Questions for a Software Engineer

Posted by Filip Ekberg on 30 Nov 2012

A couple of weeks ago I visited my old upper high school. This is where you take your last three years of high school in Sweden and focus on a certain area. I focused on IT and Programming and now a couple of weeks ago I was invited to come back and talk to the current students. My initial idea was to talk about programming and inspire these young people (16-20 years old) to continue studying in the field of software engineering. But when I found out that more than half of the attendees actually studied something else such as economics or entrepreneurship, I had to change focus of the presentation. The new focus on the presentation was entrepreneurship and how to become awesome at selling yourself.

I recorded this presentation, but since it's in Swedish I will not bother embedding it into this post; it's available on my YouTube channel for anyone that wants to have a look at it!

The questions for a Software Engineer

The students had put together a list of questions, 19 questions to be precise and most of the questions were aimed at me and my career. But I think that many of these questions are among the commonly asked ones, I'd like to share the questions and the answers with you all. So here goes, have an awesome Friday and enjoy the Q&A! If you have additional questions for me or any comments on the answers that I gave, please leave a comment!

When you started upper high school, how good were you at programming?

I was somewhere between 10 and 12 years old when I first saw programming in action. Back then we didn't have fancy computers, of course they were fancy at the time but not as todays computers. I remember my best friend back then showed me QBasic and how to do basic input, conditions and output. So I just wrote some basic programs in QBasic that asked me a question over and over again until I gave it a certain answer.

This was fun and all, but it kind of stopped there. I didn't have my own computer until I was 12 years old and at this time my friend had learned VB which I gave a try but never really got into it. I was young and my focus at that time wasn't to become a programmer. I liked computers and I liked exploring them but the games on my computer was calling out to me.

As I was born 1987, being 12 years old puts us in 1999. We had no high speed internet at this time and some of the operators in Sweden actually charged per megabyte that you downloaded. So googling for video tutorials wasn't really an option.

So let's speed it up a bit, when I was 16 years old I started upper high school. I had chosen to become an electrician just as my father. But after 1-2 weeks I felt that something was missing, so I actually changed schools, mainly because the programming kids got their own laptops at the school. Up until now I had actually played a lot with computers so I wasn't a completely newbie on that area. But my programming skills wasn't that good and fortunately for me, they didn't expect that in high school either.

This means that the short answer is, I wasn't any good at programming at all when I started high school. I had tried some when I was younger, but that wasn't enough. Eventually we started looking at HTML and this being static and all, I wanted some dynamic behavior in my web pages so I bought books and learned PHP. In the final years of high school we were doing C# and I were de-compiling the teacher’s examples and changing stuff and then re-compiling them.

Programming had by then became a part of what identified me and who I wanted to be.

What was the hardest part about writing/releasing your own book?

There were a lot of bumps in the road when writing the book. I've written about the writing process and what decisions that I made along the way.

But if I need to choose one of the most hard parts about writing the book. That would probably be: handling all the input from proof readers.

The hardest part about releasing the book has been all the rules and tax stuff. Since I use CreateSpace which is a USA based company there are a lot of different rules regarding taxes that are very hard to get your mind around. I've spent countless of hours trying to figure all that out.

How did you experience studying in Blekinge (the county where I studied for my BCs in Software Engineering)?

This county is in the southern of Sweden and the town that I studied in is called Ronneby. It's hard to compare this to any other cities that you might have heard about. This town (if you can even call it that) is so small that when you go out to buy something, you know Everyone and everyone knows you.

Ronneby changed my life, if I would have never met my wonderful girlfriend if I hadn't moved to Ronneby.

The school itself is awesome, we had the highest number of researchers in the field of Software Engineering in Sweden.

Have you earned any money off the book, if so how much?

It depends on how you look at it. If you take all the time that I've put down on writing the content and then multiply that with whatever my time is worth. It would be so much that this book would have to sell as good as Harry Potter before I can say that I earned money from it.

The royalties are much better when self-publishing, but a lot of that money needs to go on additional marketing if you want to sell more books.

I didn't write the book for money, I wrote it because I love what I do and I want to share this with everyone.

Why did you write a book?

There are so many different things that inspired me to write the book. A lot of the great authors that I met at NDC in 2011 and a lot of people that I've met in my career prior to that.

