Pieter Levels is a digital nomad making about $2.9m a year from his products as of July 2022. He taught himself to code and has an unconventional philosophy that annoys some developers but produces results. Pieter defied the critics and built Nomad List and Remote OK into successful businesses without cutting edge tools like React or other modern frameworks.
(Since this article was originally published Pieter's income grew from $600k/year to $2.9m!)
Who is Pieter Levels?
Pieter is a self-taught developer from The Netherlands. He has an MBA but no coding qualifications. His age is 36. As we will see in today's article he has a rough and ready approach to learning to code but it pays off handsomely.
His two main products are his Nomad List directory of places for digital nomads to live and his Remote OK job board. Pieter is active on Twitter and has a very strong following there.
As he works for himself he is able to travel extensively and live where he choses. Although, rather than the common misconception of digital nomads being constantly on the move, Pieter recommends spending a few months in each place. This way you avoid travel burnout.
How did Pieter Levels learn to code?
Not a lot is known about his very earlies forays into coding apart from the fact that as a teenager he played around programming. His first attempt at a web business was an analytics service for YouTube which would let you see how all your videos/channels were performing in one place. Unfortunately, he worked on it for a year without making any money from it.
From that point Pieter adopted his now familiar approach to coding and business - build websites quickly and monetize from the beginning. He only adds more features if there is money coming in and the idea is validated by the market.
Pieter takes the "search on Google" approach to learning to code. So when he wanted to connect a database to a website or make a button do something on his website he would just search the terms on Google and find solutions in places like Stackoverflow. Pieter is a strong critic of the approach of doing courses as he believes people learn to code best by building websites themselves.
One analogy would be different approaches to learning Spanish. One person might study a course, learn the correct grammar and then go to Spain. Whereas Pieter would go to Spain and just ask for the phrases he needs to use.
When asked in the past why he didn't use modern frameworks like React he made the point that as he was a solo founder he couldn't afford to spend time re-building his websites as this would mean his project would stall.
What technologies does Pieter Levels use?
Pieter is famous (or infamous) for having a rather eccentric choice of stack by modern standards. It's essentially the easiest, least glamorous tools you could imagine. But that's ok because Pieter makes $1m a year!
Here is his stack:
- HTML (hand coded so no template to make life easier)
- CSS (He has used pre-processors like LESS and SASS in the past)
- jQuery (An unfashionable choice nowadays but it does the job)
- PHP (He doesn't use any frameworks like Laravel)
- SQLite - Pieter says it's super quick and swears by it. SQLite is a database written in a single file so Pieter doesn't need to set up a server for it.
- his sites are hosted on a single VPS running Ubuntu with NGINX.
Here are some modern options Pieter doesn't use
- React - he jokes a lot about how he never wants to learn it due to it's (perceived) complexity.
- Node - for a time he considered using it but he's never used it in production
- SQL/ Postgres - he doesn't use any of the conventional databases
What results has Pieter had with this approach to coding?
Despite the technical critics, Pieter has been consistently making six figures since 2014. He currently makes approximately $2.9m a year which is far more than most developers (he gave this figure in an interview with My First Million). He has been able to live in countries with a low cost of living. He stated some years ago on Twitter he has enough money to retire already but continues to work for fun.
Pieter is like a bare knuckle boxer so don't compare him to a Judo practitioner going to the Olympics. One is going to win no matter what and one is going to follow the rules they have trained under and have finer technique. Neither is better or worse. It depends on the situation.
Pieter's approach would not be good if you were trying to get an entry level Software Engineer job in a lot of companies. But Pieter isn't looking for a job and the proof for him is in his bank balance. So Pieter's scrappy technique is better suited if you are attracted to coding for entrepreneurship and being a solo founder who doesn't have to share their code with others to work on. For years he didn't use Github to save his code, for instance and this is an industry standard that most employers expect. If you want to be an indie hacker/entrepreneur though then Pieter is a fine act to follow.