Keeping up a day job, working on side projects, building up a professional profile, and still finding new ways to stay relevant as a developer can be really challenging to juggle. That’s why we spoke to Antoine van der Lee, Team Lead and iOS Dev at WeTransfer, about how he manages his career, personal brand and avoids burnout.
This is an excerpt from a live Q&A. To make sure you don’t miss out on more events like these, subscribe to our newsletter via this page! You’ll also get weekly insights from other thought-leaders like Antoine about their approaches to thriving in tech as a software developer.
Q: How do you manage your tasks when you’re working on multiple projects?
Antoine: What’s important for me is consistency. If I take you through my week, for example: Monday evening, I have two hours blocked off to write my blog posts. Within that time, it needs to be finished because, otherwise, I’ll get stuck. Tuesday morning, I’ll start writing the newsletter which is built upon the articles I edited over the week.
Then, at work, I have two days in the week where I have meetings. Whenever somebody asks me for a meeting, I tell them to schedule it for Tuesday or Thursday, because on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I want to have ‘flow’ days, where I can focus on what I’m doing by putting “Do Not Disturb” on.
Q: How do you balance everything you do, and decide how much time to put into each thing?
Antoine: Everybody can relate to this: Before a project ends, they already start a new one. So, you need to force yourself to finish something off before you start something new. Otherwise, you won’t finish anything.
I try to set goals for every three months, and I keep track of them at the start of the month. That way, I keep an eye on whether I’m making progress. Am I still focused? Am I still doing the things I need to do? If you do something every day then, over a week, you’ve done a lot. I try to take small steps, and don’t worry too much if one day I didn’t make that much progress. If you do it consistently then, over time, it’s still progress.
Q: How do you find motivation to work on your side projects after hours?
Antoine: Overall, I’m not forcing myself to do anything, I’m writing for myself, so if my blog posts aren’t super high quality, I don’t really care.
But I had that struggle with developing RocketSim, even though I really liked that project. But I didn’t set a strict deadline for myself, and that really helped me not force myself to do something after a day of work. I often had days where I was too tired; sometimes, I forced myself, but I kept it to 30 minutes. In 30 minutes, you don’t do a lot but, over a week, you still make progress. That really helps me to deliver things.
Q: How do you avoid burnout?
Antoine: That’s a tough one. I’ve been asking myself that quite a lot this year. What works for me is to stick to the plan: Don’t do more than you can do — and sometimes it means that your newsletter or blog post is lower quality because you spent less time on it.
You need to force yourself to take time off — and I mean more like every week. For yourself, when you’re tired, take time off. Sometimes, I go to bed early — at 9 pm, which is early — but that gives you 12 hours of sleep. That one night of sleep gives you so much more energy, and together with sports, staying mentally healthy, you should be fine.
Q: How do you find time to stay relevant as a dev?
Antoine: I try to find win-win situations. For example, with my blog posts, I keep a list of things I want to dig into, topics I find interesting, or topics I need for my day-to-day job. Sometimes, that means I research something during my job, and then I can write about it in the evening. Win-win. Or, sometimes it’s the other way around, where I wrote about something in the evening and I can use it during my day job the next day. My blog is like my personal knowledge base, and it helps me stay relevant but also fit it into what I’m already doing.
Q: How important are having profiles (like Twitter, GitHub, your blog, etc.) for winning as an iOS dev?
Antoine: It depends. I don’t think you need a blog, or a big Twitter account to get a job at a certain place. The fact is, if you build up a reach, then you get to know more people and people can find you more easily. That’s when the chances are bigger that you get to a certain position.
I mean, I got my job by doing a presentation in the States, because the project manager was in the audience — so, if you have a lot of reach, it’s easy to get to speak at a conference, for example
If you at least have a personal profile — maybe on GitHub — with some open source repositories, or maybe private repositories, that you can share when applying for a job, and you make sure that you’re able to share who you are… then that’s more than fine for your career.
Q: When you hire iOS or senior iOS devs, what kinds of skills or qualities do you typically look for?
Antoine: When we give someone a homework project, we don’t expect them to develop exactly what we want them to develop. We want to see whether you’re able to adapt yourself to be a fit in the team eventually. If we ask you for a project, and you just do what you need to do without impressing us with some extra things, then that already says something. The people that get the job eventually write tests, they have extremely good documentation, and the readme is well set up. That tells us we have somebody that takes this seriously, and wants to work with us. That’s how we try to answer that question.
Q: Would you advise someone who wants to pursue an iOS career to learn UIKit before SwiftUI?
Antoine: That’s an interesting one. If you are about to apply for a job today, you won’t make it without UIKit knowledge. It’s important to know at least a bit about how it works. There are still a lot of UI elements that are not available in SwiftUI — you need to write some interpolation between SwiftUI and UIKit.
If you would ask me the same question in two years, it might be a whole different situation. We’ve been writing SwiftUI in the collective lately, and it’s far from production-ready but we do it every day. For now, I’d say dive into UIKit for sure.
Q: Given your experience, how important do you think Objective-C is going to be for getting a job in top tier tech in the next year or two?
Antoine: Top tier tech is often a product that lives for quite a few years. In an old project, it’s often Objective-C related, because it’s old code.
If I look at Collect, we have an application that’s four years old and there’s no Objective-C in there. If we would ask you to join, we wouldn’t ask you for Objective-C knowledge. If it’s required, then there’s a reason for it, because it’s probably something you need in your day-to-day job. Nowadays, there should be enough jobs where you can apply without knowledge of Objective-C.