In this Episode
Chris Fidao is the author of the Leanpub book Servers for Hackers: Server Administration for Programmers. In this interview, Leanpub co-founder Len Epp talks with Chris about his background, how he got into programming, his entry into the world of books and screencasts and independently creating "info products," and at the end, they talk a little bit about his experience as a self-published author.
This interview was recorded on September 12, 2018.
This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Len: Hi, I'm Len Epp from Leanpub, and in this Leanpub Frontmatter Podcast I'll be interviewing Chris Fidao.
Based in San Antonio, Chris is a software engineer with over 10 years' experience architecting applications of all sizes. He current works for UserScape, working on a product called HelpSpot, which we'll probably be talking about a little bit later.
You can also listen to him on the "Has Opinions" Podcast, which you can find at hasopinions.wtf and on iTunes, which he cohosts with Daniel Espinoza, where they discuss things like remote work, DevOps, and money.
And of course, you can follow him on Twitter @fideloper.
Chris is the author of a couple of books on Leanpub, one of which is Implementing Laravel: Real-World Implementation of Testable and Maintainable Code, and another of which is Servers for Hackers: Server Administration for Programmers.
In this interview, we're going to talk about Chris's background and career, professional interests, his books, and at the end we'll talk a little bit about his experience using Leanpub, and the other ways that he manages his info product empire.
So thank you, Chris, for being on the Leanpub Frontmatter Podcast.
Chris: Sure, happy to be here.
Len: I always like to start these interviews by asking people for their origin story. So, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about where you grew up, and how you first found yourself getting interested in things like computers and software.
Chris: I grew up in Connecticut. I didn't really do a lot of stuff with computers, other than video games, until - I mean, maybe in my teens I made some web pages, I learned HTML, because I saw my dad doing that. He was a graphic designer, and graphic design moved to computers and that kind of thing.
So he bought a Macintosh. One of those like beige Macintoshes. He brought that home, and that was really my first computer. Eventually I randomly picked up an HTML book of his, and started just making a web page, because it seemed really neat, and HTML's a nice, easy place to start from. Not that I knew that at the time. But to me, back then - it seemed like amazing.
So I started doing some HTML then, but I didn't really get into anything serious computer-y until college. So I didn't really have this span of childhood time that I hear a lot of people talk about, where I was like learning programming, and diving into servers or anything like that.
Len: I saw on your LinkedIn profile that you did a bachelor's in Management of Information Systems. I was curious, I haven't come across quite that formulation before. Could talk a little bit about what that degree involved?
Chris: The way I describe that is - first of all, it was in the Business school of my college of UConn, where I went. First is the Engineering school, which is where Computer Science would be. So this is still computer related - Management of Information Systems. But their focus - which was a little old at the time, but now I think is especially old 10 years later - was to become an IT manager at a corporation somewhere. That was what their focus was. So, do this course, become an IT manager at some huge insurance company, like a middle manager or something like that. That really seemed like what it was to me.
The more technical classes I took actually were useful. So, I had a database class. That's how I learned about relational databases and normalizing data inside of databases and that kind of stuff. That is something I still use every day, developing applications now. But then there's your finance classes, and I didn't pick up anything from that. So, many of all these business-y classes were - some were kind of interesting, some were not. And mostly not totally used, really for my day-to-day at all.
Len: And how did you become an engineer then?
Chris: I don't know. I had an internship at a big insurance company before my senior year of college. So in the summer, right before my last year of college. And I didn't like it at all. That really got me to this point of view where I just knew I didn't want to work for a huge corporation. So I knew after I graduated, I wanted to look for a smaller company to work for.
I definitely had always been interested in programming, and just technical stuff in general. So my dad's company, the place he worked, it is still graphic design-geared, but they had a lynda.com account. I just used that, because my dad gave me the username and password, and I taught myself all sorts of programming stuff. So I taught myself PHP, and ActionScript, because I was really into Flash - and thought maybe I would even be a graphic designer as well back then, despite my complete lack of art skills.
So that is really what I did. After I was home, I was lucky enough to be able to be at my parent's house for - I don't know, it was probably like 9 months until I got a job and got out of the house after college. I was just on lynda.com almost full time, learning programming.
