Think different by live-streaming your coding sessions

Screenshot of a Adam Wulf live-streaming a coding session
Credit: Adam Wulf

“Think different,” you may recall, was a marketing slogan introduced by Apple in the late 1990s, a time when the company was struggling (if you can believe there ever was such a time). If you’re a programmer and maybe you feel like you’re in a rut and need to break out of your old ways of thinking about a coding problem, here’s something that could help: try live-streaming yourself writing code.

Programmers streaming themselves programming is increasingly becoming a thing. Intrigued by this relatively recent phenomenon, I wanted to learn more about why someone would put themselves out there like that. To find out, I reached out to a gent named Adam Wulf who’s been streaming his coding sessions and was kind enough to share with me his reasons and lessons learned from the experience.

I found Wulf particularly interesting because he recently spent two weeks live-streaming himself writing every line of code for a new mobile app. Wulf is a seasoned web and mobile developer and the founder of Milestone Made, creators of Loose Leaf, an app for noodling, doodling, and note taking. He originally started to live-stream himself preparing some of Loose Leaf’s code to be open sourced as “a fun way to introduce the code to the community.”

Since building Loose Leaf was a two year long project, he wanted to create his next app in a much shorter time frame, and he wanted it to be 100% open source. He also knew from his first experiences streaming his coding sessions that other people were interested in watching and learning about how to build an app. “What better way, I thought, to show people what app programming can really be like than to stream an entire app's development from start to finish. It'd be a great way for people to see the slow progression of an idea taking shape from early prototypes to a polished app over time,” Wulf told me via email.

Over the course of 14 days, he streamed himself writing the code over 17 sessions, a sum total of about 24 hours of coding. The end product was Spare Parts, a 2D physics game. Wulf said it was a great, collaborative experience as viewers not only asked questions, they also offered live input. “Others offered up suggested features and ideas, some of which I was able to implement during the stream, which was fun,” he told me.

One of the biggest things Wulf said that he has learned from live-streaming his programming is that it helps him to think differently than when he was coding without the camera on. “Usually when I work, so much of my thought process is internal monologue,” he said, “but with live streaming I try to narrate my thought process out loud. This has forced me to think through problems a little differently than I otherwise would, which has been really beneficial for me.”

Interestingly, he also described live-streaming as “living documentation” of the code itself. “That kind of visibility into a codebase is pretty rare, and could be an interesting way for people to learn how the code actually works.”

Wulf didn’t find anything negative about the experience, and said the minimal costs of setup and production were well worth it. He plans to stream himself doing more coding live in the future and recommends that those who are thinking about doing it themselves should go for it. “Do it! It's surprisingly easy to start streaming - all the necessary software is free. Narrating my code during the stream has already helped me be better at explaining my thought process and code, which is a useful skill for any engineer, and it's been fun to get feedback from viewers and build something together,” he said.

UPDATE (4/29/15): Spare Parts is now available for download in the iTunes store.

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