CourseMaker Podcast Episode 9: Marcelo Lewin

Sun, 18 Apr 2021 23:30:24 +0200

Marcelo is the founder of and a technologist with expertise stretching back to the early days of the web. In this conversation we talk about why the Headless CMS trend is a game-changer.

CourseMaker Podcast Episode 9: Marcelo Lewin

Show Notes


  • Headless Creator
  • Twitter


  • Marcelo has been working with the web since the Netscape beta in the '90s
  • A headless CMS completely separates the content model from the delivery channel. Everything is API driven. This means that your website or mobile app can be written in a completely different language to your content management code.
  • Marcelo enjoys following technology trends, for example he previously created and sold a website on VR, and prior to that one on podcasting.
  • Marcelo uses teaching as his primary method of learning (i.e. the Feynman technique)
  • When initially exploring a Headless CMS, Marcelo built out a proof of concept (POC) which delivered content to both a website and an IOT device (an Amazon Echo). As soon as he saw that he was hooked, realizing that his headless CMS offered a single source of truth that was completely decoupled from the delivery channel and presentation format.
  • When asked why the headless CMS paradigm has only recently picked up momentum, Marcelo's answer is: "It's hard to do simple things". Plus the older generation of content management systems showed developers the drawbacks of having everything closely coupled.
  • Content modelling is a key skill, it is the process of modelling a business domain as data and relationships
  • Whatever you want to be, you should hang around with the people who are doing it. Pay attention to what they do, and create opportunities to interact with them. For headless creator, Marcelo created a podcast and started recording short videos to start off with. This then expanded into a weekly show where he did content modelling. This led to a lot of contracting opportunities from different companies.
  • Marcelo has adapted his course creation approach, now often directly incorporating live stream sessions.
  • Marcelo is approaching his site with the goal of keeping the content free, and getting sponsorship and/or opportunities from businesses in the headless CMS space
  • Marcelo's courses are divided up by role: authors, developers and administrators. Students can pick and choose which parts are applicable to them
  • Marcelo argues that developers adding headless CMS to their skills will be improving their career prospects
  • Good use of a headless CMS empowers authors (instead of developers) to write things like error messages so that developer time can be freed up
  • Don't worry too much about which Headless CMS you choose. Just pick one and then focus on understanding the concepts, especially environments, content types, fields attributes and how models work. Once you've got the concepts down, you can easily move across different Headless CMSs.

Quotes from the Episode

Whenever I get passionate about a topic, I start building a community around it. I'm a content creator at heart.

With Headless, once I started working with it, it just made sense.

The way I learn is by teaching

As most teachers will tell you, we're just two chapters ahead.

Headless CMS is truly the future of how content is going to be managed and stored.

It's hard to do simple things

If you would have asked me 3 years ago, I would have said that content needs to be polished. But I've come to realize that at the end of the day it's all about the content. It's not all about the polish and the great transitions.

The traditional CMS is dead. Headless CMS is the way to go because we are now a society that doesn't just go to the browser - we go to our phone, or other home automation devices.

Whether you come to my site or not, I highly recommend that as a developer you search for Headless CMS and start learning about it


[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the course maker podcast today. I'm really looking forward to speaking to my guest Marcelo Lewin, who is the founder of headless and he runs the headless creator Academy. Marceto welcome. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me here. I'm happy to be here. Yeah, great to have you here. I've been looking through all your various content, lots of interesting stuff here as this kind of rising trend of headless CMS grows and grows in tech. And, but before we get to that sort of stuff and, and dig into the details, would you like to tell listeners a little bit about your background? Sure, definitely. I've been in the web. I've been involved in, in web, uh, web development. Uh, what project management since the nineties, literally when the internet basically first took off, um, I