Len: That's really interesting. It's one of the sort of unofficial themes of this podcast, is talking to people about, if they were starting out now, would they go to university or would they recommend university for someone who wanted to become a software engineer?
Chris: Yeah, and you know what? I don't have a good answer for that. It'll be a thing. I have a son who is 11 months old. So the question of, "Is college going to be worth it?" is definitely something I've thought about. In the future too, especially that's something that might really change. I do feel like university, like that piece of paper that you get at the end of it, is really the thing you need like to get your foot in the door for a lot of companies. So there is that perspective. But in terms of what you learn there, the value - there's definitely less value in spending that four-plus years and so much money, at a university. But it is also still like the entrance fee to corporate jobs.
Len: It's a really fascinating issue, particularly important in the United States right now, with mounting student debt, which is actually becoming a different kind of problem from in the past, when it was already a problem.
I was talking to a friend of mine recently who went to Yale for his undergraduate degree, and he was saying, there's a whole layer of American society, of people who basically like won't talk to you, if you didn't go to an Ivy League university.
And so it seems like Americans in particular - I mean, there are prestigious universities everywhere, this happens in India as well, and in the United Kingdom and other places, obviously - but it seems like there is this interesting choice where it's kind of like all or nothing in a way. Like, it might be worth the couple hundred grand if you get into an Ivy League university, just for that calling card for the rest of you life -
Chris: Right, the connections you make.
Len: Yeah. And the fact that, for example - I've seen this in my own past. When people are presenting a slide about who the team is that you're proposing to put on a project, if you're bidding for a contract - if there's a bunch of Yales and Cambridges on there, you're much more likely to win that bid than if you don't have them. It's a really fascinating issue. What's particularly interesting to me is that the relationship between what you learn, and what the value is of going to university, has actually become bifurcated in a way, that it may not have been quite so bifurcated in the past.
Chris: Yeah, that's interesting. I haven't been on that side of the table before to accept a bid, really. So that's an interesting perspective, as well.
Len: I wanted to ask you something that might be related to that issue. So I know that on your podcast, you talk about labor issues and money. And you mentioned on one of those episodes, I think, this story about getting the internship and discovering that you didn't like working for a big company. If you can recall, what was it about the big company-ness that didn't jive with you?
Chris: So, two things. It was partly my fault, partly the big company's fault. I was just completely unmotivated to do anything there. So on my end, I didn't have the motivation. Or I didn't see why this mattered to me, right? It was a required step to graduate, so I did the internship. And within it, on the corporate side - it's just like they accepted interns. And you could tell interns kind of got foisted on these people inside. So they didn't know what to do with me, either. I didn't have work.
I ended up with this crazy assignment. I had to go through this huge Excel sheet and map lines in this Excel sheet, and check to see if a directory existed inside of a shared Windows directory - and just say if it existed or not. But it was like thousands of lines long. So it's just manual work. Which I probably should have - the typical programmer thing would be like, "Oh, I discovered I could do a VBScript inside of Excel and write all this stuff." But I didn't do that. I didn't know. Again, not super programmer, that's not my story. I hear so many people say that. I'm just like, "That's not my story at all."
But they didn't know what to do with me, and I wasn't motivated to go out and be like a real go-getter, to put more responsibility on my shoulders. And even if I was, I don't know who I would have talked to and how I would have done that. And even then - so, this was a big insurance company. It was like meetings upon meetings, and just throwing acronyms around. So it took me like the entire internship to even know what they were talking about. And at the end of it, no part of that experience was something I really wanted to dive back into.
Len: It's really interesting. Quite a few people who end up on this podcast have have a kind of independent streak, and one particular feature of it is having control over what you do, but also a direct relationship between the work you do and the thing that comes out in the end.
Chris: Yes. For sure. And my focus on trying to work for a smaller company after I learned some programming stuff was definitely geared towards that. I didn't really have the ambition then to work for myself, or try to find clients or anything. I definitely was on like monster.com putting my resume out there, when I thought I was ready. But the focus on a smaller company whereI could have a direct effect on the outcome, that was definitely something I had in mind.
