Epic Web Conf '24 Speakers

Saron Yitbarek

Founder, Disco. Creator of notadesigner.io

Watch Talk


  • Thursday, 2:25 PM2:45 PM
    Not A Designer


Saron is a 2x founder (1 acquisition), developer, podcaster, and mother of an incredible little girl. She's currently building Not a Designer, her design newsletter for devs, working on her startup Disco, helping people with multiple streams of income, and previously founded CodeNewbie, the most supportive community of developers and people learning to code.


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Hello, everybody. I am super, super jazzed to be joined by Saran. Say hello, Saran. Hello, everyone. Nice to see you.

Nice to see you also. So, I'm super excited for you to be one of the speakers at Epic Web Conf in April in Park City, Utah, April 11th, to be precise. And, yeah, I just thought this would be a really good opportunity for people to get to know you ahead of the conference.

So, could you give us an intro to yourself? Sure. So, my name is Saran. I'm probably most known for starting CodeNewbie a million years ago. It's been a decade now. Can you believe it? No way. Not a decade. It was early 2014 that I started CodeNewbie. Holy smokes. Yep. That's amazing.

Our first Twitter chat was, I think, in January or February of 2014. I remember that. I don't think I participated, but I saw it for sure. Yeah, yeah. It was very early in my dev career as well. So, my goodness. Oh, is it? Okay. Amazing.

Yeah, yeah. So, that started as a Twitter chat. It started as a Twitter chat that happened every Wednesday night at Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Eastern time. And we did that for literally 10 years. I think we did it every week for 10 years.

And that grew into a podcast and a conference and then another podcast and meetups and newsletters and a bunch of content and really became a proper media company that got acquired a couple years back. So, that's probably what I'm best known for. And then recently, and what I'm going to be talking about at Epic Web Dev, is my personal creator journey.

So, I've always loved design. That's always been just a passion of mine, but I've never taken a proper course. I've read a couple books here and there, but I've never been trained as a designer. And I've always felt like I had a good eye for design. I had a good sense of things, but I didn't have that polish that I see from a proper designer.

And I really wanted that polish. And I wanted to figure out what is the right way of doing things? What really is a grid in design terms, not just in front-end terms? And how do you pick a font? And what's a scale? And there were just all these questions I had.

And for me, the real power of design came when I had the privilege of doing a redesign for one of my best friends and my husband, actually. So, they co-founded a company called StoryGraph, which is the number one book reads competitor. They have millions of users. And I think it was last year.

They asked for some design help, and I said, Well, I'm not a designer, but I love design. Let me see if I can make some improvements. And I didn't redesign the whole thing, but I redesigned the main book page app. And it got such great reviews. And it was so cool to see my little idea used by literally millions of people.

And to see people literally comment on the UX and the UI and say how beautiful it was and how much better it was. It was such a cool feeling. And I was like, Man, if I really knew how to design, it would have been even so much better.

And so, earlier last year, I decided that I was going to take that mission a little bit more seriously. And I said, I'm going to learn and teach design at the same time. I'm going to level up, and I'm going to share my learnings along the way. And I didn't want to pretend that I'm a design expert.

I didn't want to come off as this design educator. So, I called it Not a Designer because I'm literally not a designer. And you are learning from someone who is not a designer. And so, I started this newsletter. And I did it really for two reasons. Number one, I was really excited about learning these new skills.

But also, I was really interested in just the world of newsletters. I feel like in the last maybe like five years, newsletters have really taken off. I feel like everyone has one. People are sharing them all over the place. And newsletters to me just make so much sense as a content creator.

Because when you're on Twitter, Twitter owns your audience, right? Like I don't know about you, but my Twitter engagement, I have 37,000 followers. My Twitter engagement has been abysmal since it became like X. You know what I mean? And there's like nothing I can do about that, right? LinkedIn, it's not my audience. It's the LinkedIn audience. It's a borrowed audience.

And newsletters to me are very exciting because it's an audience that you own. It's a relationship that can travel with you from one platform to another. And so I was really excited about entering the newsletter space, seeing what does it feel like to talk directly to a subscriber? What does it feel like to write and create for them in a regular way?

And writing was a new medium for me because I've been a podcaster for, again, over a decade. Right. And I've done speaking, which is live events and on-stage stuff for, again, over a decade. But I actually haven't done a lot of just straight writing. So that's a different medium for me.

And so I wanted the experience of being a better designer and being able to help people level up. But also I wanted to just understand the mechanics and the growth channels and the ways to become like a content creator. So that's what I created and I'm a designer. Wow. I love your story.

I think it's lovely. And one of my favorite things that I want to call out specifically is your attitude when you got all these wonderful reviews about your UI and your UX. And I think it'd be very easy for myself to look at that and be like, wow, I'm better at this than I thought.

And just like pat myself on the back and think like, I'm awesome. Yeah. But I love that you were like, man, I mean, I'm sure you felt good. I did, yeah, yeah. But I could be better. I could be better, yeah. Like could you imagine what it could be if I actually were good at this? I really like that attitude a lot.

And we've actually had conversations. If people listen to our Chats with Kent podcast interview a while ago, that goes a lot more in-depth into your story. But if you could briefly talk about like where do you develop that kind of

an attitude of self-improvement? I feel like being a developer is such a humbling job. And it really is an act of humility because you get stuck. You feel like an idiot most of the time. Then you feel like a god for like two seconds. And then you're back to being stuck.

