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Cover image for Recording 100 bite-sized screencasts - lessons learned

Recording 100 bite-sized screencasts - lessons learned

tlakomy profile image Tomasz Łakomy ・6 min read

Yesterday, I've published my 100th egghead.io lesson 🥳

Like I said in the tweet, this is a huge milestone for me, but also a chance to look back and share what I've learned with the community.

Background

My story with egghead.io started back in late 2015. I got an offer from this shiny new company that was interested in hiring me, so that was neat.

The problem was that a shiny new company had a shiny new stack (at the time) - ES6, React, Flux, webpack. It was fair to assume that I'd have to know those things in order to pass the interview.

You see, the problem was that my stack at work was Backbone/jQuery/Grunt and I haven't even heard of React back then (when I did, I thought that JSX was the worst idea since pinapple on a pizza).

Getting an egghead subscription allowed me to level up as a developer in a month (that was tough, I don't even want to remember how many hours I've spent each day watching lessons and courses).

Since then, I've been watching egghead a lot:

My egghead.io stats

Fast forward a couple of years later, at the end of 2018 I was invited to join the team as an instructor and it's been quite a journey since then.

Motivation

First up - why would you want to record bite-sized screencasts in the first place?

Just to clarify - 'bite-sized screencasts' are video lessons about a single topic (for instance - "Start a new project with create-react-app" or "Create an AWS Lambda function") which are generally 1-5 minutes long.

Quick, straight to the point, no "Hello everyone, my name is X, I was born in Y and in today's lesson we're going to talk about Z but first, a word from out sponsor [...]" and no smashing like and subscribe buttons.

Every single 1h programming tutorial on Youtube would do much better if it was a playlist of 20 smaller lessons.

Now that we've established what a bite-sized screencast is, why would you record them?

To be honest, there are a lot of things I could list here - helping others grow, growing your audience, growing a beard (because I've been listening this one lesson for 2 weeks now), royalties, having a permanent piece of content you can show others, and many, many more.

Instead, I'd like to focus on something else:

Screencasts are an excellent way of validating your own knowledge

I often joke how most of my lessons were not recorded for the audience, instead I've recorded them for myself. To be fair - that's not far from the truth.

From my experience, there are three steps that are a part of creating a bite-sized screencast.

  1. Knowledge of a topic (e.g. I know how to use a Array.map() function in JavaScript`)

  2. Being able to explain the topic to others (e.g. Why is a map() function useful? What does it do? Why is it better than a for loop?)

  3. Combining those two - explaining something in a way that is quick, straight to the point but at the same time - can be understood by others

This is where validation your own knowledge part is crucial. I found that if I didn't have a deep enough understanding of a topic - I was unable to go through all of those steps.

Richard Feynmann said that "if you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it" and I couldn't agree more.

Note that this doesn't mean bad news - quite the opposite! I've grown a lot as an engineer because I had to dive in a bit deeper on certain topics in order to be able to teach them properly.

Notice that "a bit" part in "a bit deeper", that's important.

You don't have to be a world-class expert on React hooks to teach them to others

Do you have to have an understanding of a topic in order to teach it to others?

As we've already established - yes.

Do you have to be an expert in a topic in order to teach it to others?

ABSOLUTELY NOT

It is entirely possible (and I honestly recommend it) to record lessons about things you've learned recently (also known as "learning in public").

Not only you get to solidify your own knowledge you also get to reach out to others on their level because you've just been there.

A week, a day, or a couple of hours ago you were trying to wrap your mind around a topic (okay, so how do I use useState() in React?) but you managed to do it.

Congrats! With a fresh memory of what was confusing to you as a beginner you get to create content that will really resonate with them. My favourite lessons are those I'd absolutely love to watch in the past.

Being someone who just added "React Hooks" to their LinkedIn account may be your greatest asset - more often than not experts in an area forget what it was like when everything was unclear and confusing.

As a result - their explanation tend to be, well, unclear and confusing to beginners.

My favourite example of confusing explanations is:

A monad is just a monoid in the category of endofunctors, what's the problem?

Yeah, right. Not confusing at all.

(Watch Professor Frisby Introduces Composable Functional JavaScript
instead, it's an absolutely amazing course)

Lesson ideas

At the beginning I struggled a lot when it came to ideas on what can I record a lesson about.

I knew that I wanted to create the React 360 course but apart from that? ¯_(ツ)_/¯

(Quick shout-out to Zac and Taylor - their support really helped me at that stage).

Many people (at the time - myself included) have this idea that it makes no sense to create content about a topic if someone already wrote/tweeted/recorded a video about it.

First of all - no one can claim a topic. Yes, there are experts in certain areas but that doesn't mean that you cannot create content about their area of expertise. Remember - being a beginner can be your greatest asset.

Take a look at this tweet from Will:

There's absolutely nothing wrong with "duplicate" content and you never know if it's going to be your approach to teaching that "clicks" for somebody.

Some practical tips

I have a rule where none of my posts shall be longer than 5-6 minutes (bite-sized - remember?) so I'd like to quickly mention some of practical tips I've learned so far:

  • Keep on rocking - recording the first few videos was hard but it was worth it for me, and I'm quite sure it'll be worth it for you

  • Schedule a time for recording - I don't have a "recording X lessons per month" schedule but I generally plan that, for instance, I'll record 2 lessons this Wednesday after work or I'll work on another AWS playlist this weekend.

  • Record one thought at a time - when recording (I use ScreenFlow btw, really happy with it so far) record a single thought, sentence (or sometimes - even phrase), edit it and move to another. As soon as you finish your last sentence in a lesson - it's more or less done!

  • Watch this free course instead of reading this whole post - I know it's too late, I'm sorry

  • Don't be too hard on yourself - there are lessons I've recorded when I was tired after work or due to personal stuff. I think it makes for a worse lesson, I can definitely hear the tiredness in my voice and I'm sure others can as well. Take your time, don't push yourself too hard

  • Pay no attention to unconstructive "feedback" - on more than occasion I got "feedback" regarding my voice, accent etc. and you know? They can go to heck. Keep on rocking, do your thing and ask them to send you a link to their content. Trust me, they don't produce any.

Keep on rocking and if you'd like - you can check out my lessons here

Cheers!

Posted on Mar 1 by:

tlakomy profile

Tomasz Łakomy

@tlakomy

Senior Frontend Engineer at OLX Group. Tech speaker, egghead.io instructor, jQuery evangelist.

Discussion

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Congratulations Tomasz! Feel like I needed to read this, duplication content is something I try to avoid putting out but sometimes like you say it's more about validating your own knowledge too! Egghead is an amazing platform, is there a formal path to becoming an instructor?

 
 

Congratulations and thanks for sharing. I also think you are right about creating bite sized content.

 

Congratulations, Tomasz!! Keep rocking!!

 

Congrats on reaching hundred. I am recording a course (not on egghead) and this defnetly helps.

 

I'm ramping up to do some bite-sized lessons for egghead. This was a super helpful and encouraging post. Great job on hitting 100 lessons!

 

Thank you! Good luck with your lessons, always happy to talk if you have any obstacles along the way 😁