[00:01:00] remember, uh, Netscape, beta. Nice. Back then. The development that I used to do back then was with a CGI. They called it and Pearl and something called DBML, which ended up being cold fusion. Which of course got bought by. It was by the elder brothers then got purchased by Macromedia and then got purchased by Adobe, so on, so forth. And actually that helped me make a pretty good, good living doing ColdFusion development for many years. But then of course, it's been many years since I've done any kind of development, mostly project management, and then, you know, moved up the ladder in the career kind of thing, but I'm always looking out for different trends. I love technology. So I, I started various on, on websites, businesses that I ended up, uh, that ended up being acquired, never started them with the idea of selling them, but it's just happens that whenever I get passionate about some sort of topic or some sort of something

[00:02:00] about technology, I start building communities around it. And, uh, about a year and a half ago, I was thrown into a little bit more than a year and a half ago. I was thrown into a project for headless. And I had no clue what headless was it? Just to me, it was like, wow. Who's who lost her head. Yeah. What's going on. Yeah. I mean, for listeners who aren't familiar. Yeah. Do tell us about it. Yes. Yeah, definitely. And you know, I've done CMS for a long time. I've created custom CMS, but, uh, back then when I created it, there was no headless CMS and basically. Is CMS, which for those that are familiar with what a CMS is, it's a content management system that allows you to basically go in and in general, it lets you update your website, but it can be used for a variety of other delivery channels, right? Mobile devices, whatever, with a headless, with a traditional CMS, but you get everything in one. In one system, you get your D your, your delivery channels, your templates for the website. And they force you into a particular type of language or

[00:03:00] whatever. They decided that those templates are going to be written in headless, completely separates that delivery channel from the content model, which is where you store all your information. And hence you can create that website or your mobile. App in whatever language you want that you're comfortable with. You're just going after the content that's stored in that headless CMS in general, that's, that's the concept of headless. Everything is API driven, even their own app that allows you to manage content inside the CMS is written with the same API that us as developers can access to create our own delivery channel. So that's an essence sort of headless. So yeah. So throughout the years, I've. Touch pretty much everything in technology. I just love technology and I get really passionate, but the common thread for me is, is community building and content. I have, I'm a content creator at heart, and I love creating content and creating the community

[00:04:00] around that content. Okay. And I mean, it's always interesting, particularly with an experienced technologists like yourself, when you do get really drawn into a pick a particular technology, you know, it's, it's not likely to be because. It's it's something that you've already seen, right. If, if something draws you in, um, I'm always curious to know what was the moment where you thought, okay, this is something I really want to put time into that is kind of different to what you've been using up till now. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. That's a really good question. It's hard to say why I get drawn into that. I always consider myself kind of being ahead of the curve. I always like to see what's coming up. Entrance, like prior to this, I was really into virtual reality and I created a website with a community, which I ended up selling called how to create And it was purely on virtual reality. And why, because I put on the goggles and I

[00:05:00] immediately said, this is the future. And this is the future of content, not all content, but the future of certain type of content for specifically for training. So I got really passionate about that. Started making content, build a community around that, build a website to share information and also teach. But I tend to look at technologies, both not just from the technology point of view, but from also the application point of view, how do we apply this in real life and how can it help people in real life with headless? Once I started working with it and under, and truly understanding it, It just made sense. It just completely made sense. And then I asked myself why wasn't this done 20 years ago? Because the concept is so simple, right? The fact separating that front end from the, from your backend there, that your content model, why wasn't this? So then I started digesting everything that I could learning, everything that I could. And the way I learn is by teaching.