Len: Before we talk a little bit later about your own products and how you got into that world, I wanted to ask you - I got this line about HelpSpot from your profile on Leanpubm and I'm not 100% sure it's actually still true. Is that still a product that you're working on?
Chris: Yes, definitely. At UserScape, we have two products. There used to be another one, but it got thrown by the wayside because it just wasn't profitable. HelpSpot's the main one, which is a customer support application. And the other one we're building is actually out now, but we're still in the early stages of it - it's Thermostat, which is a surveying tool. It does NPS and CSAT type surveys.
Len: And eventually while working for a small company, you started making your own products. How did you get into that?
Chris: I think I've been programming maybe like 13 years professionally, as in for a company. My first job was at a marketing agency in Connecticut, where we did a lot a programming, a lot of content management systems, that kind of stuff.
And during that, the company was growing, so I was at this weird stage after five or six years of working there, where I was kind of like the pseudo-manager - kind of a manager in name, but not in title - or really, money. We had a slow stage during a summer, because summers were often slow, and I was able to delegate all the work out, as was basically my responsibility at the time - making sure all the work was getting done, and talking to clients and stuff. But not necessarily doing it all myself.
I had a bunch of downtime. So I was learning Laravel, because Laravel was early at that time - or Laravel 4, I believe? And I was kind of hopping on the bandwagon then. I forget why exactly, but I got this idea in my head that I should get on Twitter and start blogging and stuff, and get some visibility there. And that started working for me. So I really started blogging a lot - digging into the code, and teaching that stuff.
Along the way I also started doing - well, first of all that was the start and the origins of the Laravel book, because some people were already putting out books on Laravel. And the audience in Laravel really seemed geared towards being accepting to that, to really wanting this extra material to learn from, to the point of even being willing to pay for it. So I saw some people do books and I was like, "Oh, I can do that too." And because I had that downtime, I was able to learn more and figure out what I wanted to write about - and read what other people were saying too, to teach myself as well
Len: And you eventually moved into making screencast videos and courses and things like that as well. I was wondering, did you do any training? Or did you teach yourself that much the way you taught yourself how to program?
Chris: Yeah, that was all painfully self-taught. How did I get into that? Okay so, the second job where I am still right now, is an even smaller company. The first company I started at was probably like eight people, and probably went up to like 20 something by the time I left. This company has been about five or six people in the five years I've worked there.
The owner of UserScape, Ian Landsman, is very entrepreneurial and really wants us to be too. Part of the reason why we began talking is because we both went to a Laravel conference, and met. He followed along online with me, and saw what I was blogging about and all that kind of stuff - and eventually we started talking, and that led to me working there.
He's very supportive of entrepreneurial efforts from all of us at UserScape. Some people do Airbnb's. Eric - who I work with - does Laravel News, and some other content-related stuff as well. We're all doing side stuff. And before that, I started getting into server-related things, purely because that became an issue in my daily programming life.
So many times, I had to spend an entire day trying to figure out one small configuration on a server, and having no idea what I was doing. But from that spawned a newsletter - Servers for Hackers, where I was writing blog posts for that, and basically doing that every week, and then putting my own content out there as the content for this newsletter.
I had signed up for a bunch of newsletters that aggregated stuff and just sent you links every week. And I didn't really like that as much. I didn't look at it really or click the links. So I did one, it was like two articles, two fleshed-out articles, but I had to get something done. I said that in the newsletter. And that format worked really well. I got a lot of signups for that. That morphed into the video site. Are you familiar with Laracasts?
Chris: So Larcasts came out, and Jeffrey was doing that. I just saw that it was working for him. So I was like, "Oh, video seems like a really nice format to do too." So I slowly, definitely not all at once - Servers For Hackers turned into a website, instead of just this newsletter site. And that website - quote unquote, "instead of a blog" - I kind of call it a website instead of a blog specifically, because it's not really a blog, it's a website that has a topic - kind of like back in the early 2000s where websites existed and they weren't all apps.
So that slowly turned into a place where I put a lot of content, where I was writing about server stuff. And it was not necessarily a newsletter specifically. But now it was like a site with content. And then Laracasts gave me the idea to do screencasts. So I started doing screencasts, and then I thought I would actually do like a subscription model., which I tried. But that didn't do too well, and between that and a full time job is way much work, to pump out that content all the time.
