Episode 6: Andrea Bizzotto

Fri, 18 Dec 2020 00:04:26 +0100

An online course instructor with over 20,000 students, Andrea talks about his journey, why his courses are rated so highly, as well as his thoughts on mobile app development with Flutter.

Episode 6: Andrea Bizzotto

Show Notes


  • Andrea's website


  • Open-source contributions can be a way to have a huge impact, as they can end up used in thousands of products
  • Andrea admits that he feels a bit embarrassed by his first course videos, but says that it is a process and you get better over time as a course creator
  • Andrea had seen the iphone app boom "pass him by" and wanted to ensure the same thing didn't happen again with Flutter.
  • Noted the trend in frontend development towards declarative and reactive mobile application frameworks
  • Before Andrea created his first course, he validated the idea that he could teach and that people would be interested by starting with youtube tutorials. At that time he didn't even know that people were going on youtube to look for programming tutorials. He started with a 6 video series on building an authentication flow with Flutter and Firebase, and people really liked them. After seeing that success, he decided to take the leap and make a course
  • When creating the first course, Andrea expected it to take 3-4 months. In the end, it took 11 months. Part of the reason for this was because he wanted to create a complete course. He was influenced by seeing some very large courses on Udemy, and assumed that in order to compete he would have to make a long course. Looking back, he thinks he spent too much time on this first course and could have launched earlier.
  • At first, Andrea made his course private, allowing a selected group from his newsletter to try it. He started doing this from 30% completion, so for a few months he had scheduled updates to release new course content
  • Turns out that November is the biggest month for sales
  • On why his courses are so highly rated, Andrea thinks it's a combination of being a developer for a long time, working as a freelancer in particular has given him a feel for what works - he taught the same tools and approaches as he used in his own client work.
  • He continued building courses on the side - keeping a balance between freelance work and his course business.
  • IndieHackers is a great community for learning how to grow an online course business

Quotes from the Episode

I was just amazed by how quickly I could turn something around with no previous knowledge of the framework [Flutter][...] something clicked there and I thought "this is going to be big".

From a business point of view, if you really had to deliver a product across iOS, and Android and desktop and web [Flutter] is the only framework that allows you to do that with the same level of quality that you would get on native. It's not production ready for web yet [...] but just the fact that you can already get a really good quality experience on mobile [...] if you're building something mobile first, to me Flutter is the first choice.

On Udemy, it really is about finding the right topic and getting there at the right time with a good course. If you miss that, it's harder to make up for it.

If you want to build something for mobile, Flutter is a great choice. If you want to build a complex website, Flutter probably isn't the right choice

Flutter is growing fast, but there are more jobs in the Javascript ecosystem. [...] If you're someone who wants to build their own product, or maybe start an agency or freelance or start a startup then Flutter is great for all those things.


[00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to the course maker podcast. Today. I'm pleased to introduce our guest Andrea Bizzotto, who's an online course author with over 22,000 students on Udemy and a 4.7 out of five average rating, which is super impressive. As well as courses on Flutter, Dart and Firebase, Andrea's site is a real gold mine of video tutorials articles and the newsletter. So Andrea really looking forward to our chat. Absolutely. Thank you very much for the introduction. I think you introduced me better than I will do myself, so maybe we need to work together. Yeah. So I mean like, like I was saying, you've got loads of great content, um, in the form of courses and articles and videos,

[00:01:00] but before we dig into all that sort of stuff, can you tell us a bit about how you got into programming and your background? Yeah, sure. Well, first of all, I'm from Italy and I, in terms of how I got into coding, I always thought a lot of computers around in my house when I was a kid. So yeah, when I was young, my main interest radio was just playing games and I have lots of different. Things that could keep me occupied. And I think around my teens, I started kind of looking more into computers in that. And, uh, at the time, uh, I think it was the time of 56 K modems and pretty stoked connections. So I remember the first tools that I had were like, um, Cubic compiler. Then I got somebody like turbo Pascal and some sea compilers. And in terms of learning resources, I had, I remember having a pretty big chunky book about C plus plus, and I know I learned somewhere that

