As part of our Meet the Developer series, I spoke to Cameroon-based Derick Alangi who has turned his health challenges into an opportunity to help support fellow devs in the community. Read on to find out more about him and the positive impact he hopes to have on developers.
Vanessa: Have you always wanted to be a developer?
Derick: No this came about just before I got to university. I was in high school, when I was young I wanted to be a priest, that dream died somewhere when I started tinkering with computers.
I still had the mindset of a priest but had a newfound passion for playing with computers, playing with video games, thinking, how can I create something like this? I wanted to do something like that, it spiked my curiosity. I then finally found myself as a dev, but that’s gradually fading away, maybe I will circle back to being a priest someday!
As a dev, I’ve had health challenges, which took me to the hospital. In childhood I had anorexia, my parents thought I was sick but didn’t worry much as my doctor mentioned that it was a condition that could be resolved with time and as I grew. Now I eat well but not as much as other men do, but I eat regularly morning and evening. Try to be healthy, when my health challenge as an adult came in, leading my life as a dev, I was not taking care of myself, there were bad habits, and, if I had continued I wouldn’t be alive today. I have a whole new view of life, if I am doing this thing, others must be doing it too, especially those working remotely. Money is great, but if you have to lose yourself, it is not a good thing, there is beauty in life when you can enjoy the life in you with good health.
I tweet about health things, what devs can do to not get into the same scenario. I am sharing a community resource for the community, and in that resource, I explain how I got into my bad health, and how I got back to health. (You can view his Developers Health Guide here..)
Vanessa: What has been your biggest learning curve as a programmer?
Derick: Biggest challenge?
It’s my health, in the past it was my health, battling day in and day out, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, the diagnosis was fine, everything is ok, you look sick, you can’t sleep after a while, but it was the lifestyle that was causing the stress and burnout.
Another challenge is trying to make people see, especially developers, there is more to making money and writing programs than being a developer. I have seen software devs being exploited for their time. I have worked for companies that have behaved very badly. We should work, but human beings should have time for his or her things, take care of the family, go to the beach, connect with nature, when there is that balance there is beauty in life.
What I am seeing in the industry, people are being given more roles and responsibilities, paying well, but there is no time to do anything else. Hey, go spend some time doing something else!
With the adoption of remote work, people have time for themselves. I’m helping people discover that balance. I’m not just on Twitter, even locally I tell upcoming devs, “take at your own race, be consistent it will pay off, don’t forget the health aspect of life, or you will be miserable”, I’m battling that right now locally, the mindset in the West is slightly different than Africa, I’m making people understand the balance.
The big guys in the industry think it’s all about the money and building software, but the moment I go to the hospital I cannot code or make software. People don’t understand that going into a forest is more important than eating cookies.
It’s hard when you are trying to break through a society that is not willing to listen. Being able to break through you have persevered for a long time, it’s a huge work, it’s something that is very much needed.
There is an Indian philosopher that has said – in tech we have come very far, in psychology we are very primitive.
Vanessa: What is your favourite non-tech hobby?
Derick: Meditation, I just sit with my eyes closed. It takes a while when you first get started, it takes consistent practice, it’s been three years now, I don’t have any specific mantras, just sit quietly in a dark room with my eyes closed. Regularly maybe morning and evenings, after six months there is no thought, a quiet mind.
Vanessa: What do you enjoy more: writing new code or debugging old code?
Derick: I think I enjoy working on existing code, the reason is that a lot of things have already been created, nothing is really new, it’s just recycling of energies, code is mental energy transferred to computing. There are so many different solutions to solve the same problem. Make existing code work better. I would rather spend and enjoy my time improving existing code, except if really broken code doesn’t pay off.
Vanessa: How do you benchmark yourself against other devs?
Derick: To be very honest with you, this is something I usually don’t do, I do, I don’t compare myself to anybody anywhere, I think I was doing this in university to track my progress as to how far I’ve gone but when I graduated I realised doing that for me it creates an aspect of competition that I don’t like. I don’t like to strive for competition. If I’ve tried to compete, it’s not what I like to do.
I forget the aspect of me and what I want to become, for a while now, I don’t benchmark, I just code and kind of see it from the problems I solve. Go to an algorithms website, see some problems, if I can solve them relatively easy than before then I am getting better. I’m not trying to compare myself in the programming community. It’s not good to compare years of experience to others.
Vanessa: What is the one thing you hate about programming?
