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Sébastien Dubois Polywork interview

The life-changing value of taking chances, according to multihyphenate Sébastien Dubois

Sébastien Dubois is a self-described author, entrepreneur, founder, CTO, freelancer, coach, father, and human from Belgium. When he's not writing books and articles about personal knowledge management, learning, programming, personal organization, and productivity, he builds digital and SaaS products.

Below, we asked Sébastien about his writing in the DeveloPassion newsletter, why he's delved into topics outside of development, and resonating with diverse audiences.

Editor's note: This Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Tell me a bit about yourself and your career journey to date.

I worked as a software engineer/solution architect, project manager and team leader for a number of years, before launching my own consulting firm back in 2019.

After some consulting work and a failed startup project, I decided to try other things, and become a solopreneur/indie hacker (an Indiependent). I started working on books and products, hoping to slowly gain my financial independence.

You’ve been a fairly prolific writer with your blog and newsletter — how did that come about?

I started blogging on my personal domain around 2010. I always enjoyed writing and sharing ideas. Blogging always had two purposes for me: sharing knowledge, and serving as a reference for myself. Whenever I learned something new, I liked writing about it. It helped me retain more, and helped others on their own journey.

I became more serious about writing when I moved away from my startup dreams, and decided to create my own path as a solopreneur. At first, I wrote a ton more about programming and IT in general (team management, DevSecOps, etc). At that time, I wanted to build a reputation and sell books about IT and programming.

Sebastien Dubois - Owner, DeveloPassion
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Since then, I shifted more and more towards knowledge management and personal development, as I have decided to focus on those topics.

I have put more and more energy in audience building, then in community building. This is why my newsletter has become more and more important over time. It’s also an activity that I enjoy. Each week, after my weekly review, I sit down, and share news as well as interesting content that I curated throughout the week.

What led you to start DeveloPassion?

The idea for DeveloPassion came back in 2018, when I was discussing freelancing and startup dreams with friends/colleagues. I had an interesting job as an employee, with cool challenges, nice perks and a ton of freedom. But I needed to challenge myself.

Three of us wanted to collaborate and “build things”. It all seemed so appealing at the time. It took me a few months, but once I decided to take the leap, I just did. I was actually the only one to move forward seriously with the idea. But I don’t regret making that choice. I “lost” money, but gained a ton of freedom, learned a lot, and am having the time of my life right now.

Some of the topics you cover are a bit atypical to the development world (e.g., optimizing for happiness) — why have you been intentional about going off the path a bit?

My whole journey is quite atypical. I worked one year for the government, then became an employee for the National Bank of Belgium, which is a very special company, at the frontier between public services, while still being a private company. I worked there for 15 years, in different teams (software development, IT infrastructure) and taking on different roles (programmer, technical team leader, DevOps specialist, architect, infrastructure manager, team leader, security expert). That gave me a rare look at the IT landscape. I love learning, so each of those challenges kept me entertained.

Sébastien Dubois Polywork profile
A few of Sébastien's highlights in Polywork

Then I took the leap and became independent. I discovered the freelancing world, and learned a realm of new things (e.g., creating a company, invoicing, chasing after clients, etc). The shift to a startup project as a CTO was another opportunity to explore new things. It was incredibly fun and challenging. I made mistakes along the way, but I learned a ton from that experience (e.g., funding, full-stack tech, etc)

My current activities led me to yet another avenue of exploration: audience building, community creation/management, product development, coaching, customer relationship management, sales, etc). I still work half-time as an employee, which is yet another “weird” combination. Career-wise, this all influenced me a lot and gave me a unique perspective on various topics. And aside from that, I’m a father of three, and am interested in tons of things, including knowledge management and personal development.

The combination of it all gives me the opportunity to write about a wide range of topics, but also about the not-always-obvious overlap between those.

How have you kept up with writing all of this content over the years?

Writing has always been a relaxing activity for me (apart when I’m writing very long pieces that I struggle to finish). I never considered writing as boring or as a chore. To me, it’s almost 100% fun.

What do you see as the “formula” for successful content?

There are different ways to be successful with writing. I don’t consider myself very successful, but I have had a few lucky results.

Over time, I’ve started to realize that writing everything for everyone does not work. Niching down is generally a good idea.

