Interview with Daniel Marin of This Dot Labs: How Angular saved my life

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Agiledrop is highlighting active members of different open-source communities through interviews focusing on their projects and initiatives, as well as trends and innovations in the digital sphere.

Learn more about Daniel Marin, software engineer at This Dot Labs and host of their Angular meetups, and his journey with web development.

1. What’s your role in the Angular community? How important do you think community is in the development industry?

I’ve been part of the Angular community since 2013, although I haven’t been what others call an active member in terms of actually writing code and raising PRs, but in a more indirect way by doing Angular projects, encouraging people to learn and teaching others how to do Angular.

I feel my main contribution to the community has been to encourage others to use Angular and see it as a tool, as I see it, so they can also grow. And I think it’s important because Angular basically saved my life at some point.

I know that there are a lot of Latinos like me out there who are struggling with their conditions and having a rough time, when all they have to do is just get a computer with YouTube and start learning.

And although I haven’t done too much virtual content I would really love to start doing that; in the last 2 years, the way I see things has changed a lot and I want to have a more active role in the community, not only from let’s say behind the scenes.

I used to be the kind of developer for whom everything was in private, I used Bitbucket just because they allowed me to have as many private repositories as I wanted, but now I create public repos for everything I do and share them with everybody.  

I think that I’ve changed a lot in terms of how important I consider the Angular community to be, and how important we as contributors are for the community. 

We need to step up, and all the people like me should go ahead and write content and be part of the community, whether it’s Angular, React or Vue, it doesn’t matter, you have to be there and learn and that will help you grow faster.

It definitely helped me a lot and everybody should try. And let’s say you don’t like talking? Well, write articles! You don’t like writing articles? Talk! I mean, I still write articles even though I prefer talking, because I know that there are a lot of people out there that would rather read an article than watch a video.

But if it were up to me I would only talk. I wouldn’t even be coding, instead I would be talking about Angular and tech and how we can improve things. 

If there were more people like this, people wanting to teach others, I think we’d have a way better quality in the developers we have in terms of everyone being more knowledgeable than in another community where no one tells you anything.

Right now the Angular team is part of many of the meetups, they’re constantly answering questions on streams and stuff, so there’s no excuse to not be part of the community today.

And if you want to grow in your career, you have to be part of a community in order to grow and learn from others, because this is teamwork. Do you think Facebook was built by one guy? No, it was a huge team and it still is and it keeps growing.

We have to understand and embrace that, I think that’s an important part of being a developer and being in a community. But no matter what, it’s going to be hard for any community to grow, because of how volatile tech is - tomorrow it could happen that there’s a new framework and people just drop Angular and go do that.


2. When and how did you first start working with software development and particularly Angular?

I went through a bunch of political issues in my life that have put me in a hard position at some point, but ever since I was about 8 I’ve loved computers. The first time I saw a computer it was like love at first sight, I was so in love with that thing and learned to use it so fast.

I remember being a little kid and formatting my computer and teaching my parents how to do it, it gave me such a boost of confidence. Like, I was 8 years old and I was telling my parents how to do stuff.

So that was what gave me the self esteem that helped me in my entire life. As I grew up, even when, like, you have all these personal issues that are typical for kids and teenagers, I would always go back to my computer and write some code.

My parents always told me that I was wasting my time playing with that thing, they are not precisely computer lovers. Well, I guess now, almost 15 years later, I guess someone else was wrong, as I’ve made a career with computers. 

When I was 19, I was helping my family by providing money, and only because of computers, I didn’t know how to do anything else. If the internet disappears, I wouldn’t know how to do anything, it’s the only thing I know how to do.

It’s been with me ever since I was about 8, so when I started college I realized that doing software was more expensive than formatting computers. I started realizing that I could get other friends from college that were better students than me and find contracts and have them do them.

There I was, getting paid for talking and convincing others, which is what I like. That’s how everything started, with software I could make so much money by doing something I considered so easy, and I couldn’t believe it, it was like, I just summoned the money, I just fabricated the money, that’s how it felt.

Then in 2013 I started doing AngularJS which was honestly the best decision I could ever make. So first I did a bunch of small projects with AngularJS in 2013, and then flash-forward to 2018 and all the political craziness happened in Venezuela.

My parents were deeply involved with the government’s opposition, Maduro put a tag on our heads. Suddenly, I was trapped in a friend’s house where everyone saw me in a weird way. I don’t judge them, I’d feel the same if I had someone in my home that could put me in risk. It was really uncomfortable and tough. I dealt with depression and anxiety by learning Angular, getting up to date, reading stuff and moving forward. 

Thankfully I had a LinkedIn account where I was constantly posting stuff and moving it around, and I got this contract from TCS, Tata Consultancy Services. They reached out to me in Venezuela and they told me they were going to pay my plane ticket and give me Uruguayan citizenship if I came there and worked with them for a year. 

It actually took me about 3 months to leave Venezuela because I had no passport. You have no idea what I had to go through, but at the end of the day I got the passport. I remember leaving the airport, my legs shaking, and all I could think of was: once I’m in the airplane, I’m gone.

It felt like a movie, I’m telling you, I was crossing fingers, I bought this book and I just kept reading it, because my brain was going to explode. And thankfully I was able to leave, thankfully I got to Uruguay, everything went fine, I got to the company.

I spent a year in TCS, for the first time I was working with teams of 30+ people across the globe. I met different cultures and learned from them. After so many years of putting so much effort I was able to prove myself in that team, in that year the contract I worked for was renewed 3 times.

