Coding in the open

A couple of days ago, I tried an experiment. It went well, although the process still needs refinement.

The Setup

I’m running a WordPress workshop with General Assembly at the end of the month. As part of that, I made a fake site in static HTML and CSS called “WebChef”.

Screenshot of WebChef

The course will take people through the process of creating a custom WordPress theme from the existing static site.

In order to know what concepts, methods and functionality I was going to teach in the course, I decided to make the theme myself and approach the project as if I was doing it for a client - with one small difference.

The Experiment

As this isn’t a real client site, there was no restriction on talking about it, showing people what it looks like before launch or blogging about it before it was ready to see the light of day.

I decided to build the whole theme whilst broadcasting my screen as a Google Hangout - I’ve termed this “Coding in the Open” as rather than seeing a polished final product, anyone who’s interested can see the whole process “warts and all”.

The completed hangout gets automatically uploaded to YouTube where you can check it out if this kind of thing floats your boat

The Debrief

Everything went surprisingly smoothly! I shared the link to watch live with some of my past students and a small handful even came along to watch - I wasn’t expecting anyone to do that!

Barring a few head scratching moments with the Hangouts interface, everything was great.

The only downside is that the video uploaded to YouTube was of a really low quality and I hadn’t upped the font-size of my Vim to a point where it was readable; definitely two things to try and improve in the future.

I also had my mic muted, partly because there was someone else working in my office that day, partly because I wasn’t sure what to say, and partly down to fear of mumbling a lot of nonsense or expletives when stuff didn’t work as planned (this only happened once in a 2hr30min video which was a pleasant surprise)!

Other than that, I enjoyed the process. I think a lot can be learned by watching and sharing this kind of content; what tools people use, how they approach debugging, what documentation they have to look up, how they format their code and what order they approach things in are five things that immediately come to mind - I’m sure there are others.

Next time?

I’ll definitely try this again. I want to make a few tweaks and might try and record a higher resolution video with ScreenFlow throughout the session; we’ll see.

If this is something you like the idea of or would like to be notified of the next attempt, drop me a tweet @guyroutledge and let me know!

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