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#AskMeAnything: Zell Liew and Bridging the Gap Between Finance and Programming

Our Second #AskMeAnything Session


Our second #AskMeAnything session was with Zell Liew, a freelance developer, who has written books and courses, which include Automate Your Workflow and Learn JavaScript. We met up with him at JSConf.Asia 2018 and learned about struggles as a developer and his journey to overcome them. Here's what he shared: 

What make you start to write?

Zell: I really don’t know. When I started writing, I wasn’t thinking about so many things. I want to start a blog. I want to write about frontend development. I don’t know what’s going to turn out after all - maybe a business, maybe whatever. So, I just started writing.

When you started writing, what’s the audience you want to reach out to?

Zell: Like I said, I didn’t know. When I started writing, it was really for myself. 

I wrote the blog because I wanted to write for people, who are struggling with development because I didn’t come from a development background. I came from a finance background. So what happened is, I started learning how to code and started learning things. Then, from that point, I started feeling accomplishing something from my own strengths, which is why I wanted to help or maybe inspire people to find their strengths in that arena.

What do you think is the necessary mindset change from a finance person to a developer? And then now, from a developer to a writer?

Zell: To bridge a mindset from a finance person to a developer, that is more probably about pride. For me, it is letting go of that pride - that I’m better than developers in a way because that is the kind of culture that was brought up in finance world or in school. You can outsource everything, it’s fine. The second thing I had to let go of was my fear of not being able to code or being smart enough.

From a developer to a writer, I wouldn’t say that I’m a writer. I’m just writing as a developer. To me, the word, 'writer,' [implies that] you’re writing some sort of novel. I’m not writer, I’m just sharing stories. At heart, I’m still a developer. I’m writing to help, that’s all.

Any interesting projects you’re working on right now?

Zell: Right now, the Learn Javascript course. It’s a 17 module, 180++ lessons, a huge course to help people to learn Javascript from scratch, people who tried but failed, all the way to bringing them to the intermediate course. You can find it at

 Why is it important for developers to think about business objectives?

Zell: It’s important because if we don’t think about people and what they think, we’re stuck in our own bubble. 

Oh, the developer experience is most important. User experience is most important, which is countered in our field. I think I’m going to get flinged for saying this. 

Sometimes it’s not about user experience at all. Because if you haven’t solved the problem, then whatuser experience are you talking about? 

It’s more important to figure out what people need, before you think about the other stuff. That is one of the things missing from the developer point of view because we like to make things, and I know it, because I like to make things. 

And after that, it’ll be 'yayyyy.' Whatever we make, it can impact a lot of people’s lives. And we forget to communicate why we make it.

Our CTO also shared that users might not be always right, so I guess it kind of resonate with what you’re talking about right now.

Zell: The users may not always say the correct things, but what the user needs is always correct. So, you always need to dig deeper into their emotions, into their real needs, wants, hopes, dreams, and pain. Ultimately, to figure out what can you provide as a business person or developer.

One last question, what is one actionable developers can do today to improve their communication skills?

Zell: The thing I’d say is to talk to people. Anyone will do. It doesn’t have to be strangers. It’s even better as a colleague. 

Go figure out how the colleague feels about something. Instead of saying you feel about this and that, listen to what the colleague is telling you and then ask more. And ask more. 

Instead of getting the first layer surfaced, you’re genuinely curious in what’s the entire thing. You ask more to figure out who’s the deep one. 

About Zell

Zell Liew is a freelance developer from Singapore. When he's not working on client projects, he digs deep into code and explains what he learned on his blog. He has written books and courses, which include Automate Your Workflow and Learn JavaScript.