I love music but its a rare album where I enjoy every song in the album. I’ve had the same experience with computer books. Often they contain a lot of great information, but only a percentage of the content is something I either want or need to know. 20 years ago, when I started down the path of getting into code, the primary medium for learning was easily text books. In fact, most books I purchased and read were easily in the 600 to 700 page range. They were difficult for me to get through and often covered many more topics that I cared to learn. I wish I had better options.
This post explores some of the learning mediums we have today and my experiences with them.
I’m a very visual learner. I enjoy listening and watching. I enjoy the tone inflection of the presenter. I feed off of the instructor’s excitement. My attention span is easily diverted. Put this all together and you get the ideal audience for visual learning mediums. For me, that’s easily video courses. (Though there are many styles to video learning too.) When learning brand new material, my preference is to watch videos. I like to be able to watch and listen first, then back up and follow along (with pauses). This gives me time to digest the information, then try it, and repeat if I don’t quite get it right away. The better the presenter, the faster I “get it” and have “aha” moments, too.
There are many learning mediums these days, and within each of those, many flavors. We have books, articles, blog posts, videos, in person training, conferences, mentoring, hands on labs, and pair programming! You can even combine many of these. Depending on the type of person you are, your experience with the topic, and how you prefer to absorb the information, you may prefer some of these mediums over others.
Also, some mediums are much less costly (or free) than others. An instructor led class may cost you $2000 for a week plus travel expenses and time off from work, while a blog post is usually free. Of course, what you get out of each of these mediums is entirely different, so you have to balance what you need to learn, your time, and your budget. I won’t try to tell you which way is best for you, only you can decide that. And in many cases, that may differ depending on what you need to learn and how fast, too. My recommendation is to spend time to figure out what you preferred learning style is. Try them all and and reflect on them to see which was most beneficial for you.
What may be easier for the author to create and communicate, may not be the best way for the learner to receive the information. For example, while I may prefer creating videos, perhaps you learn better by reading material. it is critical that an author determine what their best medium for communication is, too. I use a lot of body movement, tone inflection and visual aids to present material. This makes me more naturally suited for in person presentations, which makes sense since I love presenting at conferences and in person training. These are not practical for making a living for me, though, since they both require a lot of travel.
This is why I also lean on writing skills with books and articles, as well as video presentations through mediums like Pluralsight. ALl of which allow me to spend more time wiht family and still express my inner “author”.
If you have not written much before, Twitter is an ideal ground zero. Yes, I said Twitter. The biggest block people get when writing is the pressure of being perfect, correct, and embarrassing themselves. On Twitter that pressure is alleviated to 140 characters. In other words, you have a greater chance of success in getting out a quick nugget of communication in 140 characters than you do in a 3500 word blog post or article. I highly recommend starting out here and engaging with people on technology topics. Use Twitter to sharpen your writing skills, and then move forward when you have more material and comfort.
Blog posts can be the natural next step for a writer. Like Twitter, you can be very casual an focus on just the topics you are really comfortable with. Got something to share that you are passionate about? Blog it! Then share it on social media and get the word out. Reply to comments and again, engage in a conversation.
Articles are a great way to progress to the next level, and the feedback you got from your blogs and tweets will prepare you for the sometimes harsh realities of the comments you get from your articles’ technical and grammatical reviewers.
I often get asked if its worth it to write an article or book. The answer is always “it depends”. If you want the experience and have the passion to drive it through, then of course it is worth it. If you are just looking for money, then it is likely not worth it. Articles are easier to get out, but the pay is often very slight, and the time to market is usually a few months. So if you write it in January and submit at the end of the month, it might be published April 1st for print editions. For online, a little sooner. I prefer print magazines because they often extend the reach beyond pure online only. Also, many paid online magazine sites are ad heavy or very unfriendly to read from (there are exceptions of course).
The good side is that the time to market is not terrible for print magazines, which makes the information much more timely. If the content is new tech, 3 months may be too long, though. we live in a fast world. The reach is good as you likely will get many thousands of readers. You likely won’t get much in pay, but magazine writing is a great way to make a splash into a wider audience.
This is bay far the biggest question I get on this topic: “Is it worth it to write a book?”. Again, the answer is “it depends”. If you want money, unless you self publish you likely won;t get much out of a book. So I do not recommend getting into book writing for the money. A better reason to do it is the resume building and experience of writing a book. The upside is that people tend to look at an author and think “wow, s/he wrote a book!”. This tends to leave a good impression in the minds of fellow developers and prospective employers. This really can’t be discounted as it has most certainly been the case that I have noticed both first hand and in other authors’ interactions.
Writing 10 or 20 books can also be impressive, but honestly, my gut says that after 1 or 2 the incremental gain is inconsequential and not worth the additional return.
The downside of books (besides pay) is that they often take a huge toll on the writer. My books often took me 6 months or more to write. They dont pay enough to do it full time, so I had to do this at night, which is very common for technical book authors. Once you submit the draft, there are rounds of edits for formatting, grammar and tech review. These can take a month or more. Then you have the time to press. Most of my books were 9 months from the time I wrote chapter 1 til the time anyone got to buy and receive a copy. To put that in context in an extreme example, I wrote Silverlight 2 Data Services when Silverlight 2 came out. But it was released as Silverlight 3 was released, and Silverlight 4 was beginning. This was about 10 months in total.
The time to write and the time to market are the top 2 reasons I don’t write books anymore. i like to get content out quickly while its hot on my mind. Also, i can move faster through videos, talking, and demos. So books don;t lend themselves to the speed at which I want to get the content authored.
Notice I avoided talking too much about pay for books. That’s because there isn’t a whole lot to talk about here. If you want pay for books, either become famous and publish a really wide reaching topic or self publish. The best bet is to publish what you are passionate about. Writing a book is an experience you should try, but not “quit my job and go for it” move. I don’t recommend that unless you are independently wealthy.
if you stuck with me this far, you probably know I am currently engrossed in creating video training for Pluralsight. I find the video medium a great fit for me as I enjoy the tone inflection, visual demonstrations, and quicker time to market. Generally, when I am done with a course it is published within a week. For me, that quick turnaround is very gratifying.
So what is the downside? The only thing I don’t get from Pluralsight videos that I personally thrive on is the face to face interaction. But unless we can zap me into people’s devices, I don’t think there is much anyone can do about that. And frankly, that would be creepy to have me just show up at your place
The pay? It has only been about a year, but the pay for videos has been on par and better than books I have written.
For topics courses like TypeScript or Knockout, where I focus on 1 topic and cover it widely, it takes me about 24 hours per module to write demos, slides, record and edit. For end to end courses, that average goes up to about 40 hours per module. For recording and editing, it takes me about 1 hour to produce 5 (to 10) minutes of video. it’s slow, but still more fun than writing.
If you want to author a course for Pluralsight, i highly recommend giving it a try. You can contact them on their web site and please use me as a referral as they do provide a referral fee (under full disclosure). Shameless, maybe, but hey, I have 4 kids