[00:02:00] people that were making games were using C plus plus. So I started learning that and it was. Literally just myself, the book, a computer that was sort of, I remember when the computer was hanging, sometimes I would phrase it probably due to my fault as an early age programmer. I would actually have to switch the thing off and start it back up. So that was a different experience than what we have these days, I guess. Um, so yeah, that was a little while ago. And, um, I went to uni, so like nothing. Although the ordinary in terms of how my education went, I was interested quite a lot of the months and yeah. Computing. So I went for a degree in computer engineering. So I did all of that in Italy. And then around 12 years ago, I moved to the UK. For work. And since then I did a few jobs. Initially I was a graduate kind of developer, but I was always quite interested in coding.

[00:03:00] So on the side, I was kind of always learning different things and trying things out. And, uh, at one point I go into mobile app development, uh, that was already a few years after the Avon, the iPhone came out. But when I started doing things with that, I was like, okay, this is me for the next few years. Like, I, I really liked the iOS ecosystems and I wanted to, to make mobile apps. I bought maybe a little bit. Bit too much into it, but I guess in terms of being in the right place at the right time, that was a good choice because, uh, when I'm based in London, there were definitely a lot of jobs, uh, as an iOS developer. And so I did that for quite a long time. While at that time also started kind of exploring blogging as a platform a little bit. So I started a little blog in Jackal writing about IST element, and then I discovered medium. So I just stopped for a little while. It was more like a hobby thing. And then I also,

[00:04:00] uh, enjoy open sourcing things. So like GitHub was rising at the time and I thought. I guess, you know, all the cool people are doing this, so maybe I should try open sourcing things as well. And also, I guess it was born out of a necessity to kind of take my code across projects and be able to reuse it. So can I repackage it and build it in a way that I can just. Reuse it and share across projects. And then it has the benefit that I guess people can also forget or use it by themselves if they want really cool. What, what sort of stuff did you open source? Yeah, I think at the beginning, just writing small libraries for us. So maybe, you know, simple UI components or, uh, things to make certain tasks easier. Like I remember at some point I was working on a project for entering text into forms and other time there, wasn't a very easy way of making the content scroll and the keyboard and the

[00:05:00] keyboard play nicely. So I was trying to automate and just in general, trying to write little tools to make life easier. And then eventually I wrote a tool that was for up purchases on iOS. And that was at the time when Swift was just launched. Uh, maybe it's 52 came out and the existing API is for bringing up purchases. And now you're, we're really not that great. There were already some of that objective C. Libraries, uh, because what was coming out of the box, wasn't good or user-friendly enough, but yeah, I made this project on with the store and I just made it out of necessity because I was building like a little lab for myself. So initially had a very small feature set, but then I dunno, some, somehow it got popular and people started contributing and also asking for new feature requests. So I entered this kind of cycle of, I guess, adding features and, and seeing the project grow. And, and eventually it did grow to be

[00:06:00] very popular. And so I became more like a maintainer and, and that kind of journey went on for a few years. So that was unexpected the popular, but also, I guess I started feeling the pain points of being an open source Montana and the lack of, I guess, financial reward that can sedate and also. With certain things. It's actually hard to do good testing, especially when it, when it's not just to do with your code, but also with, um, configurations and backends and things like that. So eventually I kind of handed over the project to other people that wanted to carry on, carry out, working on it as a community effort, but that was a good experience. Yeah. Very interesting. Yeah. I mean, we, we all own the open source maintainers, um, a huge debt. I think everybody in the programming community is such a powerful way to, to help out others. Um, so that's really cool. I didn't know that you

