Ep. 80: How to get a job, stay focused, and create quality content - advice from a senior software engineer

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On this week's episode of the freeCodeCamp podcast, Abbey interviews senior software engineer and prolific content creator Ohans Emmanuel. They discuss how he got into tech, how he ended up in Berlin, what goes into writing a book, and how he stays focused through it all.

When Ohans was young, he learned a very important lesson from his parents: you must take responsibility for yourself and your actions. He was lucky enough to grow up with a computer in the house, and gradually learned computer basics.

In school, he studied engineering, but didn't learn much programming. So he had to teach himself. And it was hard. He lacked a community, had to struggle through things on his own, and felt like it was much harder than it needed to be.

"I don't understand what it was - I was a smart student, but when I started to teach myself to learn how to code, that was the most difficult thing I had to teach myself to do. I was really on my own, I didn't join any groups. It was really just me trying to figure out the road map for myself. And that was really difficult."

But having a supportive mentor helped. And eventually he started freelancing and teaching young adults how to code. He also began to fall in love with design and writing. As his passion for design grew, he began to appreciate its usefulness as well:

"There is something about a front-end engineer who understands design. You see things differently. You can have meaningful conversations with the designers, and you have different opinions. You're not just building stuff - you understand how it affects the users."

As Ohans learned more skills and came across more and more tough topics, he decided to research and then write about them. Again and again. He has written a number of free, full-length books about React, Redux, CSS, and many other topics. And his approach to the process is unsurprisingly organized and measured.

"The first step is deciding what to write about. So I find a subject that is challenging or that I think maybe the community hasn't really explored. Or if I think that a lot of beginners are finding this subject difficult, it just makes me want to write about it more."
"I'm really passionate about teaching things in plain, simple language. So you take a difficult subject and you break it down. It's so much fun. And when you do this over and over, it helps a lot of people. And it puts smiles on my face."

Now isn't that enthusiasm contagious?

In addition to writing books and articles and helping kids learn to code, Ohans has a full-time software engineering job in Berlin. Deciding to make the move away from friends and family wasn't easy, but with their support he went for it.

During the interview process, he learned a lot about job interviews in general and what it took to go through them successfully. He believes being good at your job as an engineer and being good at interviews are two very different things.

Despite this, Ohans believes that anyone can conquer the interview process. And his go-to advice?

"Just smile. It keeps you calm and makes the interviewer calm as well. They want to give you time and let you think. You're smart, you can do it - you just have to stay calm and figure it out."

Part of Ohans' success is derived from his commitment to deep work and deep focus. He firmly believes that anyone can learn anything if they put their mind to it and have a plan.

"I believe that the act of focus itself is a skill - just as much as you can learn to play the piano, you can learn to focus as well. And I think people really need to take their attention as seriously as possible. If you covet your attention, and take it like it's important, I think you'll be careful how you spend your time."

In this interview, we discuss how he overcame the obstacles he faced when learning to code alone, how he got a job in another country, how he creates so much valuable, free content, and how he advises new developers to approach interviews, mentors, and many other tough subjects.

"If you try something for a day and it doesn't work, go on and try it for a week. If it still doesn't work, try for two weeks. If it still doesn't work, re-evaluate what you're doing. If you still think you're heading in the right direction, try for another month. Or two months. And if you're still sure you're going in the right direction, don't give up - you're gonna get it.

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