Balancing Platform Development and Content Creation with Jorge Vergara

As an independent educator you're going to end up wearing a lot of hats. Development, marketing, support, on top of the work that goes into actually producing the content.

All of it is essential though if your goal is to actually reach people and help teach them something that's relevant to their goals.

A part of that is finding out what to actually teach. It can sometimes be a challenge finding something that is interesting to you but also relevant to the audience that you've grown.

Jorge Vergara has found that it's very effective to ask your audience what they're working on and some of the problems they've been struggling with. Asking directly if they'd like a course on X subject might get you enthusiasm but it doesn't actually tell you what they need.

The development side of things is huge too if you aren't outsourcing the platform. It can be very difficult to balance working on it with actually producing content, especially if you have a full-time job.

There's more value to working on your platform than just setting up a place where learners can watch your videos. You have opportunities to work with and gain practical expertise on technology that you are wanting to teach. You also get full control of the learning experience.

In the end, It really is up to you to weigh the trade-offs and decide what will work best for your needs.

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Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Joel: Hi, Jorge.

[00:00:00] jorge: Hey,

[00:00:01] Joel: So I'm excited to talk to you. You've been building a course platform of your own from scratch and I'm intensely interested in kind of the motivations and technical hurdles that people are facing when they're building a course platform and how they think about that. But before we get into that, I was wanting to ask you, how do you personally approach learning when you come into something that's complex, whether it's something, you know, in your programming life or otherwise, when you're learning a new complex topic.

Learning Style

[00:00:28] Joel: How do you think about it and approach a new subject?

[00:00:30] jorge: I think it depends on mostly if I know what I don't know yet. If I know what, I don't know, I try to go for specifics, for that I actually use egghead a lot because I like, I can go straight to the specifics, get what I. And then start using it, when it's something a bit more broad that, I'm not sure what goes into it.

[00:00:51] That I don't know. Eh, I was trying to learn about, eh, building express APIs, but I had zero knowledge about express. Then I go for something more broad, more, more complete that teaches me what I don't know yet. Like for example west most courses and things like that.

[00:01:09] Joel: right. So it's kind of, it really depends on where you're starting from and the known unknowns. And if you're completely new or if you have some experience and just need specifics. So it sounds like you, you like to take courses and courses are part of your learning experience. And is that over books?

Prefered learning medium / People over platforms

[00:01:23] Joel: Do you prefer taking a course before you'll reach for a book on these days?

[00:01:27] jorge: To be honest. I don't think it's about the format. I think it's more about who created it. Like I have both, I take a lot of courses mostly the ones that are not like, because I have, I think the only platform I'm subscribed right now is egghead. So whatever, I don't find a egghead.

[00:01:43] I get like courses from west boss or Ken. I never get to pronounce the last name. Can't see dots, I think,

[00:01:51] Joel: Yeah, that's it. You nailed it.

[00:01:53] jorge: and things like that. Eh, but sometimes I also get books, eh, for example, for most of the UI things I do with Ioni, it's always books, but mostly because the authors are people that I already know, and that, that really good at explaining themselves.

[00:02:12] Joel: So you have, it's a vibe that you have with the creator of the material versus the format itself. You're not as concerned about format it's. How is it delivered? And do you trust the source to, I suspect.

[00:02:23] jorge: Yeah. I believe that's the biggest part trusting if that person will help me get where I want to be.

Examples are key

[00:02:29] Joel: What are some of the qualities of your favorite courses? Like when you take one and it's really effective, regardless of who delivers it what do you really like to see when you're using that format?

[00:02:37] jorge: Lots of examples. Like things that, that I can start trying immediately that are not like, like a big buildup. I don't know if you've seen that, where you see two or three chapters in a book trying to build something. And it's just a the, you do this, but you don't get to see the results up until I don't.

[00:02:54] Joel: not running it, right? You're just, you're kind of, you keep building it and you don't get to see it and you see no results. And then finally it's TA da.

[00:03:00] jorge: exactly that's a big one for me, because sometimes you spend hours trying to build something and then when you get to that point, you see, okay, it's not working. There is an issue somewhere. And then you need to figure out where the issue is. So when it's more eh, you start building something and testing it immediate.

[00:03:17] You get that like that really close or really fast feedback loop. So you know that, you know, if you are on the right path or on the right track,

Differences between research and personal learning

[00:03:26] Joel: So you also teach people and I'm curious what's your relationship between how you personally do research and to learn something on your own and the research process that you would perform to create a new course that you were producing?

