Interview with Finnish Code Ambassador of 2017, Juho Vepsäläinen

We interviewed Juho Vepsäläinen, who was awarded the title “Finnish Code Ambassador of 2017” in the Blue Arrow Awards gala earlier this year.

Juho Vepsäläinen, Finnish Code Ambassador 2017

Congratulations, Juho! How do you feel about the victory?

I found it surprising as I’m not used to winning. I rather manage things from the shadows and avoid publicity. That said, it means potential business. And since I happen to run a small business of my own, publicity must be good, right?

Maybe in retrospect, it will become a milestone, an end of an era and the beginning of a new one. I’m currently experimenting with a new business direction, so the timing was right.

What do you think were the activities you had going for you?

SurviveJS portal likely had the biggest impact. I started from a small wiki about webpack with Christian Alfoni. Later on, this grew to become a book about webpack and React. That, in turn, became two books. I put a lot of focus especially in the webpack book, and it reached paper in March this year.

During this process, webpack gained mainstream status, and I developed technology like webpack-merge to support it. The tool itself exists because of the book effort as I needed an easy way to explain how to configure webpack. Since then it has become one of the ways to manage the complexity of configuration.

I also helped to revamp webpack documentation and pushed the new documentation project into a good direction by providing information architecture for the new site and also by developing technology to support it. Antwar, site generator the portal uses, is based on webpack and React itself completing the cycle.

The site blog contains a substantial amount of developer interviews. Hyperapp interview with Jorge Bucaran is a good example. After the interview, the library spiked in popularity, and I’ve seen the same in other cases as well. I think it’s amazing I can sometimes provide visibility to lesser-known approaches and help them find their audience. Redux interview is another good example. I had interviewed Dan before Redux took over the world. There are surprises like this in the blog, and you will learn a lot by reading through it carefully. There are over hundred posts for you to study.

As you can see, a lot of these efforts have ties to each other. Sometimes an insight in one place leads to improvement in another. I know there’s a lot of work to do still. In a way it’s a never ending battle as the world of development is getting more complex while some consolidation also happens. My challenge is keeping up to date somehow while improving my offering and staying in business. I have to plan my actions accordingly.

How did you become a familiar face in the frontend web development scene? What milestones have there been on your way?

Popularity has never been a goal for me. I see it as a side effect. If I did these things for popularity, my approach would be different. Maybe it’s a consequence of some things. I’ve tried to be consistent in my work. For example, my aim is to publish one developer interview per week. The whole editing process takes a few hours (sometimes less), but I want to focus on quality and make sure ideas get the treatment they deserve.

When I develop book content actively, I follow software development process and write release notes for each release. It gets harder and harder as you approach a paper release. A paper version doesn’t allow serious mistakes. On the plus side, this focus also improves the digital content.

Sometimes milestones are technical and related to my infrastructure. The more tedious work I can push to automation, the better. Doing this means using linters and related tools during the process. I have developed a style, and that takes away some of the thinking allowing me to focus on the hard problems. I still have work to do with this. The way I work is the only thing I can affect directly. The rest is up to the market to decide.

Do you feel Finland has prepared you or given you something for the journey?

It’s the never-ending stamina, or the concept of sisu, that keeps me going. Even with it gets tough for a reason or another, it’s easy to remind yourself how hard it must have been for the forefathers that built the country and had to fight for its existence. No matter how hard it gets, we have it better.

It’s this Finnish mindset of never giving up that has been valuable for me. It’s a double-edged sword, though, as you have to choose your direction carefully. Going to the wrong direction won’t do any good no matter how persistent you are.

What kind of advice would you give to aspiring coders, who wish to become the next Finnish Code Ambassadors?

The hardest part of success is defining it. I’ve found money based goals alone aren’t enough. Sure, it enables a lot of other things, but it won’t buy you happiness. Find something you don’t mind doing for a long time. I wouldn’t rely on passion alone for this reason. Find the big why and build the rest around that. It’s stronger motivator than any amount of money in the world.