IMHO, I think that the formula includes a mix of authenticity/honesty, clarity, boldness, controversy and length. The content also needs to be aimed at a particular audience. Over time, I’ve started to realize that writing everything for everyone does not work. Niching down is generally a good idea.

Content creation is a crowded space and difficult to get right — how have you been able to resonate with the developer community to date? Is there any predominant audience feedback you tend to receive?

To be honest, I have almost entirely stopped writing specifically for developers. I now focus almost entirely on lifelong learners, and knowledge management enthusiasts. As knowledge workers, developers are actually part of my target audience, but I don’t publish articles about programming anymore. I kind of miss it, but I have to make choices.

What helped me get “recognized” is the fact that I published articles regularly on different topics, but mainly about front-end development and TypeScript. Once I started working on my book about TypeScript, I regularly shared my progress on social networks, and people noticed me because of my consistency.

Having worked with TypeScript and Angular since 2016 helped me a lot, as I was already quite experienced when those became more popular. Over time, I started being “recognized” in the community.

Whenever I wrote technical articles, I did my best to think about newcomers, and tried to explain everything clearly, referring to past articles if necessary. That helped a lot as my content was more approachable and more broadly useful. I also wrote in-depth articles that helped more advanced users and even experts.

Finally, cross-posting articles has proved to be very useful and effective. At the time, I published articles on my blog, Medium, DEV.to and HashNode. The important element was pointing all the copies back to my own domain.

How do you balance the personal and professional in your life (and by extension, your content)? Where does the concept of “polywork” fit in (if at all)?

A key element of balance is that it is a continuous activity. Sometimes I lose mine, work too hard, and am not present enough for those I love. Journaling is an activity that helps me notice whenever I get out of balance. I also rely on periodic reviews to look back, and adjust. I found this combination to help a lot with work and life in general.

My current situation is not that easy (combining a half-time employee position with freelancing and entrepreneurship), but it’s also quite fun. I guess it is my own definition of “polywork”.

My current situation is not that easy (combining a half-time employee position with freelancing and entrepreneurship), but it’s also quite fun. I guess it is my own definition of “polywork”. I have a lot of freedom, and try to use it wisely. As I wrote recently, I prioritize happiness, so I’m probably much slower than others, but it doesn’t matter all that much to me.

The main challenge I face is prioritizing between content creation and building products. I try to publish at least one article per week. Sometimes I write more, sometimes I don’t. I avoid putting needless pressure on my shoulders; the world around me does that enough.

My content creation “clock” is my newsletter. It’s the one thing I force myself to publish every single week, no matter what. It’s my way of stating that consistency is key.

What, if anything, do you wish you’d done differently on the career or content creation fronts?

Career-wise, I’m happy with my journey so far. I never got bored, and kept challenging myself. I think it’s a great way to move forward. My current activity as a solopreneur gives me the most joy of it all. It lets me use my technical skills, express my creativity, and learn more than ever.

On the content creation front, I could have been further by now if I reduced the scope of my software development books. When I started the Dev Concepts book, I wanted to write about IT concepts. I wanted to write a single book. Then, I let my enthusiasm take the lead and decided to embark on writing a series of 12 (!). I still want to continue working on those, but I clearly set the bar too high, and it’s taking too long to be sustainable. Auto-publishing, marketing and selling a series of books is much harder than doing it for a single one.

If you keep dreaming about doing something new, just do it. There will always be time to step back if you don’t enjoy it. Life is way too short to hesitate.

What are your tools (i.e., tech stack) of the trade for content creation that you’ve found helpful over the years?

As a techie and entrepreneur, I rely on a ton of tools. I have listed a number of those on my Website.

I will name a single one here though. The main tool I rely on nowadays is Obsidian, a very powerful note-taking application. I have built a powerful organization and creation system on top of it. I actually sell it as a product called the Obsidian Starter Kit to help others benefit from my experience.

Is there anything else you wanted to mention or add as you continue on this career/content creation journey?

One thing I would recommend anyone is to consider alternative career paths. It requires courage and a ton of energy to try different things, but it can be life-changing. If you keep dreaming about doing something new, just do it. There will always be time to step back if you don’t enjoy it. Life is way too short to hesitate. Keep having fun!