[00:03:41] jorge: for me, there are two parts of the research process. One is like I took 3,500 by Amy and Alex. So I do a lot of safari mostly, the official I blog or the far base mailing. Those are like my two big sources and I try to find patterns there to see what people keep bringing. And the other one is my own newsletter.

[00:04:04] Like right now, my newsletter is close to 5,000 subscribers, like 400, some, 4,000 something. So whenever I start getting like common questions or the same question over and over, like I know okay, this is a good topic for an EBOM or this is a good something I can expand more to create a, something a bit bigger, like a course or a short book or something like.

[00:04:27] Joel: I just wanna you said Ebo and EBOM is like a piece of content that provides value that you send out like a blog post, or one of your newsletters, right? From sales safari, which is part of 30 by 500 that Alex Hillman and Amy Hoy created

[00:04:41] jorge: Yes.

[00:04:42] Joel: Just to provide some background for folks that, but not, I heard that before, so, and I can't agree with you more on, on the examples, being a huge, important component of building a course.

Sources of inspiration

[00:04:52] Joel: And I think something that people get stuck on when they're designing, learning material is what to come up with for examples. And I was wondering if you had. Consistent sources of inspiration for that, or how do you decide what

[00:05:04] jorge: There are mostly two first is if I've used, whatever it is that I'm trying to teach in my day to day job we do a lot of enterprise development for logistics companies. So we usually get to play around with a lot of new things and a lot of complex things. Eh, so if I've done something there, I try to adapt from what I already.

[00:05:25] If not, I try to ask directly my newsletter, my mailing list, but not as in what do you want me to build more as in, okay. I'm working on this subject. Have you built something with this? Have you struggled with something? Is there anything that you need from me? Do you need any help? And with that, I usually go through, through the answers and see, okay.

[00:05:48] What people is building or if someone asks for. Like I help them directly and then see if anything I did, there is something that

Real-world scenarios are important

[00:05:55] Joel: How important is it that examples or exercises that you roll into learning material be related to the real world? Cause you mentioned the enterprise and I think that's interesting because I feel like a lot of software training kind of diverts from the enterprise level software creation. And I'm wondering how do you kind of keep it grounded in that while still keeping it interesting for folks.

[00:06:15] jorge: I think that if the closer you are to real world examples the easier it is for people to imagine that imagine themselves doing it. Eh, if not, like when you just, you get, eh, like you try to build something and you say, okay, I want to showcase this functionality and you just try to go with whatever it is you want.

[00:06:37] I feel. The people reading it or watching the video can tell from that. I think that they get something different when it's something that, that it's actually for use that is not something that you build for an example, but that it's something that has a real application, a real use.

Getting good learner feedback

[00:06:55] Joel: How do you know when somebody succeeded when they're taking one of your courses? What are some of the signs you look for of success for learners?

[00:07:01] jorge: That's a difficult one. I like, I usually try to have automated emails a week, two weeks later after they go through an e-book or a course or something like that. But I feel like a lot of people don't re well don't really reply. And when they reply they to, they tried to make you feel good. So, yeah.

[00:07:21] Yeah. Like I went through. Through the book, it was really good. And you can tell by the genericness of the response that they were just trying to be nice. So I tried to ask them for specifics what would you change what was difficult for you? Did you have any issues when you were trying to implement something?

[00:07:42] And things like that to see

[00:07:43] Joel: Yeah, it is really hard. Cuz people will try to save your feelings. And it's like, when you're teach, I've taught a lot of live workshops. And when you stop and say, does anybody have any questions? And you know that they have questions cuz there's no way that they don't, but nobody's hand goes up and you're just, you know, it's very challenging to get that sort of, of candid feedback.

[00:08:01] I think.

[00:08:02] jorge: Yeah. I was a teacher in a university before going into tech and it was like that nobody had question, but as soon as the class was over and everyone was leaving, I, a few people would always come to the desk like, Hey, could you help me with this? I didn't understand that. And things like that.

[00:08:18] Joel: It's interesting because it's more of a one-on-one right? Like they were in that situation. They didn't wanna raise their hand in front of the group, but afterwards then they're gonna express their questions because it's more private, I guess.

[00:08:28] jorge: Yeah.

Teaching experience

[00:08:28] Joel: Did any of your experience as a, as an educator or teaching at university have, has that translated or what have you carried over from that experience into being an online teacher for software developers.

