Interview with Andreas Helland

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Andreas Helland is the author of ASP.NET Core 5 for Beginners, we got the chance to sit down with him and find out more about his experience of writing with Packt.

Q: What is/are your specialist tech area(s)?

Andreas: .NET development and Azure – both the architecture of cloud and Azure AD in particular.

Q: How did you become an author for Packt? Tell us about your journey. What was your motivation for writing this book?

Andreas: I have been writing technical articles for my blog and putting up code samples on GitHub for years, so I enjoy writing in general. A number of my posts are on a Microsoft hosted site, and there I got to know other people who shared my interest both with regards to the tech stack and writing about it.

Some of these people happened to have published books before, and last year I was a tech reviewer for a Packt book. That gave me some insight in what goes into the publishing process, and this year a few of us joined forces in submitting a proposal for a book about .NET 5. There was some back and forth with Packt to make sure the idea was sound, but it was fairly pain free in general and that set me on the path to becoming a proper author.

Q: What kind of research did you do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning the book?

Andreas: There was not all that much research before beginning. That is, we obviously had to create an outline and a general plan so we had to consider what topics were relevant for the area we wanted to cover. This required bouncing ideas back and forth, and more importantly it forced us to be hard on ourselves with regards to covering the essentials and not planning for what would have turned out to be a three thousand page book.

During the writing phase there was research along the way to make sure that everything was accurate, and not to mention that you need to make sure you understand things correctly yourself before explaining it to other people. Since .NET 5 was in preview when we worked at it that forced me to research some parts fairly extensively when it broke from one release to another.

Q: Did you face any challenges during the writing process? How did you overcome them?

Andreas: Of course! Writing a book isn’t something you do over the course of a weekend. Once you get into the flow of writing it feels good and you can crank out pages “effortlessly”. But then you have to self review, and rewrite, and rethink, etc. One of the most challenging parts was probably coming up with relevant code samples though.

Since we were multiple authors we had the option of sparring with each other to solve some of the challenges, but I would say the universal fix for most of the challenges was stepping away from the keyboard and let your mind work on something completely different before getting back to the writing.

Q: What’s your take on the technologies discussed in the book? Where do you see these technologies heading in the future?

Andreas: Microsoft has invested a lot of effort in advancing the .NET ecosystem and the language C#. Moving to .NET Core a few years ago changed a lot and made it more future proof – who would have thought we would be using Microsoft tech for code running on Linux? And often even preferring it over the Windows platform. Combined with the growth in cloud it’s looking pretty good.

Q. Why should readers choose this book over others already on the market? How would you differentiate your book from its competition?

Andreas: .NET 5 is so much more than what .NET was just a few years ago – if you pick up a two year old book it will not be the same as this one. This book is currently about as fresh as it gets. We had the book published just a few weeks after Microsoft released it to GA, and I think that’s a real good thing for the readers. We haven’t been isolated from the rest of the world while working on it (apart from the obvious), and parts of it are things we’ve gained experience with outside the purely academical walkthroughs while writing.

Q. What are the key takeaways you want readers to come away from the book with?

Andreas: This book does not cover everything from A-Z about .NET. (That couldn’t be covered in a single book.) But I hope that the main take away apart from learning new things is that the reader finds something that sets them on their own path of research. If that is going all in on cloud, setting up your own Kubernetes cluster or something else isn’t important. We think .NET 5 is great and try to show the readers some of the things you can do with it.

If this book got you all fired up about planning work in your homelab the next couple of weeks I’ll be happy to have inspired you.

Q. What advice would you give to readers learning tech? Do you have any top tips?

Andreas: In sales they talk about ABC – Always Be Closing. We’re not slick sales persons, but I would say we could adopt something like Always Be Learning. Use the small pockets of time you have available. Sure, in 2020 going to work was for most of us done in a matter of seconds going from one room to another, but if you usually take the train to work that’s an opportunity to learn even if it’s just twenty minutes. And skipping one hour of Netflix for learning? Totally doable.

After reading or watching videos let it sink in before doing a hands on session testing it out even if you might just have a few minutes over lunch that day.

All the small things you do add up, and that sets you up for success in the long run.

Q. Do you have a blog that readers can follow?

Andreas: Yes, visit the following page: https://contos.io

Q. Can you share any blogs, websites and forums to help readers gain a holistic view of the tech they are learning?

Andreas: I like attacking things from multiple angles so I’ll hit up the official docs on docs.microsoft.com, and https://channel9.msdn.com for video presentations from Microsoft themselves. Lots of good stuff there.

For blogs I’m “all over the place” – often there’s random good stuff I wasn’t aware of in my Medium digests (since my blog is on Medium that sort of comes automatically). And of course the Azure Developer Community blog on https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/azure-developer-community-blog/bg-p/AzureDevCommunityBlog

Q. How would you describe your author journey with Packt? Would you recommend Packt to aspiring authors?

Andreas: Fairly easy working with the Packt crew. We were able to follow our vision for the content, and while there was obviously feedback (which is something you want) on the chapters we submitted; both on verifying the explanations and sometimes asking us to rewrite sections of text, there was never a moment where you could visualize the editors pulling their hair out in frustration.

For me it was certainly an experience I can repeat, and I have no problems sending other aspiring authors in the direction of Packt.

Q. Do you belong to any tech community groups?

Andreas: I do. Unfortunately a lot of them are non-public – company internal, closed Microsoft groups, etc. I hang around the open MS forums from time to time as well, but there are only so many things one can cover in a day.

Q. What are your favorite tech journals? How do you keep yourself up to date on tech?

Andreas: I’m old enough that I had a paper subscription to Dr. Dobbs Journal back in the day – that was great, but alas it is no more. These days it’s all online of course, but that really could be anything from the latest episode of Linux Tech Tips or a deep dive of server hardware over on servethehome.com for the broader perspective. (These sites do not make me a better developer per se, but they keep me in the tech mindset.)

Q. How did you organize, plan, and prioritize your work and write the book?

Andreas: We had the general outline of the book and chapters before diving into the details, so that helped a lot. I prefer to work on one chapter at a time as doing multiple in parallel has a bit of context switching overhead. However, I do go back and forth between the topics in a single chapter.

I will often split the time between the writing and the coding part and focus. So, it’s not like write a paragraph, code for five minutes, go back. But rather write a section and insert placeholders “here will be code”, and then close down Word before opening Visual Studio.

I did not have a fixed schedule for when to write during the day or which days of the week, but it was best when it was possible to allocate a 2-3 hour block with fairly focused writing/coding time.

Q. What is that one writing tip that you found most crucial and would like to share with aspiring authors?

Andreas: You need to be comfortable writing. It sort of goes without saying really, but this cannot be understated. Practice where you have to write – like when you have to document your work at your day job. Blogging is also a good way to train – that will also be hard at first, but will become easier. Always take breaks when self evaluating. If I have a long blog post I almost never publish the same day as I complete it. This is so I can come back the next day with a fresh pair of eyes to do QA of my own work.

I like reading as well, and I believe that has helped me so I would say that’s a tip too.

And never think “I’ll never be able to produce 100 pages of text”. Sure, you’re probably used to having much shorter explanations on a day to day basis, but when you do that are you really explaining it thoroughly? It is not impossible if that is what you want to do.

You can find Andreas’s book on Amazon by following this link: Please click here

ASP.NET Core 5 for Beginners – Available on Amazon.com