[00:07:00] had that involvement in open source. Yeah, I think open source in a way actually has more impact than, than what you can even do as a content creator or maybe as a content creator. It's easier to monetize your experience, but as an open source developer, if you build something that is. Actually really valuable, then it goes into thousands of products. Uh, and I can see that now as well with the flutter community and a lot of the, the, the packages that are being published, some of them going to thousands of ops. And I really appreciate like the work that goes behind maintaining those packages. A hundred percent. And if we, if we look at where you are now, and this journey you've been on, were there any particular moments where you decided to really focus on things like flutter? Yeah, I think the interesting thing is I jumped into flatter almost by chance. So for the last few years, um, I was also freelancing quite a bit. Like at some point I just felt that.

[00:08:00] Cardio's were never really the thing for me, like the idea of staying at a company for a long time, it was never appealing. So I decided to go and do freelancing work. And again, being in London was a very good way of doing that. So I was at some point hired to do. A contract with a project on us. And then when that project finished, they put me on a different project where they had full buy-in to do it all with flatter and Google and Google platform. So I didn't even know about flop at the time, but I just started working on it. And, and, you know, within a couple of weeks, I think the initial scope was just to build a prototype for the client. To see that we could actually build what they wanted to do. And I was just amazed by how quickly I could turn something around. We, we very, in fact, we not previous knowledge of that, a framework and flatter was still quite early days back then. But even if it was a beta or even before the beta.

[00:09:00] Stable enough that we could build something with it in a very short amount of time. And so to me, I mean, something clicked there and I thought this is going to be big. Like when people didn't know about it, I've just had this idea in my mind that that was going to be a big thing. And so alongside working on that project, um, yeah, I just started writing articles and making some videos and, and I think the motivation was that. Yeah, I could just see the, for example, I missed the boat on the iOS kind of content creation thing. And, and at the time the system was already very mature. There were a lot of established instructors putting out like amazing work. And I never thought I could even be on the same level as them, but because fatter was so new, it was an opportunity for content creators. And so I decided to dive in and, and so. For a little while I carried on doing client work, but also

[00:10:00] using flatter and kind of writing open-source and writing articles, doing videos, the whole content creation, especially the video side of it was completely new to me. So yeah, I bought a microphone and some of the essential tools, but I didn't really know what makes a good video. I didn't have any concept of it. I didn't know anything about video production. I just started putting things out there. And if I look back on my first videos, I find them a bit embarrassing in terms of like some of the ways, some of the things I was doing. But I guess just like with anything else, when you, when you learn you, you cannot get better over time and you, you find your way. It's not actually. I'd say you can find your way as a, as a content creator in terms of making interesting stuff. And then to actually scan it to something that you can make a living on is a whole other pair of shoes. But yeah, I think I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I think, you know, you, people can infer

[00:11:00] from what you were just describing, but for those who haven't come across flutter, do you want to just briefly explain what it is? Yeah, it's basically a UI tool kit, uh, made by Google that allows you to build apps on mobile web and desktop across and make them all work on multiple platforms with a single code base. So flatter, I guess it's inspired by react in some of the, kind of. Principals, uh, I mean, some of the ways in which it works, but in other ways it's quite different also, uh, it uses a different programming language, so it's not JavaScript, but it's dark, which is a language by Google and well, really. Like I was saying before I was impressed by what I could do quickly with flatter and a lot of it boiled down to, to the developer experience as well. Uh, and, and one thing that really, at least for me made the difference compared to the tools I was using before is how productive it was. Uh, and that

[00:12:00] boils down to a lot of different things. So father is open source, so it's easier, I guess, to. To look up the documentation and find things that people need that the whole development tool set is amazing. Like with dart, you have three load and that's something that coming from iOS, native development, at least at the time was not something that was there. So being able to just edit the code and see the, the results a bit in something, it was pretty good. And also, I guess that does a part of the change in terms of. Going from imperative style programming. We just, what that was used to, uh, before to more like other clarity programming style, which is some, is actually a trend that now is shared not only with flatter, but also with the reactants with UI. So there's definitely a trend in front end development towards these kinds of declarative and reactive, uh, mobile application frameworks. So flatter is one of them, but I just think it does a really good job at it. And so there, I think it takes a lot of the