[00:08:39] jorge: I'm not sure if it's that it has things that are, that have carried over. It's more like it, it became the reason why I started doing it more than programming, I like teaching, but don't know how it is in the us, but it's really hard to make a living as a good living as a teacher here.

[00:08:59] Joel: think that's everywhere. Yeah. It's everywhere.

[00:09:01] jorge: so I was trying to say, okay, what can I do that can combine that that I can start or that I can keep teaching, but at the same time, like I need to be able to provide, so that's how it all started. Like I started writing blog post trying to help people and trying to teach, trying to write and things like. Not sure if like specifics of what I was doing in the past has carried over to my courses or my books or something like that. For me, it was more like the reason it all started.

[00:09:30] Joel: Yeah the kind of the journey and I mean, I would assume some of it has to affect it just cuz you're comfortable with your ability to teach, but not directly translating from classroom university experience to what you're teaching now. So. You've been teaching for a while. And I was wondering, have you seen any success stories from students that have motivated you or kind of kept you going?

[00:09:50] What sort of feedback in that regard, like where you can witness their success? Not necessarily them telling you that they've been successful, but have you witnessed success?

[00:09:58] jorge: Eh, I had this was a really cool experience. I was invited to to meet up in, in me about angular and I've met, I met two, two people there that, eh, approached me after my talk was done. And they actually said that they had bought my first book. It was a book I remember about getting started with ionic and fire.

[00:10:23] And they were building websites in their company. And because of the book they said that they have been able to move from the web team to the mobile team and that they were able to get a good promotion, a good race because of that.

[00:10:37] Joel: That feels good.

[00:10:38] jorge: Oh really good. I was just, like on the clouds that day.

[00:10:42] And other than that, it's mostly. When you see people that keep writing to you to not to tell you that the course work or that uh, or that the book was good or something like that. But when you see that they keep asking or bringing up different type of issues, different scenarios, different situations, like they are able to keep growing, you see that they are not asking now.

[00:11:07] Eh, I don't know how do. Connect to fire base and fetch data. But you see that they are asking more about, okay, how can I do the transaction? So that if several people at the same time are trying to edit a document, they don't override the data and things like that.

[00:11:22] Joel: You see their questions go up in skill level and can witness them actually increasing

[00:11:26] jorge: Yes.

[00:11:27] Joel: knowledge and understanding. Yeah, that's awesome.

[00:11:29] jorge: because not a lot of people, eh, reply and reply, like multiple times to, to the newsletters.

[00:11:37] But the few that do that, like you start to remember the names and you see that, oh, it's him again. Oh, it's them again. And things like that. And you see, and you're able to compare what you were talking about a year or two in the past to what you're talking about now.

Building a platform to keep your skills sharp

[00:11:52] Joel: So something I'm interested and I'm, I've been building a course platform for many years. And I notice that you've constructed your own course platform. And I think that's something that, that software developers will lean more towards than other folks. But I'm wondering why not just use something that exists on the market?

[00:12:06] Like why not just use pod or teachable or something that's already existing and instead build your own course platform. What has that done for you?

[00:12:14] jorge: Okay. At the time that I made the decision to build it, it was not really because the other ones that were out there were lacking features. I, I was just not interested in them uh, at that point, but it was mostly because I felt that some of my skills were like, eh, getting rust. because the type of work I've been doing uh, for the past year and a half has been a little less technical and a little more uh, managerial.

[00:12:41] So I decided to have something on production on my own, something that people were going to use, something that could break, that I could see w why it broke, that I could fix. So it was more of a selfish type of things to keep my skills sharp. It was the course platform because when I was thinking, okay, what do I build?

[00:13:02] It was like, okay, I have a good deal of content. Let's just go with this one. I know that people are going to use it. And I know that they can tell me when something breaks what I need to fix and things like that.

[00:13:14] Joel: When you describe the platform that you built with JS mobile dev the course platform. How do you describe it or what kind of features are most essential to you as you build the platform?

[00:13:24] jorge: there are a lot of things in my mind that I would like to implement, but right now, what I see it is as simple. It's a place where people can, like you go in, you log in, you get to the content that you want to learn.

[00:13:39] Joel: If

[00:13:40] jorge: and that's that eh, right now I don't have anything fancy. There are a couple of things that I would love to get the time to implement soon.

[00:13:49] Eh, but right now it's just that it's there and it help you get the content that you need.

