Spotlight: Brian P. Hogan (Author)

A PragProg Hero’s Journey
with Brian P. Hogan
@bphogan

bhogan-devtalk

Have you ever worried that your only legacy will be in the form of legacy code? Take a page from Brian Hogan’s book — and life — to learn how a simple change in perspective can cause a ripple effect that lasts for generations.

If you struggle to learn from challenging experiences, you’re gonna want to hear this.

INTERVIEW

Listen to the complete audio interview here:

WIN!

We’re giving away one of Brian’s books to one lucky winner! Simply post a comment or a question in his AMA below, and the Devtalk bot will randomly pick a winner at a time of the author’s choosing … then automatically update this thread with the results!


TRANSCRIPT (abridged)

For those who prefer to read rather than listen, here are the highlights from the interview.

On becoming an author…

With eleven titles to his name, you’d probably never guess that Brian didn’t actually set out to become an author. It was a workplace encounter with PragProg author Bruce Tate that set the wheels in motion.

Bruce introduced Brian to Ruby on Rails at a time when getting the Rails ecosystem up and running on Microsoft Windows was a real challenge. Brian was so taken with the technology that he dug in, cracked the nut, and later wrote a blog post on the topic, which was picked up in the official Ruby on Rails blog. And then things came full circle.

Bruce invited Brian to contribute a chapter to Deploying Rails Applications, which was Brian’s debut as a book author. Or, as Brian says, it’s what “got his name on the cover.” It also served as the spark that led to Web Design for Developers.

But while writing the book, web trends changed significantly. So even though Brian did get positive reviews of his work, some people criticized it for looking out of date as soon as it shipped.

As all great teachers do, Brian found inspiration and a lesson in the hardship that’s served him ever since: “I have a folder of nice things people say. Because people sometimes say some not-nice things. And the equation I figured out with some other authors is that it takes five nice things to counteract one negative thing.”

Luckily, the difficult times didn’t last long, and before he knew it, Brian was hard at work on Web Development Recipes, now in its second edition. Written with his nearest and dearest friends, the “people he would go to bat for in a heartbeat” and who he knows would do the same for him, the book kicked off a long string of successes to follow.

On challenges and rewards…

“Writing,” according to Brian, “never feels natural.” When your deepest motivation is “to teach somebody how to do something,” you’re not really writing for yourself. And that means you have to get out of your own head and into somebody else’s.

A teaching mentor of Brian’s once advised him to “be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.” And that message stuck with him and formed the foundation of everything Brian does to this day.

As an author, that means relentless revisions and edits to eliminate his own biases and to do what’s best for readers. In Brian’s own words, “You’ve got this list of things that you know you need to include…But you still have to justify why [readers] need to know. And that’s the part that’s always surprising. Because sometimes the surprise is, ‘No, they actually don’t need to know that.’” And that’s when the true guide hits the delete key.

If it all sounds like a lot of effort, that’s because it is. So why do it at all?

For Brian, it’s about helping people get better at the things they care about. “That’s why I like editing books. That’s why I like working with authors,” says Brian. “It’s why I like managing teams of people. It’s why I like teaching. I get to do things through others…We amplify success.”

To be an author, Brian says, “you don’t have to be an expert—but you do have to care.”

On career and beyond…

Brian explains, “I’m a better teacher because I’ve gone through the process of learning how to teach through writing. I’m a better writer now than I was in the beginning because of my experience in the classroom. I’m a better software developer because of feedback I’ve received from my writing and my teaching and in pull requests.”

In Brian’s view, “It’s sort of this interconnected loop of things.”

Brian talks about these connections as being both the tangible and intangible benefits of writing, and he says that people will be viewed as experts and will get jobs and speaking offers as an author. But according to Brian, the real value is that it “opens the door to opportunities.”

We’re certainly grateful for the opportunity we’ve had to work with Brian as both an author and editor. And even though he says it sounds “super, super biased” to say, we love the fact that Brian chooses to write his books with us, because he believes “that the development editors that Pragmatic Bookshelf has are the best in the industry.”

Brian says he trusts that PragProg will help him “deliver a book faster and [that] it will be of much better quality,” and we know that we couldn’t do it without authors like Brian.


Now that you know his story, complete your collection of Brian’s PragProg titles today! Don’t forget you can get 35% off with the coupon code devtalk.com!

Follow Brian on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bphogan.


YOUR TURN!

We’re now opening up the thread for your questions! Ask Brian anything! Please keep it clean and don’t forget by participating you automatically enter the competition to win one of Brian’s eBooks!

4 Likes

Great interview! I couldn’t agree with you more about the value of professional editing - IMO it can make all the difference between an okay book and a great one!

As someone who’s been in the industry for quite some time now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think the next big thing (in programming or tech) might be :nerd_face:

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How is Hugo versus Jekyll ? Also, do you need to know Go in order to be able to use and eventually customize Hugo for your needs ?
The book is Hugo only or you also present an introduction to the Go language ?

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I switched from Jekyll to Hugo for a couple of sites and then dove right in. I don’t think you need to know Go at all to use Hugo. In my book I don’t spend any time on Go. I think if you want to do some seriously advanced things you could use some Go knowledge, but honestly there’s so much out of the box, you can go pretty far without it.