[00:13:00] boxes in terms of what you want to see as a developer to be productive. And so for me, clicked, and it's maybe still relatively new, but a lot of people are waking up to it and to the factor. It's a good candidate for, for building products and mobile apps and products on web as well. Yeah. I mean, I, I was really struck by the quote on your site where you're saying that you think flutter is the future of mobile app development. Do you, do you still feel that, uh, I'd say yes. I mean, I guess it boils down to, are you convinced yourself that it is, uh, w will others think the same? Uh, but also the bigger picture? Why, like, why is it going as a whole, you know, what's the whole community behind it and, and what does it allow people to do? Um, and I think it is, I mean, now there are good tools. Like react actually came before flatter.

[00:14:00] And I'm also, , it's something that at least on Apple platforms is something that is really gaining traction and. And, and people are using and liking a lot. Uh, but I guess the difference is that with flatter, you really go multi-platform, you're not limited to the Apple ecosystem. And so from a business point of view, if you had to deliver a proposition across iOS and Android and desktop and web, and like all these different platforms, I think it is the only framework that allows you to do that, uh, with the same level of quality that you would get on native. It's not production ready for web yet. It still has a few problems and the team is working on kind of improving that, but just the fact that you can already get really good quality kind of experience on mobile. If you're building something mobile first to me, flatter is the first choice. And as a bonus you might get to deliver on web. We don't improve the experience in the future.

[00:15:00] Yeah, no, there's a very powerful, attractive, um, capabilities. How, how do you think, um, flutter stacks up against say like react native. Yeah. Uh, I, I'm not going to anything too opinionated about it simply because I've only used the react native for maybe a few weeks on that note, though, in a way, react native has got what got me into Udemy, because at some point I wanted to build something and ref native, just to try it out. And that's where I discovered a course on Udemy, um, by one of the pepperoni instructors. And I took that. And so while I was learning that I also thought Udemy. Okay. Huh. That's interesting. So there's actually good courses on it. And, and, and as a developer, I could emphasize with what the instructor was teaching and also thought this is something that in the future I could do myself. But I guess coming back to your question. Yeah. I mean, react native comes from a different angle in the sense that. We already

[00:16:00] had the react. We already have demo script and a big ecosystem behind it. And a lot of people that knew JavaScript. And so I guess the react native is this attempt to bring, I guess, the same language that people are familiar with, uh, into native, uh, of development. Um, and probably by now I even forgotten most of what I've learned about react native. Uh, but I guess the programming style is not entirely different. Don't think out of the box. It, it is as good as flatter, but I guess when I say a lot more than that, because I just don't feel like I have enough knowledge of react native to. Fair enough. And, and you just touched on how it was that initial learning that introduced you to you, to me and got you thinking I could make a course like this. What was, what was that journey like then to creating the first course and then deciding to go on and create more courses? Yeah. So I

[00:17:00] guess before I even got into that, I wanted to validate this idea that. I could make people, I could make videos and people would be interested and I didn't know the upfront. So I started with YouTube and I didn't even know that people at the time were going on YouTube to look for programming videos. I didn't even know who the top may start. Those were all new to me. I just didn't know anything. I just started posting videos there and people like them. I did like a first. Small application. So I'll need like a six, um, video series with just six videos about how you would build, uh, an authentication flow with Flatiron and five ways. And that was. Pretty much me learning how to do it and then doing a video about it. Uh, but that was very popular. And I guess that's because most apps need authentication. So whoever wanted to get their hands dirty with flatter, they were starting to build some of these things. And so

