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TECH TREND: It's cool to watch people code

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Across the internet, live-video sites allow people watch other people code for hours on end. Metro investigates why this phenomenon has gained such widespread popularity.

Following the success of Twitch, a live-stream website that allows you to watch broadcasts of people playing video games, the new trend for the web has arrived: watching people coding. Indeed, it’s about people who are creating a new search engine or developing the latest app or game. Coding might sound like the preserve of the geek clique, but with software engineer jobs set to rise over 20% by 2022 according to the U.S. Department of Labor (faster than the average for all occupations), observing IT geniuses at work appears to be worth a click.

One of these computer gurus is Alexander Putilin, a Russian programmer who is active on WatchPeopleCode.com, a site that aggregates individual coding live streams from social news website Reddit. “I started streaming my ‘Building a Search Engine’ series in late November 2014 after I saw on Reddit that someone wanted to code a game from scratch and was livestreaming this process,” Putilin told Metro. “I then thought that I also could try livestreaming my programming, so I created my own thread and started streaming on YouTube, with the link being spread at WatchPeopleCode on Reddit.”

Putilin, who has been coding for the past four years, relishes the interaction and learning experience with people across the globe that live-stream sessions offer. “I do believe that you can learn foreign languages by streaming or watching live streams. And this interaction with streamers help us a lot: for example, sometimes I notice a problem before the streamer does, so I help him by reporting it using chat,” says the programmer.


Not a social network

Shunning the mainstream social media outlets like Facebook, coders find communities through podcasts, hackathons and conferences, as well as the standard IRC channels (basically, chatrooms).

While such communications networks are mostly used by experienced software engineers and students who are keen to share their own content, an increasing number of subscribers are simply hobbyists who want to understand the process behind programming. One of them is Ahmed Ahmedov, a PhD student from Azerbaijan currently living in Germany who loves watching people code. “The best thing is that you learn how to ‘think algorithmically’; it is almost like reading a very well-documented code,” he says.

“One distinct advantage of learning by following these streams is that unlike learning by reading a textbook – examples which are easier to understand, but ones not based on real-life problems – you get to know how to apply programming methods to real tasks,” adds Ahmedov.

A trend to follow

“Watching people code represents not only a new thing in terms of software development culture (inspired by the people running incredibly successful video game-streaming channels), but it’s also an experiment to discover if an audience for this kind of content and programming actually exists,” says David Whitney, a London-based independent software consultant. With his own channel on YouTube, the ‘Cutting Code!’, he says he has now up to 2,000 viewers. “I’m personally more of a producer than a consumer, though I do enjoy watching streams of developers working on software I use, or working on interesting concepts.”

According to Whitney, the feedback from viewers has been great; they learn new ways of building code, new techniques and get acquainted with the latest development tools from just watching his videos. “I think there’s plenty of evidence that watching live and pre-recorded video is a great aid to learning. Yale University published their entire back catalogue of recorded lectures a few years ago under the ‘Open Yale’ initiative, and video-learning sites like Pluralsight have been successful in the software development community.”

To understand the importance of this kind of tool, it’s good to remember that last year U.S. President Barack Obama hosted a live-stream on Google Hangouts where he answered questions submitted over YouTube. So from now on, we can look forward to more live-stream services about the creative process cropping up geared to different audiences and with many purposes.

“Beyond Reddit, there are other websites like livecoding.tv that are positioning themselves to be the Twitch.tv of live programming,” says Whitney. “And I’ve had a few conversations with wider members of the community and people in organizations like Microsoft about the format – everyone finds it interesting, but right now, it’s really unexplored territory.”

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