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Thanks for the kind words about the interview. I don’t know what the next big thing in tech is, but I think there’s a lot of work to be done simplifying the front end. There’s a lot of cool things there, and a lot of complexity, but I worry about what a new developer in 2020 has to jump through to build things. It’s sorta what got me really excited about Hugo; that I didn’t have to use React; I could use regular HTML fragments like back in the PHP days. It was refreshing to step back a bit.

So I’m hopeful that the next big thing is something that drastically reduces complexity on the front end.

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Great interview! As someone who has aspired to be a teacher and has been enamored with learning and absorbing all I can, I find true value in meeting and knowing people like yourself, @bphogan. I’ve personally met some of your students, and it was profound the things we were able to learn from each other.

My question would be on the subject of imposter syndrome. I find that no matter how well I’m doing in my current career or any side project I undertake, I struggle. I always look for the best in people and overlook the worst, but, as I’m finding is common in tech, many of us see the worst in ourselves. During all your books and all your creative outlets, how did you cope with these feelings? (forgive me if I’ve falsely assumed you had those feelings) Did having a DE that you trusted and someone there helping the process along help in a major way?

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@bphogan Great interview! I’m curious where you see the future of programming education moving. We’re seeing bootcamps flourish, online platforms like Codecademy, Youtube instructors, etc. Are you worried that tech is making book learning obsolete? Where do you see your books fitting into the student’s process?

Secondly, what is the most exciting advancement in programming and/or tech that you can’t wait to dive into?

And a note to the show producer: The audio was low on this conversation. Platforms like Youtube and Spotify recommend setting audio at -13 to -15 LUFS. Your editing software should have this capability. Post production editing software like Auphonic will also do this for you: https://auphonic.com/landing Thanks so much for the content!

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@nbhankes Thanks for the note about setting audio to -13 to -15 LUFS. I’ll see if we can update this recording to bump up the audio. But certainly we will fix this in future author spotlight recordings!

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Oh the future of education… I can speak on this for days…

First, I don’t think books are going to be obsolete, but they have to evolve. They can’t be reference. You’re not paying for the references you can get online - you’re paying for the author’s experience.

But I don’t think it stops there. I’ve spent several years studying and applying educational techniques, and the one thing I know to be true is that learning happens through practice and feedback, not from reading or watching a video. The future is interactive feedback. Some places are doing this now, but the problem is that you often see the presented materials (videos and reading) are not aligned with the exercises and practice. They’re either abstract puzzles, or they are missing crucial clues.

Good educational material is strongly aligned. When you look at the Hugo book, for example, you should be able to accomplish each of the advanced exercises by leveraging what you learned in the chapter. That’s because they’re not afterthoughts; I wrote them first, and used them as a checklist. “Did I give people enough info to be successful with these challenges? Nope? Better add more stuff to the chapter or remove the challenge.”

So the future of learning is, I hope, going to be more aligned and incorporate more feedback and more practice. Watching videos and reading books isn’t gonna cut it. In fact, if I could add that interactivity to my books, that’d be amazing. We’ll have to see…

As for the most exciting thing right now? That’s Phoenix LiveView for sure. I love Elixir, I love Phoenix, and I love the idea of creating high performing real-time apps without writing JavaScript. I like reducing the complexity and learning curves. I also know that we, as an industry, have tried similar “you don’t have to know JS” solutions before and they’ve been… not great. But LiveView looks stellar and I am itching to clear my plate so I can play.

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I’m happy to help. Thanks for committing to making the change.

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@bphogan I envisioned something interactive, as well. I know of at least one JavaScript book that had links to a website with quizzes and modules. It was sort of clunky, but it worked.

I will do some research on Pheonix LiveView and Elixir! Thank you.

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Sure thing. Over at the Day Job I’m working to create more interactive content. Take a look at this tutorial to see an example. https://www.digitalocean.com/community/tutorials/using-grep-regular-expressions-to-search-for-text-patterns-in-linux

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Regarding the topic of interactive learning, Elixir, and LiveView, perhaps take a look here:

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Thanks for the kind words.

On Impostor Syndrome, I still suffer from it sometimes. But the reality is that the more places you go and the more programmers you interact with, and the more code bases you see, you realize that pretty much everyone is just figuring things out and we’re all in the same boat together.

The next time you feel like maybe you’re not up to the challenge, grab your smartphone and see how many apps say “bugfix” in their update notes. :slight_smile:

More seriously, consider that a little humility goes a long way. If you feel like you know everything, there’s a good chance you’ve got nothing challenging you anymore. Chad Fowler’s quote from The Passionate Programmer of “Be the worst player in the band” really resonates with me. I knew a lot about writing code, but when I moved into teaching full time, I had to start at the bottom. I knew the craft of code, but not the craft of teaching.

When it comes to my books and other creative outlets, I put them out there for people to give me feedback on. And sometimes it stings. But that helps me grow too. I don’t think you get better in any field if you’re not open to criticism. So part of dealing with impostor syndrome for me is accepting the feeling, collecting feedback, and acting on it. It gets easier over time.

If this is something you’re concerned with, I’d say you’re on the right track. The people I see who think they know everything and won’t accept feedback are setting themselves up for eventual problems down the road.

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