The 5th-year Anniversary of Yagisanatode! An Origin Story.

It was a weird week.

We had just started the second semester of a university course that I was instructing on and my operations director pulled me out of my first class for the semester within an hour and asked me to teach the advanced course.

I lasted a day…

The new gig

The next day I was invited, okay told, to take on the administration for our preparatory year English department.

Damn it! I knew that I shouldn’t have mentioned a passing interest in Google Workspace (GSuite at the time) and coding all those months ago. Now, I was being asked to put my money where my mouth was and step up into running the admin for a 60-teacher 1,200-student-strong program.

The Deanship had just seen one of its administrators leave and their last administrator was to hand over to me.

I was walking right into, at the very least, a two-person job that my ego couldn’t let me decline.

Automate or die

The only way for me to survive this was to automate my workload bit by bit until I had it somewhat under control.

My only saving grace was that we were working in Google Workspace in conjunction with the learning management system, Moodle. I’d already worked with Google Workspace while teaching in Thailand to refine my grade entry and cross-checking which initially took two days, but after some serious formula wrangling took only a few hours.  This, along with tinkering with Python and Javascript over the years, gave me just enough confidence to dive into Google Apps Script.

The first task

The first administrative task I was trained on was clearly my predecessors’ least favourite. Two quizzes, one weekly 3-part test and attendance scores from all teachers on the course needed to be accumulated and cross-checked before being displayed in a spreadsheet and presented to the dean for review.

Usually, the task took a day and a half.

I didn’t have a day and a half to waste. Especially, if I was being dumped with this job on top of the job of the other admin guy who left.

I had an inkling that I could automate this with Google Apps Script. So I jumped into the IDE and started. I broke the task down into each of the processes I needed to accomplish and proceeded to fail until I succeeded on each step until I had a running script.

I worked on this project after work every night until late for four nights straight. Until finally, success. The entire script ran through all the processes correctly completing a 12-hour job in 4 minutes.

The endorphin-rich joy I experienced from this seemed to unlock a deep satisfaction in me that I had never truly experienced before in my working life. While this feeling has depended in its nuanced complexity as my skills have developed in the field, it is something that still keeps me going to this day.

The beginning

It was about two weeks later that I decided to create a blog. The aim was to have an easily referenced online location for me to store my code and spreadsheet tips. This way I could access them from anywhere when I needed them. I also suspected that I wasn’t alone in the type of problems that I needed to solve and thought one or two other people might find my tutorials useful.

I hosted my site on GreenGeeks to appease the tree-hugging greenie in me and went to task in my limited free time building

You can learn more about how I decided on the name, Yagisanatode, here.

My first post was, “How do I lock certain cells in a formula in Google Sheets?” The post covered using absolute – you know, those dollars ($) signs next to the cell reference – and relative range and cell reference in Google Sheets.

To this day it is still quite a popular post receiving 181,696 views since it was first written.

Yagisanatode the website

At the time of publishing this post, I will have written 202 blog articles. Topics generally focus on Google Apps Script automation and Google Sheets. However, they also spread into all parts of Google Workspace  like:

  • Docs
  • Slides
  • Sites
  • Forms
  • Classroom
  • Gmail
  • Maps
  • Calendar
  • Drive
  • Admin Console

…and a whole lot more.  You can see a list of categories on the right sidebar of my website. I even dive into a bit of pure JavaScript and a little Python.

Topics range in complexity from beginner’s guides on Google Sheets all the way through to more complex tutorials for advanced Apps Script users.

While the site has gained in popularity over the years, I still use it as a reference site for my own work and regularly head to a tutorial to grab a code snippet for a project.

To be honest, that’s all I thought this little adventure would be, but little did I know that the world would soon change and along with it Yagisanatode.

COVID “Pivot”

In March 2019, COVID made itself known at my university.

