Rasmus vs. Learning to Code: "I can create stuff just from my imagination!" (Interview)

Written by: Reinder de Vries, July 26 2017, in App Development

A short while ago I had the opportunity to interview Rasmus, a young app developer from Sweden. We got chatting after he emailed a whole lot of development questions and I wanted to know what inspired him to learn how to code.

The answer to that question is this interview. We cover a lot of ground:

  • Why it’s important to spend your time well
  • How he built his first few apps
  • How Rasmus got into programming at an early age
  • What the crucial aspects of learning to code are
  • How to stay motivated learning how to code

I recommend you check out Rasmus apps, right here:

You can also get in touch with Rasmus on Instagram and Twitter.

I am impressed with Rasmus’ energy and the willpower he’s shown to learn something that’s challenging. I think that serves as an inspiration for those who are learning to code. Rasmus puts it like this:

“It was a long journey, but you have to be persistent. Even on those days when it feels like “Man, this is never gonna work!” you have to keep on going.”

Ready? Let’s go!

Reinder: Let’s talk about your iOS game: Bad Badger. What’s it about?

Rasmus: I was influenced by these arcade games, the ones where you hit some kind of rodent and then it pops up in another hole. It was my first app, so I needed a simple idea, something I could easily transform into a mobile game.

I found a game tutorial online, and I thought, what if I switch out some of the images and reuse some of the code, and that’s how the game was born.

How long did it take you to build?

About a month, but I had a little bit of an issue there. I wanted to learn programming, so I built this game on the side, but then it turned out that building the game took up most of my time.

Where did you get the resources for this app, like the tools, graphics, the code?

For the graphics I used software I’ve been using for years, Affinity Designer. I’ve been an artistic person all my life, so working with it wasn’t a problem.

As for the building itself, I first made the foundation for the app and then started adding features to it. When it comes to learning to code however – that was a long journey!

Dogfight iOS app

Yeah, we’ll get to that in a bit. Do you have plans to expand the game?

That will probably be for Android then.

“Ideally I’d add a feature to the app that you can pay for.”

I asked my younger brother to do some marketing for me – free marketing, haha! He told his friends about the game on Snapchat, so got some downloads from that.

After that some people came up to me and asked me: “Can you make this app for Android too?” I also want to make some money with the app. Ideally I’d add a feature to the app that you can pay for.

Speaking of marketing strategies, have you done any other marketing to get your app “out there”?

I’ve read some of your guides about marketing, but I can’t really say I’ve done a whole lot when it comes to marketing, except for telling friends and family about my app.

For now I don’t have a marketing plan, and to be honest, I don’t know whether I should invest the time into marketing this app. I already have a new, better app that I’m working on. I wouldn’t make any money from Bad Badger anyway, because it’s free.

I see. For your new app idea, what would be the first marketing strategy you want to try?

I don’t really know – haven’t read too much about it! I’d try to get in touch with friends and family. Perhaps put some ads on Google. Maybe you could give me some advice here?

Well, I was thinking – you’re a Snapchat user, right? What if you would document your whole process of making this game on Snapchat. Do you think that would attract new people?

That’s hard to say. I don’t know if I have that wider audience on Snapchat. It’s a good idea though, and it’s always fun to document the entire process.

You don’t necessarily only have to address the audience you already have. You can also grow your audience on social media, when people become interested in what you do. As a side effect, some of them also download your app. When people talk about your app, you expand your audience. That’s the essence of marketing.

I like the idea of documenting the process of building this app. It’s something I’d want to watch myself, seeing a developer build something from scratch and building it up to the finished product.

It’s good advice, building up an audience outside the audience I already have. I think with my next game I’m going to try a bit harder with marketing.

“Marketing gives you a feel for what people want.”

Okay, here’s some other thing you can do. Instead of first building the app, and then finding the audience, you can also turn it around. You go look for a Facebook Group, or an email list, or an audience you already have – and then build an app for them. An app that solves a problem they have.

Oh, that’s a really good idea! That gives you a feel for what people want. It’s one way I think I can improve, scanning the market for what people want, what the trends are. What’s downloaded the most?

