Mike Elissen
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How starting a YouTube channel 13 years ago helped me in my tech career

How starting a YouTube channel 13 years ago helped me in my tech career

Mike Elissen
·Sep 1, 2022·

7 min read

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As a Developer Advocate, a large chunk of my time is spend on crafting video content for a technical audience. Researching, scripting, recording, editing are all essential steps in this process. The majority of this seems to come natural to me but it has actually been over a decade-long journey that has led me here.

In 2009, as a recent IT Bachelor's graduate, I was stumped in starting my career. The global recession made many companies wary on hiring junior talent and I was unable to find a position to start. Despite studying for 4 years, I was unable to put what I learned into action.

For the first time in my life, I found myself with 'nothing to do'. No school, no university, no work. As an avid gamer, the 'All play and no work made me a dull graduate.' With way too much time on my hands to watch movies and play games, I made a decision that would have a lasting impact on both my career and my life.

I decided to start a YouTube channel.

Armed with a simple 2 megapixel point and shoot camera, I would film myself reviewing video games, chronicling my video game collection and dabble in the occasional gameplay video. The early years of YouTube led to the rise of many content creators which are now common in today's age.

As a recently graduated Java developer, I had no idea that the content creation skills I would pick up in the next 3-5 years would benefit me so greatly in the recent years in my role as a Developer Advocate. I am a strong believer that non-technical skills you pick up over the years can help you in your day-to-day life in your career. It is all a matter of perseverance and application.

Quick and to the point

An interesting challenge of the early days of YouTube was the limitation of 10 and later 15 minutes of videos. This meant you would have to convey your message quickly. When this limit disappeared, I started rambling about games with video often ranging in the 30 to 45 minute range, similar to the length of a technical presentation.

In the last 2 years, I learned to break down these long presentations that I would normally give, into bite-sized and easy-to-digest 5 to 7 minute videos. It felt unnatural at first but then I realized this was exactly like those early days of YouTube. Instead of games, I would be talking about writing Terraform code, making API calls with Postman or configuring Akamai.

While creating my Terraform Tapas video series, my goal was to find the most important pieces of information that anyone should know about Terraform and package them up in small chunks for newcomers to easily pick up. This approach proved to be very popular and to date, has led to 500K views on the video series.

Structure

Another skill I picked up in those early YouTube days was applying structure to the content. For a game review, I would have to break things down to segments, gameplay, story, graphics. Similarly for technical content, structure is critical.

  1. What is the current situation or pain point?
  2. What is the proposed solution and what benefits does it bring?
  3. How is this solution applied/configured?

This constant search of structure and turning chaos into order is what makes my job as a Developer Advocate so much fun. Take a topic like API Security, you can really talk about this in great detail, reach an immense depth that can be frightening to newcomers and lose out on an audience, that thinks they will never be able to achieve this level.

It is very fun to me to take a topic that I have encountered in my day-to-day work, learn about it, feel comfortable to talk about it, research it for further detail and then taking this huge amount of knowledge and breaking it down to the necessary basics and applying structure where needed.

Bilingual

Another benefit that starting a YouTube channel helped me with is improving my English. As a Dutch speaker, English is not my native language, sure, the countless of movies and video games I devoured over the years have helped as well but to actually speak a language helps the most. I decided early on that I wanted to make my video in English to reach a bigger audience.

Revisiting some of those early YouTube videos, I am clearly struggling putting sentences together and finding the right words. Again with persistence, I kept improving my skills and was able to apply that when I got hired at Akamai in 2013. Working for an international company where even in the Dutch office, I end up speaking English anyway due to our diverse employees, I have reached the point where I feel more comfortable speaking English than Dutch.

Learning and teaching through video

So yes, while you are reading this blog post right now and actually not consuming video content, allow me to ask you when is the last time you didn't rely on video content to learn? Whenever I hear about a new technology, the first thing I do is fire up YouTube to take a look at tutorials, see the tech in action and learn about ways it can help me.

Learning through teaching is another great way for self-improvement. I feel that by reaching a level where you are comfortable enough to teach someone about a topic, you reached a milestone in that learning journey. Of course, through teaching, you learn to understand the viewpoint of a starter, a junior or even a non-technical viewpoint that can help you improve your messaging as well.

To a certain degree, my journey on creating video tutorials actually started back in the 90s, when I was watching Bob Ross on Dutch public television as a young kid, learning how to teach about topics you know more about.

Regardless, starting a YouTube channel in a time where I was recently graduated but unemployed turned out to be one of the best things I could do for my career. It helped me pick up non-technical skills that I have been able to apply in my day-to-day job.

And for those looking to pursue the same, know that I didn't immediately land a coveted role as a Developer Advocate. Take slow steps, if you are a developer, think about creating short videos showcasing your work, does your code explain itself? If you are using different libraries or frameworks, create a video explaining why you chose to use it and what you see as the main benefits.

To round it out, my favorite thing about creating videos is that they are persistent. Once I have create a video once, I can share it again and again. With colleagues, with customers, all while allowing myself to be efficient. Especially me being in a consulting role, it helps me save tremendous time to 'just send the link' and offer to answer questions in a shorter meeting for customers looking to add Akamai into their tech stack.

In Closing

I hope that this blog post was helpful to you. I don't talk about my journey often but I believe there are some nuggets of wisdom I can throw out there that could benefit you in your tech career.

So yes, I wholeheartedly recommend you to start a YouTube (or any of the other major video platforms that are hip these days) and share your knowledge, whether it be developing applications, building microservices or just simply to share your love for a specific hobby like video games, there is an audience and community out there!

And who knows, you might even find the love of your life out there, but that is a story for another time.

As always, if you have questions or I can help you out, reach out to me on social media, you can find me under Mike Elissen. Feedback on my videos is also always welcome so let me know if you have any advice!

 
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