So I stopped making it a subscription site, and made it all free, and continued doing the info product stuff as well.
By that time, I think I'd already done the Servers For Hackers book, because that was before Servers For Hackers became a video site. I did some videos for the Servers For Hackers book as well. And that was really where I cut my teeth figuring out how to make videos not terrible. The first ones were terrible. And then I spent a lot of time figuring out the audio and how to make the audio not so - I don't know? - terrible.
Len: Thanks for that great story. It's something that took me a long, long time to learn in my life - that when you start doing something, you're probably not going to be very good at it. But if you keep at it, you'll get better.
I've actually been intending to invite you to this podcast for a while, but what inspired the timing here, as you know - was the recent Laracon EU conference, which Leanpub was a humble sponsor of. I was wondering, you've mentioned it a couple of times - but before I ask you a sort of more specific question, could you talk a little bit about what Laravel is, for those listening who might not be familiar with it?
Chris: For sure. Laravel is a framework build in PHP. It's a collection of tools and libraries and stuff like that, to make your development life easier. So, you don't have to program things like letting a user log in. You don't have to program the use of templates or - there's so many things. Talking to databases, talking to multiple types of databases. There's so many things that go into it. So, we have this framework that has all this tooling available to you. And Laravel is one of the - I mean, if it's not the most popular now, it's one of the most popular frameworks from PHP, PHP itself being one of the most, if not the most used languages globally. So it has a lot of visibility, high usage.
Len: I've had the privilege of twice interviewing Taylor Otwell, the creator and maintainer of Laravel, for this podcast. The first time was about five years ago when Laravel 4 was taking off, I believe. And just recently I got to ask him what it was like for him watching the Laravel community grow, as the maintainer of the project. And as you know - suddenly he's a keynote speaker at these conferences that grew from 80 people to 800 people. And so, we got the story from his perspective. And I was wondering, from your perspective - what was it like watching Laravel's popularity grow, and then your opportunity to build products around it?
Chris: I have definitely jokes about riding Taylor's coattails of success. Even if a small success, it's definitely not huge - I still have a full time job, so it's not like I'm making the millions.
I really jumped in when Laravel 4 was in beta, it wasn't fully out yet. I was learning that. And when it was Laravel 3, I didn't really know about it, it just never came across my daily life.
So I started learning it and - yes, it's a good question. I don't know when I saw that it was going to be really huge. I mean, it was big enough where I decided to write a book about it. But I think - I mean, more so than motivation to get money or anything like that, was a motivation to just become visible within a community. Because I thought that would lead to better job prospects. Because, like I said, it was in the slow period at this marketing agency I worked at, and I was just getting bored with that. After six years, I was ready to move on.
Len: One of the really interesting things about your story, as I was researching for this article, is the fact that you have so many balls in the air. It seems to me very well thought through. Having your job, finding the right kind of company that lets you be entrepreneurial. And then managing side projects, and thinking about your own financial future and things like that - which you talk about with Daniel on your podcast.
In addition to all of the other products your making, you're now producing content in audio form for podcasts. And you talk about burn out and holidays. You had a really interesting episode where I believe you talked about how you can't play video games until you're burned out. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that? I just love that story.
Chris: There's a few things there that are really interesting. So first, yeah, the video game thing. That's really recent. Because I always really enjoyed playing video games growing up. But in the last, I'd say four years - anytime I play them, I get kind of competitive about it - but I'm not good. So that's been a really frustrating experience. I don't know where that came from. But somewhere along the lines it became like that.
I was always really excited about doing this extra work, like this side-hustle-type work. That took over my time to the point where I just didn't want to play video games. It just wasn't on my scope. But then I'd get through a video series, and it would take almost a year to put out and produce and get out there and everything. And after that, I just didn't want to put in that much effort to anything. So I'd get into this period where I just didn't want to do a lot of work, and played more video games.
I then got really excited about something else and put that out. And that cycles probably still repeating. I think I'm back on the upswing right now after playing video games a bunch. And now I'm playing them less and less.
Len: It's really interesting - when you say you get really competitive, are you playing actually live against other people?
Chris: Yeah, for sure.