[00:06:00] You know, as, as most teachers will tell you, we're just two chapters ahead of you. Basically. It's a great technique to really solidify your understanding. It really is right. Because if I teach you and you're like, I didn't get it now I have to think of, okay, how can I teach you better? And, and through doing that, I start learning the concepts better. Right. And understanding them in a much better way. So when I got into headless and I started doing. Proof of concepts PLCs on it, just to show what we could do. And I did a proof of concept where I had an article that was delivered to a webpage. It was delivered to a mobile app, but it was also delivered to an IOT device like an echo. Right. And it was spoken all of a sudden, I'm like, Oh my God, this is the future. This is where I can actually create content single source of truth. And then regardless of what that content says, it can be delivered to any, any delivery channel and present it in, in various ways. And I got

[00:07:00] totally excited about that. And I said, you know, this is truly, this is truly the future of how content is we is going to be managed, but not only that, but also how it's stored because in general, you store content in, in a blog format with there's no structure, there's no relationships, right? A blog article is just a body with a whole bunch of texts. But it really is a body with authors and the article have authors. And there's a relationship between that. So that's intelligent content, right? Yeah. Yeah. And why do you think then it has, I mean, like you say, in, in some ways the concept is fairly simple and yet it has taken a significant amount of time for us to arrive at the current headless CMS paradigm. Why do you think it's taken that long? It's hard to do simple things. It really is. It really is. Plus I think you need to go through that hard part to figure out and start filtering things out and going like, okay, it makes sense to have a system that gives me everything, but then it

[00:08:00] really closes me up and I can't do, I can't change it. So it becomes, it doesn't become scalable. So then you start saying, okay, what can we take out to be able to give more flexibility to the developer, to choose their own SDK, to use their own API or a language that they want to use? Okay. Let's take out the front. Okay. Now we're headlights. All right. But now we need to, the content model is set in this CMS. How do we make it more scalable? So we can create content models to support different kinds of business needs and domains. All right. So now let's make sure we create a content model. So I think it's an evolution and sometimes you start hard and then start simplifying. But I think simplifying things is where it's really hard. Right. Cause even when I do content modeling, which is the process of understanding the business domain and applying a content model, that you can store information to support that domain and then deliver that content to all these channels. It's a very hard thing to create a, a, a very simple content model. It's very easy

[00:09:00] to create a content model that has a thousand content types. It's very hard to create the same content model. That is supported only with 10 content types. Perfect example, same is with coding. Right? You could probably code something with a thousand lines of code, but it's much harder to do it in 10 lines of code and get the same result. Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. So, okay. You started to get excited about headless CMS is, and the ability to model content pretty well using that technology. And how did you go from that initial moment of. Kind of spark of interest through to creating your website and starting to build out all these different teaching materials. Like what was that journey like? Yeah, totally. So whenever I get passionate about anything is I start building community and concent around it. That's my immediate reaction to it. So when I realized this is cool, I want to do this. I started creating again to learn more and to have

[00:10:00] a reason to do more. I started creating videos. Cause that's what I do, right? It's like, Oh, well, if I don't have the opportunity at work yet to do it, I'm going to make my own opportunities to start creating videos. And also it's going to help me learn more by teaching others. So I immediately, whenever I get passionate about anything that's I was telling you about virtual reality. Prior to that, I did a community on podcasting prior to that one on filmmaking. So whenever I get into these things, I immediately start creating content around it. I build a community around it. I'll do a podcast. Where I bring in guests, just like you doing with me. Yeah. I do the same thing because that's how you can expand the market. Right? You can, you can expand your learning, but you can also, you bring in other passionate people and then those passionate people will share your content around. So that kind of helps out quite a bit. Plus my idea always is whatever you want to be. You got to act that. So you got to

[00:11:00] hang around with the people that do that. You've got to watch read, listen, attend wherever they're at. If that's what you want to do, whatever that is, you got to do that, right? Yeah. So that's why I immediately start doing, I created a podcast, started inviting guests, started creating little short videos. And then I, I really became very passionate about content modeling. My background was in database development and design many, many, many years ago when I was doing web development and content modeling is very similar to that. I like, because it really helps you understand the business and the relationships and how the business works. And you have to model that into a data model that can support the business. In this case, a content model is a bit more abstract than a database model. It's a little bit higher level because it deals with content as opposed to pieces of data. But regardless, you're still modeling and you need to understand. But it wasn't modeling in F and my full-time work, right? Headless is my part-time site, as we all have sites.

