Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 in Hindsight - Teaching vs. Doing

This blog entry is an end-of-year postmortem about my web development efforts in 2010. 

My two web site projects from this past year had different learning approaches behind them. “Blender Python Tutorials” was done using a learn-and-then-teach approach. “Uncle Squirrely” was a learn-by-doing project. While neither approach was bad, I got more out of building something than I did by writing “teaching” scripts.

Lessons from Uncle Squirrely
“Uncle Squirrely” was an online video game store. I built it with a mix of Python, PHP, MySQL, CSS, JQuery, and web services. Work involved migrating platforms, copying databases, setting up light boxes, running database update scripts, and setting up streaming video.

I learned a lot and gained experience working on that project. Despite that, it failed. It made no money and got few visitors.

Lessons from Blender Python Tutorials
“Blender Python Tutorials” shares free tutorials for building 3D animation tools. I learned enough to write teachable examples in Python. After that, I wrote drafts and pieced together bits of HTML, code snippets, and images. Then I would publish and I would be off to figuring out stuff for the next tutorial.

Technically, I learned very little. But I did gain an audience. At over a thousand visitors per month, Blender Python Tutorials nearly tripled in visitors compared to last year. As for financial success, it made 23 dollars.

Lesson About Teaching and Success
I've worked under the assumption that I could teach my way into building things and being successful. This is backwards thinking. My Blender work should have focused on building stuff and spending more time building relationships within the Blender community.  I didn't do enough of that. Yes, I used Google Analytics to tune in on user wants and needs.  However, traffic statistics are no substitute to getting out there and connecting with other Blenderheads.

Interestingly enough, I learned this lesson by looking outside the Blender community by considering the examples of Salman Khan and Zed Shaw. As personalities go, they couldn't be more different. However, they both put out free learning materials online. They also both did this AFTER they had established themselves in their respective careers. Khan was already making a good living in the financial sector when he started Khan Academy. Shaw had a reputation as blogger and software developer long before he wrote “Learn Python the Hard Way”. The hard reality of it is that an unknown and unemployed person simply isn't going to have the same impact.

Sharing knowledge generally does not lead to success. However, success can put one in a better position to share knowledge. But in order to have the best shot at success, I need to make something people want.This is my commitment for 2011.


  1. "I need to make something people want.This is my commitment for 2011."

    Making something people want isn't compelling enough. There are many things I want that I have no intention of getting.

    Make something that solves a problem. Be a painkiller, not a vitamin.

    I wish you prosperity in 2011!

  2. RinkJustice, I don't disagree. However, I can't solve the problem if I don't know what the problem is.

    For me, building sites is both a problem solving and a problem FINDING exercise.

    The problem I need to solve is more likely in serving 3d artists than it is in selling video games online. The data I have supports that hypothesis.

    From there, it's all about building more and narrowing in on what problem my unique talents enable me to solve really well.

  3. "The hard reality of it is that an unknown and unemployed person simply isn't going to have the same impact."

    On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog. The only difference between unemployed and entrepreneur is a mindset.

  4. Hello Kevin. Ouch! You got me on that one. Thanks for the comment.