You Got This!

What Does It Mean To Really Learn In Public?

You don’t need to be an expert to share what you know. In fact, learning in public is a fantastic tool to build relationships, network, and a career. In this talk, we’ll discuss how and when to share your learning journey through open source, social media, and finding community through public speaking.

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Hello, y'all. All right. So, let me quickly switch over to my slides. I know y'all can see them. But I'm on a different one. So, I'm so excited to be here at You Got This conference. Today I'm going to be talking about what it really means to learn in public. So, first, I have little audience interaction for you all. Feel free to type your answer in the chat or just reflect on your own. When you think of your first encounter with the concept of learning in public, was it tech-related? And I asked this question to myself earlier on and at first I was say, yeah, that's the first place I heard of it. But actually, the first time they saw it being done really was from like beauty influencers. I think they were the pioneers for learning in public. Although they may not have coined the term or referred to it as learning in public and may not have known they were learning in public, they were. A lot of them were doing videos on figuring out how to grow my hair longer, figuring out how to do winged eye liner. As an 11-year-old, I was eating that up. Yes, I love this content. They were some of the first people I saw blogging or creating videos around learning in public. Or as they were learning in public. And Michelle Phan is actually one of the first beauty influencers. She is a good example of this. An early adopter of YouTube, in 2007, I think, a natural-looking makeup tutorial. This was after she was rejected from a job at Lancome. Two weeks later, her video amassed hundreds of thousands of views. And she became the first Vietnamese-American spokeswoman for Lancome, and a business owner and multi-millionaire and knows how to do makeup. Just as the other beauty influencers and other content creators.

So, yeah, I think beauty influencers walked so tech content creators could fly. In addition to other industries like maybe chefs and comedians and these other people took to the Internet to show themselves learning in public. And I think beauty influencers kind of created the format for how to do it without even knowing. I think they set the stage or paved the way. And so, yeah. That kind of entered or created this creator economy where people who were just everyday people felt okay with like sharing parts of their lives on the Internet so other people can learn through them while they learn. And then also, I want to give a shoutout to Sean Wan DPBF, AKA Swyx, I think he coined the term learning in public and has articles and blog posts why it's important to learn in public. He set it off in the tech industry for it to be popularized and for it to be embraced.

So, before I go any deeper, I'll introduce myself. I love the instruction this Thuy gave for me. My name is Rizel, I'm at GitHub. Prior to that, I was a software engineer at various startups. I'm an adviser at G-Code House, which teaches women of color and non-binary people of color to code. I'm super-passionate about empowering others through tech and educating them. And I'm like a little addicted to social media. So, if you wanted to connect with me, you can. My handle is blackgirlbytes on almost every single social media platform except for on Twitch. On Twitch I'm blackgirlbytes1. I forgot my password so I had to make a new account.

So, here's what we're going go over. Talk about what is learning in public. We're gonna talk about the fears around learning in public, the benefits, how to do it. And then a little bit of like what not to do. Let's answer that first question: What is learning in public?

And I think fundamentally, it's just sharing your learnings on the Internet. And while it sounds simple, sometimes it can be a little bit hard and scary. I know like some fears that people have, including myself, is like, I'm not an expert. Who am I to go on the Internet and show myself doing something when you feel I know it that well? The positive thing, the benefit is that the key to learning in public is that you're just learning. It's not about expertise or perfection. And being wrong is part of learning. So, it's okay to not be an expert. That's like kind of the whole point is you genuinely learning and people learning alongside you. Okay. The other thing is, like it's scary. Yeah, it is. But you can choose to stay scared or you can face your fear and reap some of the benefits of learning in public. Just such as like improving your own skill-sets, gaining a larger network, and then building a stronger portfolio as well. And you might also say, I'm not ready to share my work. I'll do it when it's complete. When it's perfect. Whether it's polished. But... will it ever be perfect? Will it ever be where you want it to be? I think perfection is the enemy of progress. Because then you're like, wondering about these little, small details, right? And you don't to want wait until you achieve perfection. Because by the time that you put out whatever project it is, people are less invested in it. People get invested when they're like, oh, there's, whatever their name is -- I can't think of a name off of the top much my head. Let's say Tom. There's Tom learning HTML. Now Tom is doing CSS animations, that's awesome. Now Tom is doing Node.js, some backend thing. I think them getting invested in that journey will help them gain the benefits of learning in public. And the other is, I don't need to, I'm a software engineer. Why do I need to become a tech content creator? It's true, you don't need to. But it's beneficial to help you build your brand. Building your brand, learning in public in my opinion is one of the most genuine ways to do self-advocacy. Instead of saying I built that, you have the proof on the Internet of different projects you have made and the progress you have made over time. I'll talk a little bit more about some benefits. There's this quote that says to teach is to learn twice. And I really like this quote because I think it's so true. By you teaching, it helps to reinforce your learning. Because you're trying to break it down for other people to learn as well. And I think forms of learning in public help you to do that. I -- in middle school and high school, instead of studying, I would like tutor my friends while they studied and that helped me to be like, I got it. Because I know how to explain it to somebody so I'll be able to take this test and do a good job.