[00:12:00] But, um, and my full-time work, I wasn't doing enough content modeling. So instead of complaining to my boss saying, Hey, you need to do more, but we don't have the projects. I just started doing the content modeling show, which is now known as content modeling weekly. Once a week, I decided I'm going to model something. I don't care what it is. I'm going to pick something, model it. Create these videos. And that's what I started doing, that, that show in that video. And then one thing led to another and I have lots of people just watching that. I have companies, headless companies, their sales departments are watching my content modeling show because every headless CMS project requires content modeling to start with. If you don't do that, right, your project will fail. So it slowly went into that. Right. And I do it because I love it. You know, it's not because I got to get paid or anything like that. You know, at the beginning I wasn't making any money with it. I was just doing it because I loved it. Very cool. And is your approach when you're creating this sort of

[00:13:00] content to put out something very polished or is it more like a more, a stream kind of vibe where you sort of figuring stuff out as you go along because different. Content creators have quite different approaches to this sort of thing. And I'm always interested to observe how people go about it. Yeah, that's a really good question because if you would've asked me three years ago, when I was doing my other sites, it's all about polished, but I've come to realize even as a viewer, that at the end of the day, it's all about the content. It's not all about the Polish and the wonderful, lower thirds and the great transitions. And it's really not about that. Cause you can do that and it's still not a good video. It's about the content. So I decided, because this is my siping also that I need to streamline my production workflow and the best way to do it is to really put time into my content and make sure it's valuable content, not fluff. And then, you know, live stream, live, stream it basically, and, and take it

[00:14:00] from the live stream directly into the course. And I realized that people are okay with that because at the end of the day, they're not looking, you know, of course you try to make it as professional as possible. My livestream, I try to make it professional. I do have some lower thirds and I do have an intro bumper and all that kind of stuff. But at the beginning of any of that, I literally turned on the camera and I streamed as many places as I could. And I just did it because at the end of the day, what they were there for was to learn how to content model, whatever I was going to model that day. Yeah. Right. That's all they cared about. Whether, you know, I had a fancy. You know, dissolve or a fancy transition, they didn't care about that. Yeah. I feel like this can be a really powerful way to go about things. I mean, I think it partly explains why some of the really long form teaching, like how to code or something like that on, on Twitch, for example, are becoming more and more popular because as a student watching you kind of pick up on things that maybe the teacher isn't even aware they're doing, that they just sort of, when they're in their flow,

[00:15:00] they'll do like use this short card or. Just observed their thought process. So yeah, I think it's super powerful to do it that way to be interesting. So, okay. Which, which sort of, of courses are you putting out? Cause I've seen that you've got someone, some specific CMS is themselves like yeah. Content full, for example. Right. And I know we've, we've talked a little bit about strappy. How do you go about picking what you want to focus on and where do you see your library going? Yeah, definitely. So right now I have the content modeling weekly, which focuses on content modeling and creating content models that are headless CMS agnostic. Now, within the course, I still show you in a, in a headless CMS, whether it's Contentful content stacks, wrapping, it doesn't matter. I show you how to apply it there. But at the end of the day, I want to create stuff that you can apply wherever. Then I have a series of show or courses called focus on focus on Contentful. Focus on craft. CMS are two active on right now.

