Eeva-Jonna Panula is a senior developer and multi-hyphenate based in Finland. Her writing, which often transcends the personal and professional, is featured in her popular blog, along with other publications such as DEV.
For this Q&A, we asked Eeva-Jonna about her unique career journey, what it means to write for herself, and how she balances the personal and professional (even when it's admittedly difficult).
Tell us a bit about yourself and your career journey to date.
I'm a Senior Android Developer and Accessibility Specialist currently working at Oura in Finland. I'm also a disabled person, and I love kayaking and exploring beautiful Finnish nature either by kayak or by foot.
The journey to this moment has been long and full of twists and turns, so if we start from the beginning, we'll need to go to my teenage years. One magical summer I started learning how to code websites, and I was just so excited. But where I grew up, girls didn't code — nobody told me that I couldn't, it was just a fact, and there was no representation of girls or women coding. So I ended up not continuing coding, and ended up studying other things.
Fast forward to my university years and when I was writing my master's thesis for the Russian language and culture major. The writing process was challenging, and I was unmotivated and started thinking about how to counterbalance all the stress. I remembered those magical days from about 10 years earlier. I decided to see if there were some tutorials available on the internet. And there were so many! I spent the next two years learning about web development and Android. By the time I finally graduated, I knew I wanted to work as a software developer.
So I started applying for developer jobs and landed one in web development. That defined the first years of my career. I worked first as a full stack developer, then moved more to the front end, and started learning about accessibility. Finally, I switched to Android development last year. Looking back now, it seems natural, given Android was one of the things I was learning initially.
You’ve been a fairly prolific writer — what made you start to incorporate writing into your career/personal life?
I've always loved writing. It has been the way I've been able to organize my thoughts and relax. This is actually something that shows on data: Most of the time I get into the writing flow, my Oura ring shows restorative time.
I don't remember when I decided to start a blog. What I do remember is that it took some years to find the courage to write about technical topics — I had a massive case of impostor syndrome. I didn't believe I would have had something to share, something that would be interesting to other developers.
I didn't believe I would have had something to share, something that would be interesting to other developers.
However, when I started learning about accessibility, it was easy to start writing about those topics along the way — even though people were publishing about the theme, it wasn't that crowded space. The other reason was that I was learning about the topics, so writing about them helped with the learning process.
Some of the topics you cover are a bit atypical to the development world, such as the (non-coding) language we use matters or microaggressions as of late — why has that diversity of content been important to you?
Let's face it: being someone from a minority in tech is not easy. The culture in many places is (often unconsciously) biased against minorities. And it's not even always unconscious — if you follow DEV's posts about women in tech or Pride month, and look at the comments, there are always some comments full of hate. However, I want to give a shoutout to DEV's team for moderation and protecting people coming from different minorities! They tirelessly moderate those hateful and inconsiderate comments. Still, it's sad and frustrating that the comments appear.
One way to change attitudes and the atmosphere is to discuss these things and create awareness.
One way to change attitudes and the atmosphere is to discuss these things and create awareness. I'm doing it for myself, but for others as well. And looking at the response to these posts, there is a huge need — from one side, I've gotten lots of feedback where people thank me for writing about these themes. On the other hand, I've gotten lots of harsh responses, even some full of hate — and it is precisely why there is a need for these kinds of posts.
Content creation is a crowded space and difficult to get right — how have you been able to resonate with the developer community to date?
I think the main reason is that I haven't tried to resonate with the developer community on purpose. I've written about topics that interest me, and so it happens that it's not just me who finds those posts interesting. I've shared my experiences on non-traditional topics, but also my expertise and learning path on the more traditional tech topics.
If I tried to optimize strategies and find popular topics right now, I would lose my unique voice. It would show that I'm not that interested in those topics, so sticking to ones I'm passionate about or interested in has been the "strategy" I have.
How do you balance the personal and professional in your life? Where does the concept of “polywork” fit in?
I've decided to be rather open with the fact that balancing is hard. I usually do things that help me recover — I love writing and coding, for instance — but those things can create more stress if, for example, the situation at work is really stressful. And it can be challenging to recognize stressful situations early on and scale down other activities (like talking engagements).
I try to limit work-related things (even if they're not actually work) nowadays more than I did before and spend my time outdoors and doing non-tech-related things more. I recognize that this approach also limits how the concept of polywork fits in my life right now — I don’t have energy or time to have side hustles right now. I occasionally speak at different events, and organize workshops, but way less than what I used to, say, two years ago.
What, if anything, do you wish you’d done differently on the career or content creation fronts?
I probably wouldn't be where I am right now if I had done something differently. So maybe the only thing I would do differently is start sooner — both writing about technical topics and my career in programming.
What are your tools of the trade for content creation that you’ve found helpful over the years, considering the different content mediums you use?
There are a couple of tools I've found helpful. First, for writing itself, Grammarly is a must for me. As a non-native English speaker, it has helped me to edit my text and get the grammar right.
For creating, e.g., the cover images for blog posts, I use Figma. It's a tool I've been using (as a developer) at work, so using it for personal projects is relatively easy, too - even if I'm creating the designs/images and not inspecting and implementing them this time.
In addition to the tools for writing and creating visuals, one thing I’m using is the same toolset that I use for software development to create and test code snippets that I add to the posts.
What would you recommend to someone interested in content creation?
The hardest part is to start. So...Get started. It doesn't have to be perfect; the main thing is to start creating content and learn while doing that.
Another thing that has helped me tremendously has been having someone proofread and give feedback about my texts. So if you have anyone with whom you feel comfortable sharing content in the draft stage, I highly recommend it!
How have you tried to bring authenticity to your content over the years?
The best way to create an authentic personal brand is just to be yourself and be open - but it doesn't mean you'd need to share everything from your life. Personally, I have decided to be pretty honest about the challenges I've faced in tech. Still, there is a lot I'm not sharing anything about in my posts or social media.
Another thing that has worked for me is to write about things that are interesting to me and I'm passionate about because it shows in the text. That adds to the level of authenticity — if I tried to write about popular topics, it would be clear that I'm not interested in the subject.