Platform features wishlist

[00:13:54] Joel: you could snap your fingers and have, you know, like any feature added to your course platform, what would you, what would be the first thing?

[00:14:00] jorge: I would like to have a way for people to automatically add context to the questions of their request for help. I don't know. Maybe you are watching the third video of a course and you have a question there and that you're able to just click something and that could. Information about the video, what part of the video you are on?

[00:14:22] And I don't know things like that, so that, it's easier for me when I read the question to be able to like to see, okay, where do I start answering this? Uh, What have they done? And things like that.

[00:14:34] Joel: We've been building something similar where it's this idea of context within. Video training is really difficult, right? Cuz it's a, it's kind of a dense, medium and allowing them to comment and ask questions in. In the context of the time code of the video. I don't know if that makes sense but that's something that we've literally been working on that for a year.

[00:14:52] And it's a very challenging thing. I'm with you. I would snap my fingers and get that same feature. I think that's a good one. Have you noticed any advantages or anything that's felt really good to you in terms of having complete control over your platform and the delivery of it?

[00:15:04] Do you think it's in enhancing the learning experience?

[00:15:06] jorge: not sure. I would say that if I had more time, yes. I would see a lot of benefits because like I said, there are things that I would like to have that maybe they are not available someplace else, but it's not a real benefit at the moment because I just don't have the time to build.

[00:15:25] Joel: Yeah. And you're, I mean, you're balancing a full-time job and doing this also, so that I'm sure that really kind of bites into your time is having to work. Yeah. How do you balance that then the idea of working on the platform versus creating or maintaining the material for the platform?

Balancing the content and platform workloads

[00:15:39] Joel: Cause it's two different things. It's two kind of radically different jobs.

[00:15:41] jorge: Yeah. It's really hard. Right now starting, I believe was the second week of January. I moved part-time because I truly want to like to dedicate more time, not only to the course platform, but to actually generating more content. So that's the only thing I could think of to be able to do that because having the full-time job plus creating the content is not really something that that that I think it's impossible.

[00:16:10] But having the full-time job, creating the content and then adding the features and then fixing the bug, eh, yeah it takes a lot of time and I've always wanted to be a company of one. Like I have absolutely no interest in creating a big company having employees, partners, or anything like that.

[00:16:29] So it's just me. So it usually takes a lot of time to, to be able to do things.

[00:16:35] Joel: So I, I'm curious, and you're a professional and you're a professional software developer and it sounds like you've got quite a bit of experience, but has there been any surprising technical challenges while you've been through the process of building your platform?

[00:16:46] jorge: There have been challenges. I don't think it's because they have been extremely difficult. It's more just a. Trying to do something too fast. It makes you be a little bit careless. Just a quick example. I had a bug in the registration process because when I created it, it was working fine. Like people would go get a course, sign up, it would create the account at all the necessary data and they will have access.

[00:17:12] But then that cloud function would break. If the user already existed in the platform. And as I said, since the time, like there are a of personal things going on right now. So time is like non-existent. So I had to quickly just turn off the function and put the videos available for download while I get the time to be able to fix that.

[00:17:35] Joel: Yeah. So it's just kind of technical. It's the complexity of the system more than any specific surprise that has hopped out at you.

[00:17:42] jorge: Exactly. I,

Content over platform

[00:17:43] Joel: What's your, and you shared some of this that you wanna do this full time and be a company of one, but what's the long term goal of building your own platform and creating these courses.

[00:17:51] jorge: I think that my long term goal is more related to creating the content than to maintaining the platform. I believe that with enough time I can get the platform to like, to a decent level. Where I can just focus mostly on not having to spend too much time maintaining or adding things and focusing more on the content.

[00:18:14] It doesn't matter. The amount of features you have. The, I don't know the explained levels of performance. If there is no good content that people can go and check.

[00:18:24] Joel: That's the truth. Yeah, I think that's true too. And, you know, like all the fancy features or delivery mechanism really doesn't matter if the content isn't defective at the end of the day, and doesn't get people to where they want to be, or, Hey, I gotta say. enjoy talking to you and appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.

[00:18:39] And I'm very excited to see what you do and see where you take this and see what kind of content you deliver. I bought one of the courses and I did it for research for this, but also because I'm very interested in the content you, that you teach, it's relevant to my interest otherwise. So thank you for that too.

[00:18:52] I'm looking forward to digging in in more depth and again, thank you so much for chatting with me today.

[00:18:58] jorge: all. It was my pleasure.

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