OK, let’s get back to your apps. You recently launched RED Software, your own company. Have you thought about working as a freelance developer?

The idea with RED Software was to make a foundation to work as an iOS development firm. Now I’ve developed my first app, so I can use the company as the “face” for future products.

I want to get some more experience before building someone else’s app, because I don’t have much experience working with customers. I have built websites for other people and I really liked that. Building apps is a similar process.

Let’s say you were to build your app Bad Badger for Android, with little or no experience with Android development. What are the steps you would take to get that done?

First I’d have to ask a lot of questions to Google!

I’d have to learn Java. I have the Swift code of course, but translating that into Java… and I don’t have any idea what kind of IDE (Integrated Development Environment, like Xcode) you’d use to develop Android apps.

At this point I wouldn’t want to get into a new programming language though, because I’ve just learned Swift. You have to put a lot of time and effort into learning a new language.

OK, let’s take a step back and talk about learning how to code. What was your first experience with learning how to code?

The first experience? That was when my father told me about programming.

I had never heard of it before. He showed me a freelancing website and he said: “Rasmus, if you learn how to code you can do freelancing work on this website and you might make money.” So, 11-year old me thought: “Wow, that’s pretty cool!”

I started with very basic Python programming. I didn’t get good at it because I hadn’t fully developed my thinking yet, but two years later I took an online course with my dad in Python.

We sent our results to the makers of the course, and they looked at it and said it was OK. After about 6 months of doing this course I got pretty fluent in Python. I stuck with Python for a while, but it didn’t really develop into anything that I could use to release a product.

Then I found Swift when it was still new, but I didn’t find programming enjoyable at the time. I had other interests, but then this winter I got back to my old programming and looked at my old Python programs. I went through all the videos and books again, just to remember how it worked.

But then I got back into it, and realized: this is a lot of fun! I thought about giving Swift another go.

I saw your “Add 1” game guides, we emailed, I bought your Zero to App Store course and I just continued from there.

It was a long journey, even a roller-coaster ride, but you have to be persistent, even on those days when it feels like “Man, this is never gonna work!” you have to keep on going.

I’m impressed! You’re quite young – that’s a good thing – and you already learned so much. What motivated you to continue to learn?

When I started with Python I was a gamer. I don’t game so much anymore, but back then I thought: “When I grow up I want to make computer games.” It motivated me to learn how to program.

When I learned Swift, the goal was to build an app. I challenged myself by setting a goal. I’m a competitive person, that’s perhaps what motivated me the most: I didn’t want to fail.

Two weeks ago, when I released the app, that was such a great feeling. It was this feeling of control, something that I had made was out there. After several years of programming and learning to code I finally had it.

I see a violin behind you, and you’re a fan of soccer. I remember from when I was 16, there were so many things I could do. So many things you can achieve. From all the things you can do, why did you choose programming?

“Man, I can create stuff just from my imagination!”

Haha, I don’t sleep as much as I should! I don’t watch a lot of movies or TV series, which means I free up a lot of time.

I then cram as much homework, music playing, and soccer. In that limited time I also have to fit programming. And it’s been fun. I don’t play as much music as I did six months ago, because you only have 24 hours in a day!

When I get home from school, I don’t want to play music or play soccer, I want to program. There’s something that’s so intriguing about programming, that’s what captivates so many people.

What I most like is the control of the whole process. Once you get over that “hump” and you realize: “Man, I can create stuff just from my imagination!”

You know enough programming to use it in any way you’d like. It’s so intriguing – that’s what keeps you up until 4 in the morning programming!

Absolutely! Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I would like to study Computer Science. From there on, I don’t really know. I’m from a family with a lot of entrepreneurs, so maybe that’s what I’ll be doing too.

Is there a company you’d like to work for, like Facebook, Google or some startup?

Apple would be a dream, because I’m a huge Apple fan. Maybe their headquarters here in Sweden? My father knows the founder of Spotify, so I could try to land an internship there.

You and I, we met online when you asked me a whole lot of questions about app development. What do you think my role should be in teaching other people how to code apps? Or said differently: when someone’s listening right now, and they want to find a mentor, or reach out to someone they look up to – what should they do?