[00:16:00] A third one is about to come on. Mine is focused on content stack, which is another headless CMS. So the goal with headless is to keep it free to the user as much as possible. So how do I do that? What I'm trying to do is I'm trying to build a support from the companies. What are the companies not become advertising people, right? But they become supporters. They support the site through a sponsorship, but I still have full. Ability to create whatever I want and even say, what's good. What I call the good, the bad and the ugly, the truth. Right? Cause that's what people want. So the way I'm going about is now I'm turning on different shows as I get support from the companies. And that doesn't mean that the companies have any kind of influence, but it's, it's, it's sort of a, it keeps me the incentive of being able to continue creating these at night and on the weekends, as we all do our extra stuff. Yeah. Without being influenced at all. But still gives me the

[00:17:00] incentive to go. Okay. I can tell my wife, Hey, look, I'm making a little bit extra money. That's why I'm putting in the extra, the extra time here. So I started with Contentful because that's what I do on my work. I'm in full-time work. I use Contentful. Right. Um, so that's what, and that's what started this whole crazy journey that I've been through with headless. It started with Contentful. Meaning that the project that I was on was, Hey, look, we have this headless Contentful. Can you figure it out? No problem. But as I, as I matured in the industry, and in my knowledge, I realized that there's many headless CMS, and they all have their pluses and their negatives. There's all N as if I'm truly want to become a headless creator on the site, I really need to understand and have a breadth of courses that touch upon all of them in each of these courses are separated. In three sections for authors, for developers and for administrators. So that way you can go to the course and focus on the areas that you want. Some people are all three, others are one or two and others it's just

[00:18:00] are one role, but each, each of those closers are like that. So for me, they're all fun. To be honest with you, when I get into any headless CMS, I'm creating the content, but I'm having fun. Cause it's just cool to go and learn how to do something and see how Contentful does it versus content stag versus. Graph CMS writes like, Oh, they do global, you know, fields this way. You know, we hear, they call them components and all they hear, they don't do it. And you know, so what's the work around kind of thing. So at the beginning, like I said, it was Contentful, but then right now is what I'm trying to do is what attracts me number one, and then followed by, can I get support for this? Even if I don't get support, if it attracts me enough, I'm going to do it. But it's the balance in life or working full time, having a family and doing this as a side thing kind of thing, you know? Okay. So let me ask you this then. Cause a lot of the listeners of this podcast are engineers, software developers. If, if you were sort of pitching to them, like what what's it going to do for

[00:19:00] them in terms of their, either their career or their side projects, whatever they're working on. Why, why would they want to learn about a headless CMS? And then a little follow up question, which I suspect you get asked quite often. Is there any particular headless CMS that you recommend when people are starting out? Yeah. Okay. So the first question headless is the future. I mean, look at any technology. Everything is API first. You've got, you know, you've got companies like Twilio courier, all these API driven companies, right? So those are all handled lists, basically right there. You've got an API that you work with and you do something with it. So. From a cut. The world is driven by content at the end of the day. It doesn't matter what you do when you go to Amazon and you purchase something. The only reason you make a decision is based on the content that was displayed at Amazon, until you read that content, right? You're not going to buy it because you need to know. So everything is, is, is driven by content and content is gotta be managed by

[00:20:00] something, the traditional CMS, in my opinion, right? Take it with a grain of salt, but it's my opinion. It's dead. Headless. CMS is out of the way go because we are no longer a society that goes to the browser to look for things on a desktop. We are a society that uses our, our, our device or our. Phone mail mainly, but we also use, we use at home here. Um, I don't want to say her name because I have one right here and it'll speak up, but we use the echo, her name, the lady. Right. But w I use that all the time. So that's content behind there, and there's a system that's holding that content, but, but that content, the word, a piece of content that is marked up with the bold means absolutely nothing for the lady. What it means, it means that you want that content to be emphasized with a higher voice. You want to speak up more for her, but on the browser, it means I want that headboard bolded and on mobile device, I may mean something else.

