July 30, 2020
This month we sat down with PragProg author and software developer, Noel Rappin, to talk about writing as a career, writing as a supplement, and writing as your destiny.
On becoming an author...
For many software developers, becoming an author is completely unexpected. First they experiment with reviews and short blog posts; later they graduate to documentation and tutorials. One day, to their complete surprise, they wake up and find that their first full-length book just went into print.
For Noel Rappin, it was the reverse: “If you’d asked me in high school what I was more likely to be doing, writing versus programming for a living, I would have thought writing in some fashion.” And, in fact, Noel’s path to professional writing did start in school—graduate school.
Noel’s graduate advisor was writing a textbook on Squeak/Smalltalk and asked Noel to write an introduction that covered “just enough Smalltalk so that the rest of the book makes more sense to readers who had never used Smalltalk.” And while Noel was writing that introduction, he was also being introduced to what would become a major facet of his career.
A few years later, Noel was hanging out on a Usenet group for Python, when an editor from O’Reilly dropped by to see if anyone could help out a little with a book on Jython. Noel knew both Java and Python and figured he could “make up the difference.”
The book, Jython Essentials, turned out to be a bit more work than Noel expected, but it did expose him to important lessons about technical writing that he carries with him to this day. It also made it easier to transition to his second book, WxPython in Action, and, later, the first book Noel ever wrote that was fully “driven by passion,” Rails Test Prescriptions.
Even though Noel considers himself a software developer first, looking out across the ten books he’s authored, it’s pretty easy to see how his prediction way back in high school wasn’t too far off the mark.
On challenges and rewards...
Noel is a veteran writer with lots of experience and well-established practices, but he still faces challenges and fears with each new book.
“The thing that’s always scared me the most,” explains Noel, “is not the thing that I’m going to say that’s a mistake. It’s the thing that I’m not even going to know to say, because I don’t know the community well enough…It’s the thing that I’m just gonna skip entirely, because I don’t have the experience necessarily, or I don’t have all the experience to know what the important things are.”
To get over this hurdle, Noel turns to a trusted group of friends and peers who provide input and a sanity check. Noel says they help him “decide what’s real and what’s hype.”
In fact, the whole reason Cypress ended up in Modern Front-End Development for Rails is because that very group of people told Noel that Cypress was the way to go.
And while skipping over something important is something to watch out for, Noel says the opposite is also true. Finding the boundaries—figuring out what not to include in a book—is equally as important.
For Noel, that means being in touch with his readers.
It isn’t easy, but with a focus on the audience and a good support network to rely on, Noel says these are obstacles that any author can overcome.
On career and beyond...
Noel has written technical articles, he’s worked on textbooks and references, he’s published with multiple publishers, and he’s even self- published “two to three years before that was really viable,” he says.
For Noel, software development and technical writing go hand in hand.
According to Noel, the two disciplines feed into each other: “As a technical writer, continuing to be a day-to-day coder is the input to that [writing] process, mentally. It’s how I connect to the kinds of problems that the people who are reading the book are going to be solving.”
In addition to helping people solve problems, Noel says another “great thing about writing a book is that just by having written it, people assume a lot of authority.” And that authority can lead to speaking engagements, job offers, and more.
Noel has been publishing with the Pragmatic Bookshelf for many years, and he’s developed a strong working relationship with his longtime editor, Katharine Dvorak. Simply put, Noel says, “she gets what [I’m] trying to do.”
Noel also continues returning to the Bookshelf, because he says that “Pragmatic is great if you want to work with smart people who want to help you put out a really, really good book.” And he notes that Pragmatic’s royalty payment structure is “very advantageous.”
We know how much Noel’s work means to his readers and to us, and we look forward to seeing what topics Noel will cover in his next ten books.
Now that you know his story, follow Noel on Twitter (@noelrap) or on Substack (noelrap.substack.com) and complete your collection of Noel’s titles on PragProg today!
Then, start or continue your own hero's journey by sharing your latest book idea with us.
You Could Be a Published Author
Is there a tech topic you are deeply passionate about and want to share with the rest of us? You could become a published Pragmatic Bookshelf author! Take a look at our pragprog.com/become-an-author page for details, including our 50% royalty (yes, for real!) and world-class development editors.
Upcoming Author Appearances2020-07-30 Diana Larsen,
LeSS NYC Meetup
2020-08-06 Johanna Rothman,
Distributed Agile Teams Webinar
2020-08-07 Craig Walls,
Gateway Software Symposium
2020-08-07 Diana Larsen,
Agile Coach Camp Worldwide
2020-08-14 Craig Walls,
Central Ohio Software Symposium
2020-08-20 Johanna Rothman,
2020-08-28 Craig Walls,
Salt Lake Software Symposium
2020-09-11 Craig Walls,
Lone Star Software Symposium: Dallas (NFJS)
2020-09-12 Diana Larsen,
Agile Business Day, online, Venice, Italy
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