Derick: The fact that it is mentally very demanding and makes the programmers physically inactive, Mentally your thinking capacity is 100%, physically is zero, only your eyes and hands working. IT renders the programmers physically inactive. The outer body was not designed to be inactive. In the tweets I make, nobody takes it seriously, mental energy goes into solving issues and not taking care of mental wellbeing.
Vanessa: What do you love most about being a developer?
Derick: I think two main things
Vanessa: What developer groups/communities are you a part of?
Derick: I’m part of an online tech community on Twitter, and a member of the Wikimedia movement community, a community of editors, readers, and devs that want to make knowledge accessible in different languages around the world.
Closer to home, I’m part of a Google Developer Group community in Buea, working with devs locally to push google’s agenda, adopting their products and programs.
I’m also part of a Facebook developer circle with VR kits to play around with.
Early programmers club, we go into universities and code with students, solve problems with them, get them to understand engineering principles.
Vanessa: What does community mean to you?
Derick: A group of people with diverse thinking but with a common end goal in mind.
Bloggers entrepreneurs, content creators, designers, spirituality – create a community that is tech-driven, to enhance the economy in the country. People that come together with different perspectives, and skillsets, but with a common goal to achieve economic growth, global breakthroughs, the bigger vision is the same. Learning from one another.
Vanessa: Have you ever been involved in mentorship, either as a mentor or a mentoree?
Derick: Yes, people call me a mentor but really I am just a student that knows things that others don’t and they are learning from me and I’m learning from them. It’s just a name for convenience. I’m a long-life student, still see myself learning every day from kindergartens, students, even the animals. It’s not true that you need to learn from high academics.
Vanessa: Do you use GitHub?
Derick: Yes, I use GitHub, GitLab, Git itself, Bitbucket not sure if open source, use version control systems to collaborate with others online.
Vanessa: Are there any particular repositories that stand out to you?
Derick: Yes, I would say that there are three people that I really admire, although it doesn’t mean that I want to be like them. One of them, Linus Torvalds, is doing a lot of work, sometimes I just like to see what he’s doing with others in the Linux community. Coming from a Linux background it gives me a sign of hope that something can be done by someone who can impact humanity.
Sebastian Bergmann, creator of PHPUnit, he’s doing a lot of work on GitHub, collaborating with the community, and doesn’t waste his energy on things that don’t matter, he doesn’t respond to those that are messing around.
There are so many others of whom I check their projects on GitHub and admire for what they do.
Vanessa: Do you have any best practices or tips that you would recommend to others?
Derick: Having a good background in using the Linux command line, most of the tools, except for GitHub and GitLab, are web-based services that Git does, technically if someone wants to learn those platforms they would have to be familiar with the Linux environment, to push code from the local machine to GitLab. They need to be familiar with Linux command line functions which are needed to get the code online, anyone who is familiar with Linux can easily pick up these and learn quickly.
People who face trouble, don’t have experience with the Linux environment. Eventually, they will pick up GitHub etc with relative ease.
Vanessa: What project are you most proud of?
Derick: I’m proud of so many, small, medium, and large projects, generally, I try not to do something that I don’t enjoy., if I like to do it, it becomes a success, I will meet challenges.
There are also some non-tech projects I want to do. I would like to plant tomatoes and I have a small garden, till the garden, use manure, planting to get some results, or maybe make a property purchase.
Vanessa: What are some of your favourite blogs to visit?
Derick: There are three, Dev.to, Hashnode- I’m a big-time reader on there, and Reddit, which is obviously not a blog but accurate, like StackOverflow for questions and replies. I also enjoy reading from Quora.
Vanessa: What kind of media websites do you visit for dev news?
Derick: Twitter. I follow people and organisations, turn on notifications, if there is something new, I grab the info and read more about it. Anything that is happening, I check it out on Twitter, I don’t watch TV, I follow the BBC and CNN on Twitter.
Vanessa: Where do you look for job opportunities?
Derick: Indeed.com and StackOverflow Jobs. Sometimes I look at LinkedIn, just use that for putting in my qualifications, if I want to check out jobs to recommend for people, I check out the two I mentioned.
Vanessa: What’s in your toolbox?
Derick: Linux or Mac OS
For the command line, I use Git,
Asana for project management
Fabricator for box working
AWS a lot, doing work for my client on that.
Vanessa: What technology are you interested in learning more about in 2022?
Derick: Rust, I’ve started learning, and I want to get better at it.
Vanessa: What tools do you think will still be in use in ten years’ time?
Derick: Internet will be here for a long time, computers for a while,
C will be here for a long time
Rust that’s why I am learning it, low level, advancement of systems and fast-growing need of secure systems,
Security skills – I will spend some time learning,