Again, I'm going over like the facing of your fears and being scared. I understand being scared. I'm such a little scaredy cat. But my approach is sometimes admitting that I'm scared. Right? If I'm gonna go do a talk and public speak, hey, y'all, I'm nervous. I never did this before. And me saying that kind of in my mind lowers the barrier of like this perfection that I thought I had to achieve. And also helps the audience like give me a little bit more support if I make a mistake. They'll be like, it's okay. You've got this. And that makes me feel okay. On that topic of support and community and audience, right? Building community through learning in public is really a great motivator. At least it has been for me. Sometimes when I'm learning something on my own, I'll decide, eh, I don't feel like doing it today. Or I'm gonna quit, whatever. But when you have that community support, it makes you keep coming back. There's times when I'm like, I don't really want to stream today. And I'll get a message from somebody who says, hey, I look forward to your screams every Friday. I learn so much. You know what? I have to stream today. Because they're looking forward to it. I got to do it. It helps when you want to quit. It's almost like working out. Maybe at the gym, going a little bit slower. But if you're in a group fitness class, you got to keep up. And also helps you to take control of your career. As I mentioned before with self-advocacy, I think it helps you take the direction that you need take for your career. You say, I'm a good engineer, someone is going to find me. But if you put your content out there, it's easier to find you and not have to wait for a promotion to get to the next step. You take control of the direction that you want your career to go into. A good example of that is one of my old managers, Brian Douglas, he was a software engineer, he was a developer advocate and through all that have he learned in public to the point that he was able to take his open source project and turn it into a startup which was his dream and he was able to take control of his career in that way rather than waiting for his manager to tell him which route to go.

All right. So, quickly, I'll just show you all my journey of learning in public that's still in progress. I started by like teaching groups on Zoom about like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Felt comfortable for me because I was with other women of color. People who were like me. And I wasn't exposed to the rest of the world. It helped me learn, how to break things down to people? How do I communicate? What's my style of teaching? Then I started blogging a little bit, GitHub Actions and my journey in tech. And I still blog today, yesterday I blogged about code spaces. Then I started doing some virtual public speaking. I got a job as a developer advocate from being able to do those Zooms and blogs. I was able to show, I can relate information about tech and helped me get a job. And they were like, let's do some public speaking. I don't know, I'm kind of scared. But I do a lot of virtual speaking and they built up my confidence to the point, let's start streaming. I'm scared of streaming. I am scared of people watching me code. Instead, I bring experts on and have them explain things to me and ask them all the dumb questions. And then I started doing in-person speaking. I built up enough confidence to do that. Still a little bit scared.

but it allowed me to have the chance to give a keynote. So, let's talk about how you can learn in public. Check the time. Maybe 10 minutes left. See what we can do. How can you learn in public? First, my suggestion is to set smart goals. If you're in the familiar with the acronym, it stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. The reason I suggest this, oftentimes, you know what? I'm gonna learn every single programming language, blogging, Twitch stream. That's a setup for failure and burnout. Instead, say something like this. For a specific section, say I would like to learn CSS to contribute to my team's frontend tasks. How do I make it measurable? Maybe I'll stream weekly for one hour as I complete a CSS course. And to make it attainable, like why -- how is this something that you think you can really achieve and it's not like over-shoot something you can say, I'm already adept at React and Tailwind, I have knowledge of frontend, I'm not really strong with CSS. Why is it relevant to you? Why is this a goal for you? You can say, I'm a mid-level engineer. But I feel inadequate or I can not feel like confident advising my junior coworkers on decisions around CSS or I feel more hesitant to pick up some of those tasks on my team. And then make it time-bound. Set yourself a limit of when you're gonna look back and say, okay, let me review myself. You can say, in the next 6 months, I want to feel confident writing CSS. I want to feel confident picking up a CSS ticket and I want to be able to put that on my performance review.