By then, our program had expanded to 3,600 students and 140 teachers. A lot had changed since those first few days on the job. The administration was supported by a cornucopia of Apps Script automation and improved workflows. The demand on our administration had increased dramatically in accordance with what our international accreditations had required of us too. However, we kept it under control with Google Workspace.

When COVID hit, everything had to change, and change fast.

That modern cliched term ‘pivot’ was doing overtime as it projectile vomited from the mouths of management and squarely into the face of administration and teachers alike.

We had to change from a fully on-campus course to an online one within weeks. Rebuilding a program from the ground up, just like many administrators during that time, was probably the hardest, most stressful time of my life.

Google Workspace to the Rescue

Zoom was on everyone’s lips, but I could also see the Google Meet dev team leap into action. I can honestly say that the only thing that made our program successfully transition was Google Workspace.

Yeah I know, this is turning into an ad for Google Workspace. Sorry, that wasn’t my intent. It’s just after sitting back and replaying the events of that time, I now realise how much of an important role it played in our successful transition.

Our teams and students could collaborate within documents and receive their instruction in Google Meet. The relative ease to update workflows with a series of big-hour Google Apps Script coding sprints also helped us with redoing the admin workflows we needed for the change. It also helped us stay ahead of all the changes that were constantly getting thrown at us as knee-jerk reaction led to knee-jerk reaction from all levels of the education system.

To say it was a tough time for me was an understatement. My wife started to worry for me as my health began to take a significant hit.

Returning home and going solo

In June 2020, my wife and I returned home to Australia on the last COVID emergency flight back as part of our Summer break. By this stage in my work, summer vacations meant that I simply had a change of venue to work.

As I continued to slug away at my job in quarantine in Sydney, my wife and I were realising that it was time to call it quits with the university.

By September 2020, I had handed in my resignation and officially wrapped up my job in October.

I already knew what I was going to do when I left and I was looking forward to running Yagisanatode full-time.

Yagisanatode Stickers

But what direction?

I knew that I wanted to build out Yagisanatode as a full-time business. While my website was pretty popular, it wasn’t enough for me to live off ad revenue by any means.

I decided to write my first Google Sheets beginners course first. However, I thought that I wasn’t quite ready or experienced enough to do the recording successfully.

So I decided that I would set up a YouTube account and publish a 44-episode Google Sheets Shorts series to improve my speaking and editing skills. This also would have the added effect of reaching out to another audience.

Again, not all this would keep my wife and me afloat, so the next logical option would be to add a hire me page to my site.

Well, becoming a freelancer was a surprise

In my downtime between teaching gigs, I occasionally offered administrative services on sites like Odesk and Freelancer. Competition is pretty fierce on these sites and to be honest, from a client perspective, unless you pay top dollar, the quality is hit-and-miss.

There was no way I was going that route. I was counting on the trust and views that I had earned from my website.

Fortunately, within a week of adding my hire-me page, I received my first business client.

Since then I have had 18 clients, ranging from individual consumer projects to consulting with a developer team in a large corporation. Projects last from a couple of hours to multiple-month sprints,  to ad-hoc ongoing consultancy.

I have provided a bunch of services including:

  • Bespoke app development
  • Google Workspace Add On internal and external development
  • Workflow Automation
  • Google Workspace Training – seminars, customised programs
  • Google Workspace API consultation with Dev teams
  • Spreadsheet and data auditing
  • Spreadsheet template development

And the industries, I’ve worked for. Wow! That has been an absolute highlight. Learning just a small fraction about different industries has been so fascinating.

So far I have freelanced in the following industries:

  • Education
  • Legal
  • Construction
  • Tech/IT
  • Architecture
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Geospatial
  • Investment
  • Automotive

Each industry, business and team I have worked with has taught me new skills and allowed me to broaden my knowledge. I am truly excited to see what happens next.

My website is my resume and my reputation for providing quality freelance work is forever intertwined with my site. Both support the other. Clients and learners will be checking out my site now, but  I would soon realise other people were watching too. People who would change my life and the course of Yagisanatode yet again.