But the definitive moment that changed everything was when I applied for a job that I didn't get. For some reason there wasn't enough "evidence" that I was a good enough programmer for that position. This inspired me to write a lot more in my blog. I've focused my energy on other things before and I've always enjoyed talking and writing about programming and technology.

So I started writing my blog because I was inspired, sort of by myself, because I wanted to do more for the community and I wanted to share my experience and knowledge.

As I wrote before, there were a lot of reasons to why I started writing this book. Mostly inspiring has been all the people around me and the developers that I look up to.

How are the sales of the book going?

It's going great! I've been selling around 70-100 books per month since it was released and all feedback that I've gotten has been very positive!

How do you sell the book and how do you market it?

I sell the book through CreateSpace. CreateSpace is a print-on-demand company that sells the book through different channels such as Amazon. It's also available on Kindle and as an ebook bundle!

My girlfriend has bachelor degree in marketing, so I try to get as much help from her as possible on this. Lots of the marketing that I've done so far is the discounts that I've handed out and the books that I've raffled away.

Most importantly: Word of mouth.

Who read the manuscript during the writing process?

At one point I had 8 people that wanted to dedicate their time to read and proof the book. This was all during the writing process and after I had finished writing.

I've thanked all these amazing people in the Acknowledgement section in my book, be sure to check that out when you buy my book!

Do you have your own business, if so what type of business is it?

Yes, I've got a sole proprietorship.

When you started your own business, did you make an initial budget?

No. I should have made one though. A couple of years after I started my sole proprietorship I found out that it would have been better to actually know what money comes in and comes out in the long run. Everything worked out for the best though!

I really recommend you to do a budget and a business plan if you're thinking about starting up something.

What kind of system do you use to keep track of all invoices and papers in your company?

I wrote my own system to create invoices. I was 18 years old when I started my sole proprietorship and I didn't really want to buy a system for this since I could write one myself.

What is the best way to learn programming?

This is way too subjective to give one answer to. I learn best by being inspired by someone. It can be watching a video on Channel9 or maybe attending a conference where there's all these amazing people talking about new and fun technology and how to use it.

If you like reading buy books. If you like listening watch screencasts. Nowadays there are ways for everyone!

What is the hardest part about programming?

Understanding the system requirements. The customer or whoever you talk about the system you are going to build with have one way of expressing what they want, when they really want something else. One of the biggest problems that is actually fundamental in domain driven design is that you need to speak the same language!

Why C#?

Why not?

Seriously though, C# is a living language as I call it. There's a lot of changes happening to the language and how you work with it. If you look back at .NET 1.1 and compare the C# code from then to code from today, both of them are understandable and similar. But there are so much more help in the newer versions of C# that helps you write even cleaner, faster and easier to understand code.

Another important thing, at least for me is that I've always loved Microsoft. I've got a hard time staying away and not preaching their stuff.

What other programming languages do you know?

I started off with PHP when I was 16 and then I learned Java. From there I've learned to love some of the following: C#, C++, ASM (MIPS+X86), Python.

Probably forgot one or two languages but those are the ones that I would be comfortable doing projects in. I would probably have to do some reading up if someone threw a MIPS project in my face.

Do you have a role model?

There's too many people that I look up to. My parents and my family has always been what drives me to do greater things.

In the profession there's also a lot of great people that I look up to such as Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Eric Lippert, Steve Jobs, Scott Hanselman, Scott Guthrie, Jon Skeet and many more.

To be honest, I look up to everyone that loves what they do and do everything to share that passion.

How long did it take to write your own book?

If I include the time it took to prepare all the raw content, I think it lands somewhere around 2000 hours.

Do you also work as a Software Engineer or are you just an author?

I work as a full time Software Engineer at Star Republic in Gothenburg meanwhile as I have my own sole proprietorship and doing all the work with the book.

I'm a man with many hats and I like to have many projects in the pipe!

Will there be a sequel to the book?

Depends on who you ask. If you ask my girlfriend the answer is no.

All joking aside, she supports me in writing another one but currently I am focusing on C# Smorgasbord and everything that is needed to be done after a release of a book.

I've got plans for more books, but time will have to tell what happens.

End of Q&A

I really hope you enjoyed reading these Q&A's, I sure did writing them!

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