An Interview with Crossroads PR


I was recently interviewed by Jennifer Gardner from Crossroads PR for a series of Author Q&A/Profiles commissioned by Syncfusion for their authors in the succinctly range.

Unfortunately my responses where too long for the post to go on the Syncfusion Blog, so they had to be shortened.

Beacuse of that, I’m reproducing the full unedited version here for those who’d like to read it

The official Syncfusion version can be found here : http://www.syncfusion.com/blogs/post/Succinctly-Series-E-Book-Author-QA-with-Peter-Shaw.aspx

best regards, Shawty


1) Why were you interested in working with Syncfusion to create e-books for the Succinctly series?

I don’t think it was so much that I was interested in Syncfusion or for that matter any particular company. In fact if the truth be known I can’t really remember how I ended up doing my first book “GIS Succinctly”, among the many community things I do I help run one of the Largest .NET user groups on the Linked-In groups platform called Lidnug. As a virtual User Group with more than 50,000 members worldwide Syncfusion sponsor us. If memory serves me right I just got talking to one of the team at Syncfusion one day and the subject of the Succinctly Range came up.

At the time the project had only just been started, and the person I was talking to at the time mentioned they where looking for authors so I though why not give it a shot, I’d actually fancied trying my hand at writing for sometime at that point.

However, there’s a little bit more of a back story to this than just a chance meeting and a suggestion that sparked it all off. (There always is right?) 🙂

As an original 1980’s back bedroom coder in the UK things where very, very different to the way they are now. I started computing in late 1979 at the age of 7 years old, it was a fun time but it was very, very frustrating. Developers and I.T people of the current generation just take it for granted that Google will always be there to search for things, or that Syncfusion will always publish books and Stack Overflow will always have an answer somewhere, but back in 1980 thru 1989 Google was still just a twinkle in its creators eye.

Finding sources of information was hard, you had to seek out like minded teenagers, and you’d learn together by hacking around, typing in random stuff and yes, you broke things… but breaking things was good, because it made you learn how to fix things.

Some teenagers where lucky, they had their own private phone line and a fast modem (Fast in those days was 9600 baud), the internet and broadband as everyone knows it today was a handful of computers at a handful of selected universities much of which was still a few years away for me.

I did have one point of access though, I had parents who encouraged me to explore this new world, and I was given a 300 Baud modem and permission every Saturday night from 11pm until everyone awoke at 9am on Sunday morning to connect my computer to the phone network as much as I wanted. I reached out to places far beyond my doorstep in strange places such as FidoNet, Usenet and CIX, I connected to UK bulletin board systems such as Procrastinet, Rudolphs Stable and CCL4 I was on a mission. I would spend all week saving up my questions, typing up text files with information and tech stuff that I’d worked out on my own then I’d spend all night Saturday uploading my questions, sharing my text files and downloading text files and answers to the previous weeks questions from others.

As time went by I learned things, and I learned pretty fast, by the time I was 10 years old I could program pretty much any version of the basic programming language you put in front of me, but more than that I’d also mastered an art form that not many my age had, and that was machine code, specifically Z80 and 6502 machine code.

Machine code is where you issue instructions directly to the computers central processing chip, so for example the numbers “A9 20” in 6502 code mean “LDA #0x20” or load the chips A register with the hexadecimal number 20. Getting to grips with Machine Code meant pretty soon that I became a goto source for other like me wanting to learn how to get the most out of their computers, so pretty soon a lot of my Saturday nights where spent not only on my own voyage of discovery, but helping others with theirs. It was a truly humbling and mind blowing experience, the collaborative efforts of this global community where everyone only knew each other by a handle or nickname on a computer screen was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and I doubt I ever will again. People of all races, all ages, from all around the globe working together in perfect harmony to produce a greater experience for everyone, even today’s social networks and virtual communities come nowhere near what the experience was like, it genuinely was a voyage of wonder and discovery where everything you achieved you did so because you learned it and you earned it and then you shared it.

As time went on and as I grew older, my studies and school/college life became more important and I had less time to spend in this weekend online wonderland, but I never forgot (and never will), I made a promise to myself there and then that as soon as I was in a position to help others they way they helped me I would. I foresaw a future where I would run a technical community of my own with new learners like myself coming in by modem looking for answers, I made a pact with myself that if I had my way in future it would never be as hard for them as it was for me.

As we went forward into the 90’s and the early start to what we now know as the commercial internet, many of these BBS’s started fade away, Microsoft commercialized the desktop with windows and the old home computers of the 80’s and early 90’s started to disappear, and along with them all these wonderful characters, many of them like myself are still around, but since they go by real names these days you really would only know who’s who if you actually knew who’s who. The social networks of today are it’s sad to say not a patch on the 80’s home computer revolution, most I.T newcomers these days have a mass of information at their fingertips so they just go and consume, couple that with the ever demanding needs of industry and the busy software developer doesn’t have much time for anything these days, However I made myself a promise 20+ years ago, and that’s a promise today that I intend to keep.

