You could listen on the YouTube player itself, but it's just nice

Shawn:

to have an audio only experience you're doing other stuff.

Shawn:

you can listen like a podcast, and obviously maybe you're missing out

Shawn:

something on screen, like the visual aids or the facial expressions.

Shawn:

but still you get to skim the content without using your eyes.

Shawn:

And I think that's just really a nice experience and I wish that these

Shawn:

two sites that start with listen in their name would combine by.

Eddie:

I actually had a podcast that I was interested in, but very rarely listened

Eddie:

to because it was only a YouTube video.

Eddie:

I don't subscribe to YouTube.

Eddie:

I can't have it closed down in the background of my phone and listen to

Eddie:

it and it has to be open on the screen they did finally turn into a podcast,

Eddie:

so I won't end up using this for them, but that definitely was a key thing

Eddie:

where like, I wasn't listening because.

Eddie:

I couldn't listen audio only, and this been super handy.

Eddie:

So that is really awesome to see.

Eddie:

And, like you said, they, should do a merger.

Eddie:

If listen box and listen notes is listening, start

Eddie:

talking, you should merge.

Shawn:

Please get together.

Shawn:

Yeah, exactly.

Eddie:

As a community, we really love to support each other.

Eddie:

And so one thing that before we wrap up, we'd really love to hear is anything

Eddie:

that we can do to help support you?

Eddie:

Do you have anything that you're involved in or anything you've worked on that

Eddie:

you'd to share with the community that they might be helpful themselves?

Shawn:

Yeah.

Shawn:

I wrote a book a couple years ago called the coding career handbook, it's

Shawn:

basically to help, junior level up into senior by talking about everything

Shawn:

that happens after you get the job.

Shawn:

and I think people are very focused on job hunting and interviewing in

Shawn:

terms of tech career advice, books.

Shawn:

But mine is more of a career reflection on, strategy, principles and tactics

Shawn:

that can use to advance a career.

Shawn:

I do a weekly meetup call where it's like a book club led by the author where we

Shawn:

just talk about chapter by chapter and then, check in on the members' lives.

Shawn:

In fact, I'm gonna one in about an hour from this call, it's just a

Shawn:

really good mentorship experience.

Shawn:

If you're interested in that for your team or for yourself.

Eddie:

If someone's like a mid-level engineer, do you think this

Eddie:

would still be helpful for them?

Shawn:

Honestly, it's just a marketing line.

Shawn:

It really applies to everyone that is interested in personal

Shawn:

growth applied for developers.

Shawn:

You scope it down so that you have a cohort of people who

Shawn:

are roughly about the same.

Shawn:

stage in life, right?

Shawn:

So that's really what I'm trying to optimize for, because I think

Shawn:

that's the biggest gap in the market.

Shawn:

That's something that I personally went through as well so I have a lot

Shawn:

of credibility when talking about it.

Shawn:

We have engineering managers in our calls.

Shawn:

We have one VP of Eng who was really enjoying our conversations because

Shawn:

he loves providing his perspective.

Shawn:

And I think you'll also just pick interesting ideas that don't really

Shawn:

have anything to do with level.

Shawn:

They're just interesting ideas, period.

Shawn:

Personally for me I have had a really lucky, fortunate career as a content

Shawn:

creator and a lot developers when they want to start out doing that.

Shawn:

they kind of tune in for that as well.

Eddie:

Awesome.

Eddie:

Where can they find your book that you wrote.

Shawn:

Yeah, it's at LearnInPublic.org and that's basically the foremost principle

Shawn:

of everything and anything that I do.

Shawn:

So I just bought domain I hope to turn it into a nonprofit someday, but

Shawn:

right now it's just a book sales site.

Eddie:

Awesome.

Eddie:

so if that speaks to anyone listening, right?

Eddie:

Whether you're a junior engineer or a VP of engineering, go check

Eddie:

that out, LearnInPublic.org.

Eddie:

And, thank you Swyx for joining us today, just talking about something

Eddie:

that brings you joy on the internet.

Shawn:

Thank you.

Shawn:

This brought me a lot of joy to it.

Eddie:

Thanks for joining us for Episode 4, "Creating Something

Eddie:

from Nothing" with Shawn Wang.

Eddie:

You can find out more about Shawn on his Twitter @Swyx.

Eddie:

You can find links to everything we talked about in this episode, as well as a link

Eddie:

to Shawn's Twitter in the show notes.

Eddie:

If you enjoyed this episode, please consider rating and reviewing it in

Eddie:

your favorite podcast directory and following us on Twitter @WebJoyFM.

Eddie:

Thank you and have a great day!

Eddie:

Next episode on web joy.

Michael:

And it's once you learn that skill of being okay.

Michael:

Being uncomfortable and not knowing, it really does feel like a superpower.

Michael:

And now that I've been doing this for almost a decade now, it's very clear that

Michael:

anytime I come to learn a new topic or I start that journey, I get excited because

Michael:

of all the failures that I know I'm going to have all the frustrations that

Michael:

I know I'm gonna have to endure, being able to push past that and understand

Michael:

that there is a light where you come.

Michael:

victorious.

Eddie:

"Instead of Using Fire, I Use Ice" with Michael Lando.