[00:21:00] Headless allows you to create a content model that can support your content with single source of truth. That means that I can, first of all, updated in one place and it's fully. Exposed everywhere that that content is shown. I can go back and re update it in any relationship. So it will be updated automatically. But then, because it is headless, I get to choose my own technology. And then I get to deliver that piece of content. However I want in any delivery channel I want. So from a developer perspective, and I have many developers that came on the, on the course to do presentations that never touched a headless. Once they touched it. They literally are into it now because they understand this is the way to go. So at a minimum, whether you come to my side or not, I highly recommend as a developer search headless of course go to headless But if you don't build a matter search headless and really start learning it because it truly is a future. And when you can say, I know how to create

[00:22:00] content, or I know how to get content from a headless CMS, I think you're. Your expertise will go up in your, the need for, for, for your services will go up as well. Very, very compelling. Yeah. I'm a little biased because I'm already pretty bought into it. But, uh, for, for those on the fence, I think that would, that would definitely give them some food for thought. So I'm going to throw the question back at you. Why, what, what, what bought you? I guess it was speed of iteration. I just, I knew that. A headless CMS as a component would allow me to move a lot faster with course maker, not just the, I just the parts that the authors were touching, but also using things like static site generators. You know, I have a bunch of Gatsby JS sites and there is a question of maybe using graph QL to query the right data again from a

[00:23:00] headless CMS. And you always ask them and, and, and suddenly you building sites super fast and it's very easy to make updates to the content model. So it hit just, I feel like it sped up my workflow a lot. Yeah, totally. Yeah. I'm a hundred percent in agreement with you on that. I mean, I think it, and the fact that you can do graph QL, um, when I do content modeling, I bring in the concept model into a headless CMS and new quick graph QL quarries, just to validate, to make sure the developer can get the information they need, the author can author properly. And that's the other thing with headless is I'm trying to move away the, the, the content management by developers, for example, field names. Mike, the microcopy, uh, system errors, error, user error messages. All of those are being written by engineers. Whenever you need to update an app or web app, let's say for those, you've got to send another release out. We want to empower the authors to manage that because the authors know how to write that. And with a headless CMS, you could do that. You can actually move the content from what's

[00:24:00] hard-coded or in a Jason file and move it to the headless CMS, and still power your app with all of that, but allow the authors to manage that. I always talk about how we need to move away the boring stuff away from developers, which is really writing all this hard coded content and letting them focus on the cool stuff. But that authors do what they know what to do. So, yeah, definitely. And then with the followup, is there any particular headless CMS that you'd recommend people start out with? If, if they haven't touched one before. No, I'll be honest with you. And not because I don't want to get in trouble or anything, because like I said, they all have positives and negatives to them. And at the end of the day, as you work with all of them, or many of them, they all are pretty similar, right? Some of them will have better. For example, authoring workflows than others. Some of them will support global field types that, and others won't. Some of them will have environments done one way

[00:25:00] and an environment done a different way. And another one at the end of the day, just pick one. And, but what you want to learn is the concept of headless. You want to learn the concept of environments and content types and field attributes. Once you learned that you can move from graph CMS to content stack Contentful, to strap me to sanity that I, Oh, there's just so many of them out there. Right? It's really going to depend which one you want to choose at the end of the day, but you want to learn the core, the basics, because the basics are across the board. Once you get content types and attributes and how models work and how that, how you get the information out of those, it's just, okay. So how do we do it here versus how do we do it there? Marcella? I think we're almost at time. This has been super interesting. And I've, we've got to get you back on to talk about VR as well. Yeah, I looked in VR, man. I didn't want to derail this episode again, getting too much into that,

[00:26:00] but, uh, would probably be interested to totally I'd love to, we can talk for hours on that too. Um, so where can listeners go to find out more about you and your projects? Well, thanks for that. Definitely go to headless, sign up it's it's registration is free. Like I said, I'm trying to keep it a hundred percent free. I may throw in one course once in a while, that'll be charged that I'm doing. But in general, I'm going to try to keep all my courses for free, with real valuable information. Again, just go to headless and you'll find all my contact information and you can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, all of the Twitch, everything is headless creator. Perfect. Well, we'll make sure that all those links and everything in the show notes, Marcelo. Thanks very much. It's been my pleasure, Christopher. Thank you for inviting me. I appreciate it.

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