Next is identifying what platform you want to use. Again, I don't want you all to like start picking up every single like platform and getting overwhelmed. Choose one thing. Start with one thing and maybe branch out as you get more comfortable. Choose maybe blog for you like to write or contributing to open source project or maintaining an open source project. If code is just your jam and that's all you want to do. If you like video editing and producing, try out TikTok and YouTube. If you just want to put little leadership thoughts on the Internet, Twitter, Mastodon or any type of microblogging platform might be for you. Try streaming, try public speaking or try mob programming and I'm gonna give you a little bit of background why I added this here. Before I did this talk, I wrote a blog post of this. This is me learning in public about learning in public.

I wrote a blog post about how to learn in public. Then I built my this stream deck on a Twitch stream and learned from the audience about what other things I can add. And one of the people that were watching, one of the people from the community, their handle is -- they suggested mob programming. What if the person doesn't want the spotlight on them? And they don't have to do it out in public. They can do it at their job. That's such a good idea, such a good point. They can do mob programming. Through a mob programming which is a small group of developers working on a task in real-time. Kind of like with pair programming, but with more people, you can learn from other developers how they make decisions and it gives you an opportunity to be vulnerable. Again, you can try inviting guests on your stream like I do for Open Source Friday. Other people do that, Jenn from Jenn Teach technical, and Jason from Learn with Jason. And share the stage on a conference talk. Ramon did this because he's an experienced speaker and wants to give less experienced to do conference talks. Get up on stage with somebody who feels really confident. You can learn from the methods they use for public speaking and get the chance to do public speaking yourself.

Also try choosing a manageable cadence. Take a look at your schedule and pick a dedicated time to learn in public. But don't do it at an overwhelming amount and continually review, your life will change. Maybe you got married or got a kid or got sick. Take your time with it, you don't have to do it every two days or whatever. You can do it once a week. Switch it up and keep mental health in mind while you do this. And start posting. Don't wait until you have the perfect camera or the perfect this or the perfect that. People prefer authenticity over perfection. And remember, it's about you learning in public. That's the most important thing.

You also want to ignore the numbers. It's hard to -- if you look at your blog posts or your video and it says one viewer or zero and you're like, wow. People didn't like that. But remember, you're doing this to learn and build a track record of your progress. Gaining an audience is a bonus. But what you really want is something to put on your resume that says, I started here. And now I'm over here. And then continue to improve. And I do this by like occasionally reflecting on my progress. I'll keep all of like the work that I've done in one spot. So, I use Polywork to just check the work that I have been doing. And I'll occasionally reflect, oh, yeah, that's when I was just learning to do open source and that's when I was learning to do this. That's always been really helpful for me. You want to also look at other people learning in public and observe and absorb information from them. How did they do it? How did they approach this? They broke their blog post up into little bits and pieces so they don't feel overwhelmed and they're writing a 20-minute blog post. Things like that.

And then celebrate. Take that necessary time to relax and bask in your greatness. If it was your first stream ever, celebrate. Say good job, me. Buy yourself something nice, go to dinner, whatever. Because learning in public is not the easiest. It can be hard and scary. And you don't to want brush it over and be like, ah, that was whatever. You did it. You did that.

And I want to warn you against a couple things not to do. One is grifting. So, if you don't know what that is, sometimes that's like people with very little experience. And they're pretending to be experts. And then after they pretend to be an expert, they get all these followers and tell the followers, you have got to purchase something from me and you will get what you want. For example, learn to code in 10 days and they get all these followers and pay me and I will teach you. You can't learn to code in 10 days. This is not a good way learn in public. Be authentic and be real. I don't know how to code. But I'm going to learn to do this today. Go with that and you will attract the right people. Also, try not to over-share. It's something I struggle with. As you learn in public, you start getting more comfortable sharing on the Internet. Protect yourself. Be good with privacy. You don't have to post when you broke up with your boyfriend or something like that. Also, it could hurt you for professional reasons. Like if they go through your Twitter account and talking about your personal life, keep is semi-professional.

And I want to recap. All the things that you can do to start learning in public. Start with making smart goals. Identifying your platform. Choosing a manageable cadence for yourself. Just start posting. Don't worry about it. Continue to improve. And take that time to celebrate.

And I want to know from the audience, go ahead and post in the chat, I'll check it in a second. How do you plan to learn in public? I'm still learning in public myself. So, I will answer this question too. My goal is to get better at streaming. Especially while coding. I always like blank out and get really nervous. But I want to get more confident in that. And that is essentially the end. If you want the slides. I have these QR codes. If you want the blog posts, I have the QR code. But you might not get a chance to scan this, I'll post it on Twitter and in the chat. And thank you to the You Got This conference, everyone, especially Kevin, thank you for allowing me to speak and thank you for setting this up.