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Here, author of Code Happy and Tech Lead at Utility Warehouse, Dayle Rees, talks about the story behind the Laravel learning books and the red panda.
I’d say that my role in the early days, it was mostly just about getting people to know a little bit more about Laravel, getting them to see more of it, getting them excited about it and just having that secondary source of learning.
That lack of learning resources, I think it needed something out there to help push it something a little bit more detailed than the documentation, something with maybe… a sort of like a beginner’s language to help them learn and help them adopt that.
I also write in a very kind of silly and very informal and very kind of friendly way. I put a sentence at the start of each book where I say I like to write as if we’re sitting in a pub and sharing a beer and we’re just chatting about something.
And I think that that found its way to the hands of non-native English speakers, and they really found that type of language a lot easier to pick up. I certainly heard from a lot of people who were non-native English people who thanked me for how simple the writing in those books were and found it a lot easier to learn something new.
So at the time, I’d written a number of blog posts about Laravel. They were things like introductions to certain features in the framework or analyzing how it was built and put together and a real breakdown of what was in there just to get people excited about it.
And I was hanging around on IRC one day, and Eric Barnes, who was working with Taylor at the time at UserScape, I believe he suggested that I take these blog posts and turn them into a book of some kind.
There was nothing out for Laravel at the time, so I certainly have Eric to thank for what happened after that. I’d never written anything like that in my life. I was happy writing blog posts
because they were short and simple, and you could get away with them being a little bit messy.
But I had no kind of training when it came to writing a book. But I don’t shy away from that kind of thing, so I thought I’d give it my best shot. And I wrote a book called Code Happy. Rather silly looking back, but hopefully it made a few people happy.
It was for the third version of Laravel, and my blog posts were mostly around version two.
But Code Happy was for version three, and it was a beginner’s title for learning the framework.
It had a red panda on the cover that instantly became somewhat of a mascot for people learning Laravel, and it covered a load of the features of the framework as you would find in any beginner title. But it also had a load of silly little stories about people in the community and just, you know,
just silly things that would help create like a mnemonic for learning certain topics in the book.
It probably wouldn’t land with people right now because of those references. I don’t think anyone would follow, but back in the day when Laravel was a small community, I think it just helped to help to memorize some of these things and help to pick up the framework.
It was more popular than I expected. I put it up for free on my website because there wasn’t an intent to make a lot of money out of this thing, but it was sold on the platform called Leanpub that would let you build books in markdown.
So it was up on that site. It was up on my website and within a few weeks, it had sold like thousands of copies on the Leanpub website, something that I’d never seen before and something I certainly didn’t expect. And so instantly, I had lots of people asking me for questions about topics in the book or wanting to learn more and that kind of thing, and it really exposed me to many more of the Laravel users at the time.
For version four of the framework, I brought out a new copy of the book. A lot of things had changed between three and four. The framework was almost completely rewritten at the time to make more use of Symfony. And it needed something that was just a little bit fresher.
So I took some of the stories out of it that probably wouldn’t make sense anymore and rewrote the book from scratch, pretty much, but along the same pattern as the first book.
At that time, Laravel was really starting to pick up speed at this point. And I think a lot of people were pointed towards the book by all of the Tweeting that I was doing, all of the chatting in IRC, and Taylor started to put the books in the headings of the website as well, so it drove a lot of traffic towards them.
And I think the second book actually sold more than the first one. I think this is over 4000 copies of that one, and it was a really exciting time. I was just really happy that people were reading something that I wrote to be honest, and I was able to help push people towards this thing that Taylor had built because I was excited about it, and I thought that more people needed to hear about it.
The final book that I wrote was for Laravel five. So you can see a pattern here on each major release coming out. There was always a big chunk of changes, so I would start again each time.
I think my writing would maybe slightly improve. I certainly wasn’t trained for this kind of thing.
I think the first book had a ton of spelling and grammar mistakes, and they’re all over the place, so I would get called out almost constantly. So after the first book was released, I basically had to go back to school and kind of teach myself some basics again to try and clean up those titles. I think as you go on and you get towards Code Smart, the third one, things tend to tidy up a little bit.
The first books I wrote, they featured a red panda on the cover. The story of how that came to be is quite an odd one, because people tend to think that the red panda is my favorite animal, which it’s not. It’s the giraffe. Obviously, there’s no better animal. But my girlfriend had recently, I bought her a camera and we used to love to go out to zoos and things like that. And she’s absolutely obsessed with these things.
And she would go about taking photos with them. And I had on my phone like thousands of these, like red panda photos, and I was just like, What can I put on the cover of the book?
So I’m just browsing through, like nowadays my phone is just filled with cats. But back then it was just red pandas all over the place, so I picked what I thought was a nice one, put it on the cover and thought, nothing of it, really.
From that point, shortly after people started reading the book and reaching out to me, and Laravel was starting to become popular, I would just get linked on Twitter. Just photos of red pandas doing silly stuff, falling off like shelves and that kind of stuff. Like people would just reach out to me.
They’d send me like stuffed toys of red pandas and that kind of thing. Yeah, I just kind of became the panda guy accidentally. Definitely no intent there, but I’m OK with it. It’s something unique. It appeared on the follow-up book, so I obviously had to put them in there.
And after a while, I commissioned a logo for a red panda. I thought I’d use something on the books. At the time, I think this was Laravel four was starting to be worked on at the time and I was chatting a lot with Taylor on, I think it was Google Talk, we were hanging out on at the time and we had a discussion about the logo for Laravel. There was nothing at the time, it was just text, I think. I think there might have been a hint of the slanted L, the early one, but it wasn’t used widely and we had a discussion about maybe, maybe Laravel could be one of these programming languages that has like an icon mascot, and the red panda was almost a natural fit.
But the logo I had commissioned, it was a little bit cartoony and I think Taylor’s into this really sort of clean, simple esthetic for Laravel. And looking back, I think it was the right choice not to go with that panda because the style that we got for it just didn’t really reflect the framework. It just reflected maybe the silliness of my book.
So I carried on. I stole it. I used it on the cover of my books, and yeah, it just became like an icon to string all of those things together. So now I’m stuck with the red panda, basically.
But I mean, they’re fluffy, they’re good, they’re kinda like cats. I’m OK with that.