My advice: Pay attention and practice a lot, you’ll get better. Are you afraid of being judged? Don’t be. Who cares what others think, just go ahead and do it, and if you fail, you’ll get another chance, there are so many opportunities for us in the IT world. I mean, if you want to code, go ahead and code, just go and start a Stackblitz, go to YouTube. 

That’s all I had to do. And when I mentioned earlier that Angular saved my life, it’s because when I felt trapped, Angular helped me break the walls. Thanks to my 5 years experience in Angular, someone bought my plane ticket and gave me citizenship in a different country. 

What I want to say to everyone is, go and learn, practice, send your CV. Try, keep trying, and if you fail, keep trying again - and if you fail again, you try again, and that’s all you gotta do. And sooner or later, you’re going to get it.

I’m telling you, I spent 8 months basically trapped, thinking that my life was over, and Angular helped me to have a goal and things to do, and that’s what I encourage you to do. If you’re going through a tough time, watch some coding courses, that will definitely get your mind off things cause you’ll have to pay attention.

And there are so many development job requirements, and there are too few developers out there. And companies need juniors, too. It’s not like you need 10 years of experience to get started. 

Imagine software is like construction. You need someone that takes the bricks and moves them from one place to another. Obviously there are tasks that require 10 years of experience - the architect of the building has to have experience, because no one is going to spend $200 million on a building they’re not sure will work.

But you still need people doing the small things. Even if you’re not an expert, you can learn a few things and start working in tech. I know a bunch of people that didn’t know development and started working as a developer and one year later they’re kicking ass. 

The next thing is following orders. If you’re a junior, just do what others tell you. That’s one of the hardest things of growing in the career, that you get more responsibility and it’s harder to make calls, because it’s your responsibility then.


3. What impact has working with Angular and being part of its community made on you? Is there a moment that really stood out to you?

As I mentioned before, I used to be an indirect community member, more active behind the scenes. Then in late 2019 I gave my first on-site talk. And it was great, I had so much fun. I mean, that’s a personal thing, because I’m someone who likes talking, I like people hearing what I have to say.

Just a few months later I gave a talk at my first big conference at NgConf Columbia, there were like 1500 people there. That was the biggest crowd I ever had and I got an awesome response from people. 

There were a few of the speakers that really blew the chat away - and I was one of them. I couldn’t believe it, because I was among the pros, I was talking alongside GDEs. There were 4 or 5 of them in the lineup, and I’m not a GDE and I was there.

And that’s what I want people to understand, you don’t need to be a GDE, you don’t need to be anything, you just need to go there and give it your best. And if you do and if you put in effort, you’ll have awesome work that when you share with people is going to blow their minds. That’s the reality; don’t let other people discourage you.


4. Can you tell us a few words about This Dot Labs’ Angular meetups of which you’re the host?

I started working at This Dot in August of 2019, just developing software and that was it. After about a month or two, the head of marketing who used to be the hostess wasn’t able to make it, so I covered for her. I said, sure, I’ve never done that before, but I can give it a try. I liked it, but I didn’t say anything, just that it was fun.

Two weeks later - I needed to cover again, and then again a week later. So, in December, Tracy asked me if I wanted to be the official host of the Angular Meetup Online and I was like, hell yeah!

I’ve been doing it since then, it’s been super awesome. I get to meet all these cool people sharing their content, like really active members of the community. For example, I got to meet Ben Lesh, and at one of the meetups he created this Nintendo controller and the Atari cheat code recreation - he killed it, I was blown away.

And we’re really open to anyone, if you want to give a talk on Angular you can reach out to me and I’ll try my best to get you on a lineup. I don’t care if you’ve never done a talk.

We’re trying to have some new faces, because we tend to get a lot of the same people since obviously the most active members are most encouraged to talk. It’s different to hear from someone on the Angular team or a GDE than from someone that’s used Angular for enterprise projects for years.


5. I also followed your series of articles on accessibility in Angular - how and why did you start focusing on that so much? Can you tell us a bit more about that?

I first want to clarify that I don’t consider myself an accessibility expert. I think that to have such a title you need at least 10 years of working with it. I only have like one year of experience; everything started because of a project I had that required an accessibility assessment and no one on the team had that skill at the time.

I had to do a full research on accessibility and do a full report of the application and what was going on. And that opened my eyes, I realized so many things. I’d been doing code for years that just straight up sucks. I have no excuse.

And since then I kept doing more research. I’m far from being an expert, but I do consider accessibility a top priority and try to encourage others to feel the same way. If you follow the articles, you may have seen that I always write in the conclusion something like, if you’ve read the other articles you probably know this, but I’ll still say it: use HTML in the right way!

One of the reasons I’m so attracted to accessibility is that during those 8 months I wasn’t able to go out, use phones or have a bank account, I wasn’t able to do almost anything. And it was awful, I felt awful. And I’ve seen sites that are impossible for people with disabilities or elderly persons to use. I cannot even imagine how frustrating it is to actually try to use a site and not be able to.


6. What are some projects and initiatives within the digital industry, or more specifically Angular, that you’re excited about and want to highlight?

One of the things I would like the most is to actually see a real decentralized platform to deal with all the government-related stuff, that’s one thing I’d love to see and be a part of, that’s from a broader perspective. 

And from the Angular perspective one of the things I like the most is the Angular Material library, that thing is just sick, I have no other way of expressing it. I love it, I always recommend it to people. 

I think it’s the only design system in pure Angular that not only gets updated as soon as a new version of Angular is pushed, but it’s also continuously adding more features, more components. I believe almost if not all of them are accessible to an acceptable level, sure you can always do more, but they have those things in mind.