Writing Syncfusion EBooks is one of the ways that I keep that promise up, because I believe information should be shared and not silo’ed away so that only certain people can view it, everyone should be on a level playing field with the same opportunities to learn as everyone else, I’ve always been a programmer at heart I love developing software, I like the challenge of chasing down that latest bug, of taming the hardware and making it do what I want it to, but more so I like sharing those findings and discoveries I make, when I’m writing I go off into my own little bubble, I’m back in 1980, typing up text files at the keyboard of my trusty 32k BBC Model B, sitting there staring at green characters on a washed out black screen of a beat up old colour TV that probably used more electricity in an hour than a modern day office does in a week. I’m back in that world of discovery, only I’m not discovering any more, I’m providing the help and the information for future generations who hopefully will one day tread the same path I am and continue to share the information they gain.

2) Are these e-books your only technical manuals? Do you have additional titles you would like to share with our developer community?

In terms of the format they are in yes, however they are not the only technical writing that I’ve done, or indeed continue to do.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I help run a large Linked in group called Lidnug. As part of the work that I do with that I speak to and discuss with many others from around the world various aspects of modern day software development. Lidnug also attracts it’s fair share of people wanting to know how to achieve a given task in Software Development to wanting to understand how a particular thing works, it’s much like the BBS systems of years gone by where any and all subjects are on the table but a vast majority of it is just repetition of “The way things are done in this day and age”

As a result, there are many hundreds even thousands of posts in among the various discussions (I’ve been a Lidnug Manager for about 5 years now) that could constitute published technical works I’ve written.

Lidnug also publishes regular video presentations on Technical Subjects from well known and prominent authors in the industry. Among these video’s are several I’ve done myself, and others where I’ve doubled up with other presenters such as Troy Hunt and Rob Sullivan. I try to keep an upto date list of things like this in the publications section on my Linked-in profile page.

Putting Lidnug to one side I also spend time in places like Stack Overflow and Code Project answering questions and participating in community discussions.

I also Blog both Paid and Personal, I have my own personal blog at https://shawtyds.wordpress.com/ where I also keep a page listing the Syncfusion E-books I’ve had published so far with links back to the SF E-book portal page. I also get paid to look after the .NET nuts and bolts column on Developer.Com for Quinn Street Media which can be found at :http://www.codeguru.com/columns/dotnet/ , I do 4 articles per month on various things in the .NET ecosphere, usually the posts are based heavily on things I’ve been working on in the preceding weeks.

I’m also a registered Microsoft UK Community Leader and regularly can be found around the UK at various user group meetings both as a speaker and as an attendee. I’m quite well known on the UK circuit and can often be found speaking at events such as “Developer, Developer, Developer” as well as participating in meetings and online forums with other community leaders and staff from the Microsoft UK developer Evangelism team based at reading.

I’m also a published Pluralsight Author with one video available and an intention to deliver more this year

On top of all this I run my consultancy & software company “Digital Solutions Computer Software UK” and as part of the consultancy services I offer I produce technical project documentation to assist in training in-house development teams and to document systems and development projects for the teams building them, most of this however is proprietary and confidential to the clients involved.

Last year, I discovered that as well as software I have a new found skill for writing, the succinctly series is just the start, I’ll keep writing for Syncfusion as long as they want me to keep writing for them, but I also want to branch out a bit more, find some other E-book outlets to write for, take on some more blogging roles, and I’d even like to try writing an actual physical in print book to, I’ve already had a few discussions with a few publishing companies about this.

As for titles I’d like to share with the SF community, man that’s such a hard one to answer 🙂 How about “The World of I.T and everything!” , If I have any skill or knowledge in any area of I.T that Syncfusion are looking to produce a book for then I’m absolutely happy to produce that book, you only have to ask 🙂 For topics I can do and that I particularly enjoy doing, I quite like where HTML, JavaScript and CSS are going these days, My current book which is currently in Tech Edit “CSS3 Succinctly” is actually I think one of my favourites so far, I enjoy writing all the books I’ve done so far, but I really, really enjoyed the CSS3 one because I got to make pretty pictures and work with nice colours in the process, While writing CSS3 Succinctly it also occurred to me that there’s a huge amount that I just wouldn’t be able to fit into the book, 2 subjects in-particular “CSS3 Page Layouts” and “CSS3 Animation” could make whole books on their own. On top of that There’s the tooling, as well as good old visual studio there’s Grunt, Npm, Gulp, Composer, Bower and all the new versions of things that Syncfusion have already covered. My Second Book was about the Postgres Database, since that was produced Postgres is now at version 9.4 and has some amazing new features that warrant doing an updated version of the original book.

3) Each title in the Succinctly series features a graphic of an outdated technology, what is your favorite outdated technology?