GDE and Google Innovator Champion

About a month or two before I went full-time into Yagisanatode, I received a Twitter message from Google Developer Expert Sourabh Choraria. He suggested that I should apply for the Google Developer Expert program.

Shoving my Imposter Syndrome deep down in that dark tragic place with my other inadequacies along with a pep talk from my wife, I started the process.

I had already known of many of the Google Developer Experts throughout my lurking in Google Apps Script groups and forums and the occasional interaction over the years. They all had been outstanding people, encouraging and enthusiastic about their field.

I first got to meet Martin Hawksey on a call during the GDE process. Martin’s a veteran of Google Apps Script and an all-around wonderful fella. The advice he provided during our chat was inspiring. I think that without even intentionally doing so, his quiet passion for helping others and developing in Google Workspace was enough to quell the last few feelings of inadequacy and just go for it.

To this day, I consider Martin to be the Bob Ross of the Google Workspace world.

On the 7th December 2020, I received an email welcoming me to the GDE program.

While the email was a buzz, the thing that stays with me to this day is the GDE community and how much they lift each other up and support one another. I hope I do enough to support others in return.

By December of the following year, a new program was being developed called Google Cloud Innovators, an inclusive community designed to bring together Google Cloud developers. Having been a Google Developer Expert by this time, I was included to become a Google Innovator Champion too.

Youtube Grows

Between, client work and building Google Workspace apps, courses and written tutorials, I started to regularly produce move Youtube video tutorials.

I always heard that your first videos are your worst, but you will get better. Now, I have a bit of a problem reading aloud even in real life. For whatever reason, I tend to stumble over my words. I have also inherited the Aussie male mumble that has only been exacerbated by my time in isolation due to COVID and my wife’s innate ability to interpret Scott even at his most neolithic level.

Recording videos was a slog.

It still is. But the more I do the more I practice, I think I am getting better. I actually enjoy it now. Particularly when I can throw in a few Easter Eggs.

You don’t see most of this by the way. By the time I have edited out 99% of the ‘um’, ‘ahs’, and ‘gurgles’, rerecorded the unrecognisable mumbles, and cut all the multiple attempts at phrases, you get a fairly polished video tutorial.

By the time of writing this, I have recorded, 107 videos, with over 316,000 views, a total watch time culminating in 16,400 hours and 1,600 amazing subscribers.

Yeap. Another thing I would never see happen on this journey and something I am incredibly grateful for.

The Next Horizon

So where to next?

That’s a tough one.

Although Yagisanatode has been alive for 5 years, I have been running it full-time for two years.

Right now the pattern is, to prioritise client work and squeeze tutorials, courses and projects around that. And to be honest that’s a lot. Probably a little too much, especially if you ask my wife.

I do work hard. Being self-employed is not easy. But weirdly it is the most satisfying thing I have ever done.

Will I continue this path? I think so. I am happy. I have done so many things that I didn’t expect to do. I also think now is a time to consolidate and get into a bit of a pattern and just enjoy what I am doing.

I’m grateful to so many people along this journey. Most importantly my beautiful wife. Without her support, love and input, I would not be where I am today. I love her dearly.

I’m grateful for all the readers of my website and views of my videos who have found something useful for their own projects and have stuck around to support me in future tutorials.

I’m grateful for those of you who have spared a few dollars to shout me a coffee along the way. You are wonderful people.

For all the clients that I have had, thank you for believing in me to make your vision a reality and have an opportunity to meet you and your team.

To the teams of Google Developers, particularly all those who spare their precious time to chat with us GDEs on Google Spaces, I am grateful for your time, kindness and incredible work you do to make products so life-changing for so many.

And even thank you to that thankless endlessly difficult job that compelled me to automate myself out of a seemingly impossible role.

To five years!


~ Yagi (a.k.a. Scott)