Len: Okay, yeah. It's funny. I've got a similar thing, but I'll be like that even if I'm just playing Zelda or something like that - as though there's some audience watching and it's easy to put that kind of pressure on yourself and stop having fun.
Every once in a while I like to ask a selfish question in podcast interviews. And in one of your "Has Opinions" podcasts, you started talking a little bit about your opinions on the structure of employment in the United States. I guess there might have not been time or a place within the structure of the podcast for you to really go into that, but I wanted to give you the opportunity here to take a few minutes maybe to share your opinions about that issue.
Chris: Oh my God, yes - where to begin? I think the biggest thing is - healthcare in United States is kind of messed up in a few ways, one being that good healthcare has always been tied to employment. And becoming self-employed is a very scary prospect, because healthcare has never been great, having to purchase it yourself. And now we have these healthcare markets which I was excited for initially, but now they're really expensive for what you get.
They always really were. And those are problems that could've been solved, but now with the political climate, they're just getting stripped away and made worse. So we're going to be in the situation where healthcare gets worse before it gets better - if, assuming it gets better within my lifetime. So that's a very strong impediment to even wanting to become self-employed, if that's someone's goal.
But even if you are not aiming for that goal, it's still tied to employment. It's still sub-optimal in terms of how much you have to pay and what you get and all the ways insurance companies are able to lobby the government in order to spend less on people, essentially.
And then there's the structure of employment, where you just have to be at your desk for 40 hours a week, at least during the prime of your life. I've started calling hours "life hours," just to like keep in my mind that the clock is ticking. Which is kind of grim, and probably more stressful than it should be. But it's just a mental thing, a mental game I play with myself sometimes. So, actually when I'm spinning my wheels on something at work, and I'm just so angry that that's how I'm spending my time - which is not always all the time or anything, but occasionally that comes up - just programming in general.
You can hear my kid - he just got up.
Len: Well actually on that note - do you have thoughts about remote work as well? I'm sure you do.
Chris: The upsid's vastly outweigh the downsides so far. I've been working remotely for almost five years. And that's been really great, for the most part. I have a son now. He's 11 months old, as of this recording. And there's definitely some challenges when you have a child at home too. Because they're noisy and they don't care if you have work to get done. And my wife is home, but she needs breaks sometimes. She has to go make a sandwich for herself at lunch, just whatever.
And I'm home - so I take care of him for that actually, instead of putting him in daycare or anything. We're actually going to put him in daycare soon, so we get a few hours just like twice a week to not have child care time. You know what I mean? To get chores done, or for me to start recording, where there's not noises in the background and everything like that.
But overall, I really like that we're both home with him all the time, as opposed to shipping him off to day care for the majority of the week.
So that aspect is nice. Having kids is definitely challenging. Before I had kids, it was super great, because I just walked into this room, I started working, I went and got lunch. Me and my wife were home. Well, she was working until the kid came along as well. So we both had our jobs and then we're hanging out at the end of the day. And it was nice, no commute and the time savings of being able to move.
We actually moved to Texas. I told you I grew up in Connecticut. I lived there up until about four or five years ago, or probably three, four years ago actually. And we moved to Texas for Natalie to be closer to her family and to get a job here in San Antonio. And I could work anywhere, because I was working [remotely] by then - so that was also a really nice aspect.
Len: I actually wanted to ask you about your views on maternity and paternity leave. I came across an item in probably the New York Times or something like that recently, about how as part of the debate about things like maternity leave, there were politicians proposing that, "Okay, fine - let's, say, give women and perhaps men three or four months off - but then they can't retire for three or four months later than you would normally.”
Len: There's just something - the flavour of that way of thinking, that's just very striking to me. And that seems to be part of this kind of - it was once described to me by a law professor from the United States who had moved to Canada - as a kind of edge in American life. She had had this experience of being a professor in the United States, and then moving to Canada - and just noticed that there wasn't this bite in the students' personalities.
Her speculation was that it was partly because they didn't have to worry about health care in their lives. And you didn't, there's not this cliff that you're always worried about falling off of - from getting fired and things like that. Anyway, in that context, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what you think about how maternity leave, and things like paternity leave, ought to be handled as a matter of policy?