Pff, that’s a tough question! You’ve provided me with a lot of support. You answered my questions and that was vital to get me going.

I’ve always had my dad in my life, whom I can go to, and he supports me with with programming.

If you’re new to programming, I’d say, find someone who can help you. If you’re all alone, it might be hard to push yourself through the tough moments when you don’t really know what to do.

Programming is hard to learn, and you need someone to guide you. To have someone you can discuss ideas with.

I have a few general questions about apps and the app economy for you. If there’s one thing you could change about our app economy, what would that be?

I think the app economy is great. It feels safe, as an iOS developer, because Apple takes care of distribution. You can rely on the App Store, there’s a certain amount of trust you can have in them.

I don’t know if there’s anything I want to change. I like it to grow. It’s not that it’s not a big market, but to me the App Store doesn’t feel so prominent.

It’s not as big as YouTube, for instance, everyone is on YouTube. In my life, YouTube has been more “there” than the App Store. It’s hard to explain…

I know what you mean. What do you think the App Store will look like in 5 years?

The hype of the App Store has unfortunately died out a bit. When Flappy Bird was released, everyone in the App Store was making so much money, and there were all these games I could download.

I think the App Store won’t see those kinds of apps again. Five years from now I hope that hype returns. It’s hard to see the future, but I hope there will be an upswing in the popularity of apps.

Before we stop, I have some rapid-fire questions for you. Simply say anything that comes to mind. Here’s the first one: What is advice that you regularly see given out that you think is untrue or bad advice?

My teachers always told me: “Go home after school, relax, it’ll all be fine if you relax.” They wanted me to do my homework, of course, but apart from that they say “Take it easy!” That’s bad advice.

You shouldn’t push yourself too hard, but you have to use your time well, too. Don’t use it watching TV series all day, because 10 years from now you’ll probably not thank yourself for watching TV series.

“Use your time well.”

Use your time well. That’s why I spend so much time programming, because programming is a great way to use your time.

When you think of the word “success”, who is the first person that comes to mind?

Elon Musk. The CEO and creator of Tesla and SpaceX.

“What you use your money and power for, that’s what success is for me.”

First you gotta tackle the question: “What is success?” To a lot of people, success is money. To me, it kind of is, but at the same time it’s not. Is someone who wins the lottery successful? That’s not success.

Elon Musk made a lot of money, and then invested this money into fields that truly matter, like sustainable energy. Because he’s successful, he is using his resources in the right way.

Bill Gates is the same. He’s made a lot of money, but now he’s spending money to help other people. What you use your money and power for, that’s what success is for me.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an app developer and build apps?

Learn Swift programming, and the language and syntax.

“The more tools you have, the more ways of solving problems you have.”

A carpenter could build a house with a screwdriver and a hammer, but if he didn’t have more good tools in his toolbox he wouldn’t be able to build a good house.

I recommend checking out the documentation on the Swift language, and developing your understanding of the programming language itself. Try to use as many tools as possible. How do guards work? Protocols, enumerations, closures, etcetera.

The more tools you have, the more ways of solving problems you have.

We’re at the end of our interview! Is there anything we’ve missed?

No, not really. Or… here’s a question for you: “If I’m looking for a job 15 years from now, how important do you think programming will be?”

First off, it’s hard to predict the future…

There’s no way to really know. Then, you can look at it from different angles. If the current rise in demand for software developers continues, there will be jobs for developers in the future. You can also look at it like this: developers solve problems. The future is essentially an endless supply of problems. So even if you don’t literally know how to code, if you know how to tackle and solve a problem, you’re set. And if you know as a developer as an entrepreneur how to create value and if you know how to get that to people, in 15 years there’s lots of work for you. Then, if you look at Artificial Intelligence and machine learning – someone’s gotta code that, and look after those robots. Comparing development to other jobs, I think it’s a safe bet.

Written By: Reinder de Vries

Reinder de Vries is an indie app developer who teaches aspiring app developers and marketers how to build their own apps at LearnAppMaking.com. Since 2009 he has developed over 50 apps for iOS, Android and the web, and his code is used by millions of users all over the globe. When Reinder isn't building apps, he enjoys strong espresso and traveling.

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