Strong opinions, weakly held

The expansiveness of YouTube

Last fall, when I was interviewing intern candidates, one thing I noticed was that many of them told a similar story – when they needed to acquire a new skill, they watched tutorials and lectures on YouTube. One had an internship the previous summer working on a C++ project, and she told me that she watched C++ videos every morning before work in order to get up to speed quickly.

I’m also interested in the phenomenon of unboxing videos. These seem to serve two purposes, the first is to provide a vicarious thrill to watchers. People record themselves opening packs of baseball cards or other collectibles with the hopes of getting a rare item. The more practical purpose, though, is showing people exactly what they get when they make a purchase. Product photos can be deceptive, and unboxing videos can give you a better idea of what a product is like.

Finally, there are huge numbers of conference talks and lectures available online. If you want an intro to Docker, or an interesting scaling case study, or a survey of the current state of application security, the talks are out there.

I lead a text-oriented life, but while I was reading, a huge amount of compelling video was produced and published. I find that when I watch video, it’s easier to avoid distraction than it is when reading big chunks of text. Besides, even if I switch away from a video for a few seconds to catch up on Twitter, the audio still continues in the background, so maybe even the distractions are less distracting.

Now I’m trying to retrain myself to search for video first as an information source. As a member of the generation that was raised by television, you’d think this would come to me more naturally.


  1. I lead a text-oriented life too, but not out of choice. As a deaf person, I find that code videos-lots of jargon and variable names-are the hardest to transcribe. So most people don’t. Those who do provide CC charge for it (and rightly so). Google’s auto-captioning service really shows its cracks with technical videos, too, often making it even harder to understand.

    Fortunately, code IS text so I can get by. Maybe a bit slower than most, but that’s okay.

  2. I am also very text-oriented. It’s probably an age thing plus all those years of grad school. Another reason I don’t watch many videos is logistics: if I’m at the office, I have to locate my earbuds, plug them in, adjust volume, etc. At home, I pretty much only watch videos if I’m in a room by myself, where I can watch without headphones without bothering any family members.

    Maybe younger people are more accustomed to always wearing earphones. I know that one of my 20-something coworkers always has his on his head, either actually in his ears or dangling just outside his ears by the cord and ear hook. I assume he listens to music while he codes, but I don’t actually have any idea. For all I know, he just wears them so that people don’t verbally interrupt him as much.

  3. Math lessons from Khan Academy were the gateway drug to youtube for my daughter’s cohort, but it’s not entirely a generational thing. I’ve been relearning electronics via youtube videos. Watching a someone demonstrate how to use an oscilloscope, while making sidebars about common mistakes, is vastly different from reading the manual. For any home repair problem, chances are good that someone has posted a video walk-though.

    A few companies in the DIY space have picked up on the shift. A good example is Adafruit. They have a set of weekly video shows that blend industry news, new products, tutorials, and project demos from customers.

  4. This very much resonates with me. I watch a lot of YouTube videos. I prefer watching talks and tutorials at 1.5x or 2x speed, which helps me consume more things more quickly.

  5. Videos are difficult for me because I read much faster than any video can provide information to me, even if sped up.

    I like them in principle, but in practice I always get terribly impatient at how slowly they proceed to any point.

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