Chris: Right. Well, at UserScape, which I think has a generous policy - the secondary person, so that's me, because my wife would be the primary - gets five weeks off. That's like a generous policy for a United States company. And that's absolutely crazy. That amount of maternity and paternity leave is not enough really, especially compared to other countries that give you so much time off, like a year.
I can see both sides of the argument. So, if I'm running a company and I have to pay an employee's salary for a year for maternity leave, I think that is the case in Canada, for that long - that's a downer if you're a small company. So I can see that side of the argument too. For larger companies, I have a little less sympathy. But for the person who is on leave, that's great. Not having that ability sucks totally.
And more so, I think something irks me about how much control employers have over our lives also. I think that's maybe the underlying theme between the amount of hours we have to spend at our desk a week, trading money for life hours. So getting to that concept again. And then, you don't get much leave, as much as really is healthy for your family. And vacation time - very similar to that, you don't really get much vacation time. It's kind of crazy to have this certain amount of days that you're counting down from, which is small to begin with, that you're allowed to work or not work - you know what I mean? If you're taking vacation time.
Like, there's some entity in your life telling you what days that you can just not work - it's nuts in a way. And that's a small amount of time to begin with in US companies. And if you try to take more off, and you're past your vacation dates, you're past your paid vacation days - so in theory, you can take more days off that are not paid. But trying that, you get this blank stare from the HR person: "I don't even know if my system can do that."
Len: Thanks for bringing up the issue of control. I hadn't quite put it together, but now looking back, I can see that - the things I learned about you from researching this podcast, there's this sense of awareness that you have of the amount of control that companies can have in your life if you're living that way. And one of the pre-occupations that I have is not just the number of hours that you need to spend at your desk, but the actual hours. The specific hours during the day that you need to be at your desk. And the insanity of having - as a society - rush hours at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day. I liked "life hours." That was great. And there's something that's terrible about rush hour, in terms of the wasted time with the rushing, the rushing itself. There's all these ways that we can often take for granted, that actually the structure of normal corporate life is kind of this attack on our well-being.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. In rush hour, I mean commuting also in terms of rush hour, in terms of traffic, but also just the rush hour when work gets done.
Again, it's something where I could see the other side of the equation. So for instance at UserScape, we all pitch in on customer support. And all the other companies need customer support during business hours. So it's completely reasonable for us to have to be at our desk during business hours.
UserScape wouldn't work as a company where it was like, "These are our objectives. Get the work done, but you can work any hours you want to get that done." That set up could work for a lot of companies, but if you have customers who work business hours and need your help during business hours, then that's not really an option, from the perspective of the business owner. So there's definitely a tension between the two needs. That's why it's still a hard problem.
Len: Thanks for that great answer, and for seeing the other side of things.
My last question on this topic is, do you think that remote work is going to become something that's more popular in the future, with communications technology being seamless now, in a way that it wasn't until pretty recently?
Chris: I certainly hope so. The downsides of not having employees - or colleagues, is the better word - the downside of not having colleagues around is a real thing too. Because at work you make friends - I mean, sort of because you have to. That's another control thing. Because those are the people you spend your time with. But then also there's - I think there's actually a legitimate argument to be made about the value of the serendipitous stuff that happens when you just kind of shoot the shit with other friends or other colleagues at work. And just the natural progression of what can happen at work as the result of that
But the upsides of working from home are really great too. Just being home, being near your kitchen. I can walk to the next room and take care of my kid for a little while, while Natalie's off doing something, or just because I want to. All sorts of stuff like that. The upsides there are really great. I think it should grow. It could definitely help in terms of not having to be located near your job. So that means you don't have to move into the city that's expensive, or just a lifestyle that you don't want.
You could live in a much cheaper area and get paid more. Although I think companies will get wise to that, and pay you depending on your area where you're located - and also not necessarily what they would pay an employee like who lives geographically close to them. But who knows? That depends on the company and all that kind of stuff too.
Employers also have a good reason to like i,t in terms of the pool of people available to them. Like if I'm in Silicon Valley, I don't want to spend $200,000 and then plus, the extra one third of that, because you also have to provide benefits and all that stuff to each developer. If someone could have a much better lifestyle - $100,000, $150,000 living somewhere else.