[00:18:00] that series, I guess, walls. What people were looking for. Um, so I don't think at the time I was that much of a good instructor, but I think it already proved that people wanted to see more content like that. So then I guess I was kind of continuing to learn the, the tools of the trade and, and getting a bit better at it. And there's a few other videos that went well. And then I decided to take the leap and create a course. And initially I thought maybe I can just do it. I don't know how long could it take me maybe three months, four months, five tops. And I was still kind of doing a lot of client work at the time, so I thought, okay. I'll start this. So I started in maybe October, 2018 and I already had pretty much all the code ready to go for the project. So I just had to, I guess, scripted and recorded. Yeah, it didn't, it wasn't ready until September last year it took me like 11 months to launch the first course.

[00:19:00] Uh, but I think part of the reason was that I wanted to make a complete course and I was keeping an eye on new the me what was going on and I could already see some. Pretty big courses coming up on top. And so I thought, yes, I can probably teach to the same level that these other instructors are doing. But if I want to compete, I just assume that I had to make a big course and cover everything. And so it took me a long, long time to get the, I think it took me too long, probably if I could launch it earlier, I think it would have been more successful. Uh, and I know who the me. It really is about finding the right topic and, and getting there at the right time with a good course. And if you miss that, then it's harder to make up for it. So I think, yeah, it was a good learning experience. Uh, I tried to, I guess, do the best course I could with the knowledge that they had of the time. And then the way I went about it was to also make it

[00:20:00] private first. Uh, so I start after I had maybe 30% of the content done. I shared it with some of the people that I kind of signed up with my newsletter. And so for a few months I had this kind of schedule of pushing updates and releasing new content and getting people. No, the more people to subscribe and leave reviews. Uh, and so then after I launched us out, the November is the biggest month for sales. I have no idea. I have no idea about Udemy works either. Uh, but yeah, it went fairly well in terms of like first launch. It wasn't like living condom money. It was a little bit of money on the side, but yeah, the feedback was very good. And then I guess it was a case of. But why do you go next from that? Right? Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I know that it's certainly true that some of these you, to me, courses you see out there, these complete courses have 20 plus hours of content at times, and that takes a long time to create, uh, there's a big

[00:21:00] project. Um, And, you know, you, like you say, you took your time to create the first one, but it seems to have paid off well for you in the sense that your students are giving you excellent reviews, right? I mean, a 4.7 average is exceptionally high, particularly once you've got, um, you know, more than, than 20,000 students like you do. Uh, what, what, what sort of factors do you think contribute to your students? Um, Rating your courses so highly, uh, it's a good question. I mean, I guess, you know, I I've been already a developer for a long time before I started making courses. So I felt that I have a, a range of experience and skills that if I could just. Consolidate into a course, then that would make it like a valuable learning experience for students. And also, I guess, prior to making courses, as I said, I was freelancing for quite a long time. So, you know, all these years of building different things, you get a feeling for what

[00:22:00] things work and things don't work so much. So I guess I just try to put all my knowledge into one course. And what I was building in this course was using the same kind of. Tools some of the same libraries that I will still using in my kind of client work. So that I guess was real world application. Development, but still kind of structured in a way, uh, that that works well for a course or at least the best effort I could do at it. Yeah. I mean, I was nowhere near the size of the audience or the other instructors. So I was quite amazed that it went as well as it did, because like, yeah, if you look at the other top top people, like they have courses on just about everything, like every programming language, all the main frameworks that they cover it all. And so it was quite amazing to be pretty close to that. And so, yeah, I would say I had the experience and knowledge, uh, as a developer myself, but I think there was no

[00:23:00] guarantee that I could kind of reach those levels. Uh, but I just gave it a shelter, I guess. Um, and I continued still working on the side. Uh, I wasn't. I guess everyone has different. Some people might be more risk averse. Some people might be more conservative. Some people might just quit their job and do this and do something completely new. And I always try to keep a balance. Uh, so I think that works fairly well for me. Mm. Yep. Yeah. There's definitely a different level of risk tolerance, different instructors have. Okay. And then for those students who are looking at your courses and wondering if they should give flutter or, or dot a try, um, on what it might do for their career, what, what advice would you have? Yeah, I guess it depends a lot on what, on what you're trying to build. Like, like I was saying, father is very good on mobile. So if you want to, with the product, the nice, a good

