Three months ago I did a guest screencast on RubyTapas, a subscription website containing bite-size videos about intermediate and advanced programming concepts implemented in Ruby.
My screencast covered a topic called “Risk-Oriented Testing,” and I get to share the video and script with you on this blog next week.
So this week, let’s talk about the screencast itself. How do you do a screencast? How do you get onto someone else’s screencast?
Getting the Invitation
Avdi, the head chef at RubyTapas, has a page where you can nominate someone to give a guest screencast. I think the term “nominate” sometimes makes people think that they’re supposed to fill out this form about somebody else. You can fill out this form to nominate somebody else.
However, you can also nominate yourself.
If you have a programming concept that you really care about, you can nominate yourself to talk about that.
If you don’t want to nominate yourself, there is something else you can do to improve RubyTapas:
Nominate black, latinx, queer, trans, and femme technologists.
They don’t necessarily have to be “super-senior.” First of all, nobody in tech has the same idea about what senior means (believe me, if you want to see an utter circus, ask a company what “senior” means to them). Second of all, folks coming to tech from other careers often have insights to share that career technologists cannot access from their own experience. Managing relationships in the workplace, selling products, selling yourself, diagramming systems, and rapid prototyping are all examples. If the topic isn’t techy enough for Tapas, let the Tapas team decide that. Don’t count someone out on your own.
They don’t have to have their talk or screencast prepared. There will be a lot of time between the invitation and the date of the screencast itself, as we’ll discuss in detail.
The staff at RubyTapas helped me select a date for my screencast to air, with the soonest one being a few months out and more openings available the further out we went. So I had months to prepare. When we selected the date, I had two potential topics selected, both of which I had written about at some point.
RubyTapas does an excellent job of guiding guest chefs through the process of making a screencast. They divide it into specific tasks and steps for you, and your screencast will have its own Asana board with all the tasks to be done both by you and by RubyTapas’ support team. Here are the major steps:
1. Topic Discussion: You will have a chat with Avdi to flesh out your topic, so you can come with ideas. Avdi mentioned a couple of topics he’d be interested in having me cover—inclusion rubrics, for one, and testing strategies, for another. I went with testing strategies because it fits better in a shorter time block, and also because I do what I can to dispel the myth that women are not “technical.” It should be noted: women did not create this myth, and it is not their responsibility or obligation to dismantle it. I chose to do it this time. You don’t have to.
2. Writing the Script. RubyTapas posts the full script of each episode below the screencast itself. Your script includes everything you plan to say, any slides you want to present, and any code samples you want typed. You can either type yourself, or Tapas has a professional typist who can type your code samples for you. I recommend going with the typist because these videos are very short and information dense. Viewers have an easier time following the thread of a dense instructional video when the typing all happens at the same speed, with no typos.The Asana board has a separate card for the code samples because those need to be in first, to give the typist time to type them. Later, it’s time for the slides and script. You’ll have at least one meeting with Avdi to edit your script, and potentially more meetings if you would like them.
The script and slides took me about 20 hours. My screencast covers a large amount of relatively technical information. So I wanted to provide comprehensive, detailed, accurate visual aids. I carefully composed architectural diagrams and took screenshots at each step for viewers to follow along. This took some time. I also found an inaccuracy after I had composed them the first time, so I had to re-do them. It was a small inaccuracy—an inheritance arrow pointing the wrong way. However, I think precision is of utmost importance in technical instruction. I have been in countless advanced mathematics and computer science lectures where a professor made a small mistake in an equation and threw off the whole class. Sometimes entire exams had to be struck from the grading scheme because the teacher had written the equation in a way that was either incorrect or open to interpretation. One of my convictions is that technical instructors should take every precaution to avoid these kinds of mistakes while teaching. Tl;dr: your slides probably won’t take 20 hours.
3. Recording. You’ll also record yourself saying your script, if you’re able. I used a headset with a mic for this: if you have a mic other than your computer mic, I recommend using it. You may have to record some sentences several times to get the sound you want, so I recommend allotting ten to twenty minutes of recording time per minute of video time so you don’t get rushed. For my six-and-change minute video, I spent about 90 minutes recording audio (I stopped frequently to think about how to articulate the next sentence or two).
The RubyTapas team will put your slides, code samples, and audio together for the final video.
Once all your Asana tasks are completed, you don’t have to do anything else unless the Tapas team has questions for you. Be sure to let all your friends know who subscribe to Tapas so they can watch your screencast!
Nominate yourself and your friends to do RubyTapas screencasts! If you’re not ready/qualified/a fit for the opportunity, let Tapas decide that. Don’t count yourself out.
You will have months to prepare. Come with ideas, but know that you can count on the expertise of the Tapas team to help you, and take this as a fantastic learning opportunity in how to do screencasts, and also how shows are produced in general.
Once you have chosen your topic, you’ll put together your code samples, script, and slides. The code samples need to be in well before the rest. Make sure all of your visual aids are precise. Set aside copious time to record yourself exactly the way you want to sound.
Most important takeaway from this experience: the time, dedication, and teamwork that goes into every episode of every show you love is many, many multiples of the amount of time the actual episode lasts. So thank your favorite content creators, and toss them a dime when you can :).
If you liked this post about appearing on a screencast, you might also like:
This ongoing series about leveling up as a programmer
This ongoing series about refactoring our software toward processes (another Avdi-adjacent set of posts)