Len: Moving onto the next part of the interview, I'd like to talk about your books and some of your products. Implementing Laravel was a pretty popular book, and it was translated into a number of other languages. I wanted to ask you, about how that came about?
Chris: People just emailed me and asked if they could. Leanpub was a good resource for that, because you can split the profits by the co-authors. So, you make a new book and add them as a co-author and then split whatever makes sense for that. And they do the work of translating it, which is nice. The downside is it gets out of date. I haven't really touched the Implementing Laravel book in a while, but the Servers for Hackers book I update every two years to keep up with new server versions. I think there's one or two translations of that, and they have fallen behind, because the authors forget that four years ago they did a translation for a book.
Len: Speaking of keeping things up to date. Did you write either of those books, Implementing Laravel and Servers for Hackers in progress? I mean, if Servers for Hackers is being constantly updated, it's kind of a constantly in-progress book. But did you publish them chapter by chapter, or did you publish them the first version all at once?
Chris: No. And you know what - if I was going to do it again, maybe I would do chapter-to-chapter, just because my own marketing strategies have changed over the years.
Implementing Laravel is my very first dive into anything - really kind of like getting the public eye, so to speak. Or putting a product out there, would be a better way to word that. I'm just lucky that I did well. I think I got in early with the Laravel audience. So, it would do well because it was early, and I had already done some blogging, so I had a little bit of an audience from that kind of stuff. It did well enough for me to also have a very positive experience from it. So I wanted to do it again, and I knew that I could. It's kind of a boost there, knowing that I have accomplished this before, and could do it again.
Len: And for your first book, did you hire copy editors or anything like that, or did you dive in based on your experience blogging and just writing generally?
Chris: That was just my experience and all the typos are mine. I'm sure there's still tons in there.
Len: On that note, actually, for Servers for Hackers, I believe you set up a GitHub repo for feedback. How's that experience been?
Chris: That's actually been pretty good. My audience are mostly developers, so they're used to that workflow, used to dealing with GitHub. So, just to head in to GitHub and say, "On this page, there's this typo" - t's been a really nice process.
I treat it like a code project. I say, "This is updated. You can't see the update because I don't have the book in a public repository, but it's updated and the next time I do an update on Leanpub, you'll get an email and it will include that update," so that process has been pretty good.
Len: My second to last question is, what's your next project, that people should be looking out for?
Chris: So, I do mostly video projects here, right? Screencast projects now. And I have my own platform that I eventually built, that hosts the videos and lets people purchase and all that stuff. After Servers for Hackers, which is still on Leanpub, I did a deployment course and a Docker course, and a course on scaling Laravel is actually my most recent course. And the one I'm working on now - it's going to be kind of a smaller, quicker course, just out of necessity from having a kid and having less time - it's going to be about backups in MySQL, the database.
Len: Is that mysql.tv?
Chris: Sure is, yeah.
Len: Okay, okay, great. Thanks for sharing that.
My last question I always ask of people who are authors on this podcast is, if there's one thing about Leanpub that we could build for you, or one thing we could fix, do you have any idea of something you might ask us for?
Chris: Good question. I think actually, the review process - or having people help you with typos and changes and that kind of thing, would be a nice thing to build into Leanpub, rather than GitHub. Just because not everyone has an audience that's familiar with a GitHub, or something like that. And people are always willing to help. For better or worse, but mostly for better - people are usually willing to help and point out issues with the book, or things they would do differently - something like that.
Len: Thanks very much for that suggestion. We've heard that a little bit before and definitely, fostering that interaction between authors and readers, and especially early readers of a book, is very important to us, because we see it as a way of improving the book. And people love - as you say - people want to help. The magic of telling an author about a typo, and seeing the update with your correction in there, is actually something people really enjoy.
Chris: I like that in terms of kind of a marketing strategy as well.
Len: Yeah, it's great. It's just good for everybody on all sides, which is one of the reasons it's so nice to be facilitating that kind of thing.
Well, thank you very much, Chris, for taking that time to do this. I really appreciate it. Good luck with all your projects, and with your new arrival as well.
Chris: Thanks, I appreciate it. It was really fun.