And I feel like with the ever-changing landscape of technology, with all the new tools that you have to keep up with, I feel like, I don't know about you, but I've never felt like good enough as a developer. I feel like I'm constantly a work in progress because you build a feature. But then for a new feature, you have to figure out how to build that. And you have to play with tools you haven't touched before. And there's a new challenge.

So it's a very humbling activity. So I think that unlike, for example, when I do writing, I put a lot of effort into being a good writer. I actually have a team of what I call beta readers. Just like you have beta users, I have beta readers.

And it's about eight people who volunteer to read and give feedback to every draft if not a designer before I publish it. And so over the weekend, I give them a Google link, and they leave their feedback, and they give me a rating for the issue. And sometimes I've rewritten the whole thing based on that feedback.

So there is still a bit of that work in progress built in. But I feel like once you know how to write, you just keep doing it. You know what I mean? Like you're not constantly learning a new writing trick. You know what I mean? The way that you are constantly learning a new way of doing things.

So I think just by virtue of being in tech and being humbled by all the things that are changing around me, it's kind of kept me in a beginner mindset whether I like it or not. So I feel like it's kind of a part of the job, a part of the profession. Yeah, yeah. You know, that makes a lot of sense.

And I also really like your approach to writing as well and your newsletter. I'm subscribed, and so I can recommend it. But I love that you have this iterative process for developing that material.

You clearly take it very seriously and want to make sure that you're delivering something of high value for people, which is fantastic. It's awesome. Yeah. It used to be called, like the tagline used to be design bites for devs because initially when I was thinking about it, I was like, I'm going to have these cute little tips,

and there's going to be these little design tips and advice that people can use. And I feel like every issue is like 2,000 words. Like I can't write it. I really want to explain it. Like I really want there to be like a beginning, middle, and end. And usually we work through a problem together, and we start with like a wireframe, and then I show you all the different iterations.

I can't help, but I want it to be thorough. Like I really take it seriously. So there was one time actually that it was so long that someone, one of my subscribers, messaged me and said that it got cut off in her e-mail, and I was like, okay, you've got to take it down a notch. That's too far.

So luckily it cut off like around the signature portion, so it was okay. But still, I need to figure out a way to make it more concise. But they're very thorough walkthroughs. They're very well researched. There's a lot of time that goes into it. And, yeah, I really care about the quality. It's really important to me. That's awesome.

Now is that some of what you're planning on talking about at Epic Web is the newsletter and how you put that together, or what are you thinking about for your talk for Epic Web? Yeah, I want to talk about this idea of learning in public because I feel like we talk about building public and learning public a lot,

and usually it comes off as I'm going to kind of tweet information that I learned, but the Not A Designer newsletter is pretty much me learning in a very public way. But because I'm forced to write in a blog, in, like I said, 2,000 words, what I'm learning,

you really get to see in deep detail what I am learning and how I'm learning it, and it kind of holds me accountable, too. It helps me. It's a really great way for me to look at the end of the week and go, this is where all my research went, right?

All the videos I watched and book chapters I read and articles I looked at, this is a memorial almost of all the work that put into understanding this. And now because I'm sharing it and sending it out to thousands of people a week, it's a public way of learning it.

So I feel like that newsletter content style can be a very effective way of learning in public as well in a way that has a lot more depth than I think just tweeting things does. And so I really want to talk about the journey of simultaneously learning

and teaching at the same time and what that looks like and hopefully sharing some design insights as well. Yeah, super. You know, that I can 100% back up as a lot of what you're describing has been my experience as well.

And honestly, people will sometimes ask me about why I teach and stuff like that. And I tell them it's actually selfish. It's how I solidify my own understanding of the stuff that I'm learning. And so, yeah, I'm super excited to hear your talk.

And just like a point on just nodding the whole time. So true, so true. So I definitely recommend people go to your talk or watch it online. It's going to be awesome. Or I should say epic. Epic, it will be epic. There you go, there you go. Very cool.

So Saran, last thing, when we're at the conference and people are going to want to meet you and talk with you, what are some things that you're excited to talk with people about? Oh, that's a great question. I am really excited to – okay, so this is actually a really great question

because I think I recently discovered my passion in life, and I have decided to just lean into it and just own it. So when we think about passion, at least for me, I always thought it had to be like a hobby, like I'm really passionate about sewing or cooking or some type of activity,

or it had to be like a mission, like a really deep mission, like I'm passionate about helping the unhoused or I'm passionate about feeding hungry kids or something like that. And what I realized is that my passion is helping people make money. Like that's really what I'm excited about.

I just want you to make all the money you possibly can. And so I recently, with my startup, Disco, we launched a community called Big Cash Money, and it's all about people with multiple income streams, and it's this really, really incredible Discord community of people who are doing –

just like I am doing speaking, doing consulting, writing a book, doing workshops, and it's all about how to optimize for their personal revenue and how to take care of their families better, reach their personal finance goals. And that's right now what I'm just thinking about all day and all night, and that's what I'm really excited about.

So if you want to talk about money and how to make more money, come talk to me. I would love to talk to you about that. Epic. Yeah. Let's go get that bag. Let's go. Fantastic. And do amazing things in the world while you're at it, right? You're doing awesome stuff. So thank you, Saron. I'm super excited to have you at the conference,

and yeah, we'll see everybody there. See you at Epic.