Telling you my favourite is easy “The Acorn Range of Home Computers”, specifically my BBC Model B Micro which sadly I no longer have and my Acorn Archimedes A5000 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Micro & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acorn_Archimedes ) see my Flickr page for some photos of my A5000. Both of these computers hold a place in my heart because without them I’d not be where I am today, some of the most important learning and discoveries I’ve made in my lifetime where made on either one of or both of these computers. The most Iconic images from either of these ranges are the BBC Owl (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BBC_owl.svg ) and the Acorn Computers Logo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Acorn_computers_logo_rendered_with_text.svg ) any serious computer user in the UK at that time would instantly recognize either of these images. For the most part though both machines where relatively unknown over in the USA, they where a very definite British Icon. At the time there was to main routes that most school children followed, you had those that followed the Acorn route, they became your software engineers, your I.T and communications experts and your tinkerers, then you had those that followed the Sinclair & Commodore route with the Commodore 64, Amiga 500 and similar machines, most of those that went this route became users of I.T and game players, for me there’s no competition however I owe a huge amount of gratitude to my humble Acorn machines and always will do, and if you look hard enough you can actually find downloads of software I wrote way back when I was still at school, made available for those of this generation who explore old technology through the use of emulators.

4) What have you learned since writing these e-books and your most recent book on Resharper?

I think a better question is what Haven’t I learned. Up until the point where I started to write the book I considered myself a fairly advanced used or the product, but I knew I wouldn’t be doing due diligence if I didn’t dig in and explore some of the less used features available.

Using ReSharper as a user as opposed to using ReSharper to write about it are two completely different things. I very quickly realized that in my day to day work using Resharper that there was an enormous amount of functionality that I just wasn’t using, simply because I’d never took the time to explore. ReSharper for me at least was provided to me via one of my clients, it was installed on one of my clients machines Which I would then access via Remote Desktop when working on code for that client. Outside of working for my Client I think I still had an old version 5 installation on one of my older laptops from a previous contract in around 2008, but I never really acknowledged that it was there beyond knowing that it would fix common code smells for me. Meanwhile the more up to date version 8 build on my clients machine really didn’t afford me the time to explore it because If I was logged into that machine it was usually because I was on the clock working for that client. My Client however when I approached him and asked if he minded me using the install for my ReSharper book was more than happy to allow me to do so as long as it was in my own time, as a result of this I know have my own version 9 install (Courtesy of Hadi Hahari at Jet Brains who provided me with a licence of my own when he found out I was writing a book) which then enabled me really get dug in and realize just how much more ReSharper can do, the upshot of this now is I’ve made changes to my own work flow (for the better) which I would probably never have made and improving my performance.

What have I learned in General? Well I’ve learned that I can write! Before starting these books, and getting into blogging, I did what I knew how to do and that was software. Unfortunately today’s software industry is not really as exciting as it used to be, a large amount of what I do as an applications developer is now fairly standard, click a few buttons, generate a data layer, hit NuGet install a few packages and connect it all together, It’s all become a bit of a factory production line. There are still some areas that are fun and exciting, but I don’t seem to get anywhere near any of them given that many folks see me as a dependable solid I.T practitioner that can keep the older stuff alive. 🙂 Writing an Ebook is a chance to break away from that branch of normality, it’s a chance to tell a special kind of story that inspires people to want to go further, it’s also a reason to make sure that you know what your writing about and so means that you have to learn new things and perhaps re-discover some old skills you thought you’d lost. On a personal level I think writing Ebooks for the succinctly range has made me a better communicator, with each book I’ve written I’ve come more out of my shell and feel as though I’m now getting my words to dance on the page in front of me.

Writing books for Syncfusion however is just the tip of the iceberg, I’m also one of their Technical Editors performing Technical Editing services on books written by other authors who contribute to the series, this is a win, win for me because it gives me the chance to play with technologies I might not have otherwise even considered. My first Technical Edit was on a book by Chris Rose called CUDA Succinctly. Even though I’d never used CUDA before that point, I did have an Idea what it was so I jumped at the chance to have an excuse to explore it and I learned some very interesting stuff. I think for a technical editor working on a book in the Succinctly series and given what the series represents this is a fantastic approach to take, because it really does put me in the same seat that anyone wanting to download the finished book would be in, as a result I look at the book very objectively, because after all I’m learning a new subject and if the books not teaching me, then it’s not achieving the purpose it was set out for. Whether writing or Technical Editing, it’s impossible not to learn anything the very process of having to learn to validate and having to validate to teach is the essence in my opinion of what the Succinctly series is all about, it’s about learning things, then sharing that knowledge for others to learn from if your not learning anything while you do it, then you’re not doing it properly.

5) Do you have another reference that you would recommend to people interested in Resharper?

Absolutely, the official Jet Brains Documentation : https://www.jetbrains.com/resharper/help/Introduction__Index.html

oh and don’t forget Jet Brains TV on You Tube : https://www.youtube.com/user/JetBrainsTV

and then there’s the Jet Brains staff and their various blogs and You Tube pages, oh and mustn’t forget my Colleague for this book, and the books Technical Editor “Igal Tabachnik”, the book is way better than my original draft because of his in depth technical knowledge of ReSharper, Igal has written several plug-ins and add on tools for ReSharper including some commercial ones, guys like him live and breathe products like ReSharper and are a constant source of undiscovered things you never knew.

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