[00:24:00] experience on mobile, then I think flutter is very, very strong on that. On the other hand. If, if you need to build a website, even a complex website, uh, with good performance, then at this point in time, it's probably still not the best way to go. There is already a much more material system on web. And, and like I said, the revolves around demonstrate and all the other frameworks like react and Vue, svelte, and also there's the aspect of getting a job. So some people might be learning to go yes, because they like it, but eventually they want to get a job. So it's more considering where the double opportunities are. And of course, uh, I mean, flatter is growing very quickly. Things are picking up a bit, but the demonstrate ecosystem is absolutely huge. Uh, so I think for a long time there will be more jobs on those tools and also native app development. It's, it's probably dark to stay for a little while still. So, I mean, I'll PL the whole, our political

[00:25:00] system is quite strong, so. I wouldn't say it's about toys for people right now to be going down the iOS and Apple route. If they wanted to have jobs for the fuser, like it's still pretty strong, but it boils down to what your motivation is. I guess, if you are someone who wants to build his own product or maybe start an agency or freelance. Uh, or a startup then I think is great for all those. Yes. Really good advice. Okay. And Andrea, what's next for you? What are you working on? Yeah. Uh, and I was just thinking about it the other day. Like, what am I working on it? Like all the things that I would like to work on would probably require three, three full time jobs, but I'm not even like doing a full one, but yeah. Uh, there's a lot of things that, that, that I'm trying to, because I guess it's not only about the courses itself. Like, yeah. I, I spend a lot of time

[00:26:00] making content and courses under me, but I also have a YouTube channel. I have a website and I do various other things in the flutter community. So it's, I guess it's a balance of kind of keeping on top of all these different things. And obviously I need to a bit of a preference for the things that generate revenue for me, but I like to try to keep things balanced. So I think, yeah, over the next year, I want to try to establish myself a little bit more on the domain. Uh, it's still early days for me. And, and at the same time, yeah. I want to grow my website out some features. And, uh, I been actually, I discovered indie hackers just three months ago. And I found like it's an amazing community in terms of that is so much knowledge being shared and, and not something that I even knew was available. Um, So now I'm like, I'm getting like new ideas about how to do things and what new creative

[00:27:00] efforts I could kind of take in the future. So I guess for me, it's, it's an interesting time to be looking at all these things. Yeah. Exciting stuff. Lots of options and opportunities for you. So for listeners, where can they go to find out more about your courses and you? Yeah. Uh, well the main thing, I guess the main point of entry to all my material is my website. So it's called codewithandrea.com and yeah, has Videos, articles, tips, and courses. All about Dart and Flutter development. So I guess, yeah, that is the main, I guess. Platform or portal that I created to, to try to get people to learn in my content. So yeah, I would say that that's a good place to start with that being said, you know, we work in tech, things move very, very fast and I realized a long time ago that there's no way that I can always be on top of everything myself and for newcomers

[00:28:00] actually can be a good thing. Like there's actually a lot of. Good free content and a lot of materials for people to learn. We'd certainly a big difference from my C plus plus book from 20 years ago. Uh, so yeah, I'm, I'm actually learning a ton of stuff on YouTube about things that have nothing to do with programming these days. So yeah, for people that want to learn and spend the time doing it, there are a lot of good Dallin used to do that. That's a great journey from C plus plus book 20 years ago to teaching online now. Um, yeah. Great stuff. Okay. Well, make sure that links to your website are in the show next, Andrea, thank you so much for coming on the show. Yeah. Thank you very much for having me. I hope it will be valuable to others. Yep. Okay. Thank you.

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