046: How I Created My Dream Career with Online Tech Courses
046: How I Created My Dream Career with Online Tech Courses
In this episode, Nicole tells the story of how she decided to create online tech courses, and why they were powerful enough to make them into an immensely fulfilling (AND very lucrative!) career!
Online courses are more popular than they've ever been, especially in the age of social distancing. And they're not going anywhere anytime soon.
They revolutionized education as we know it, providing visual and auditory learners with more customized and accessible learning media.
I personally leveraged online courses to teach myself front-end web development starting back in 2015. Treehouse TOTALLY revolutionized my education as I knew it, helping me to understand concepts that I absolutely could NOT contextualize before.
While listening to this episode, I hope that you'll begin to see options for you in the Educational Technology industry! I did a previous episode of the podcast on why I decided to become an entrepreneur, which may also help you decide if creating online courses could be something you'd be interested in pursuing.
Peace, love, and code,
Hello hello dev friends! Thank you so much for joining me for another episode of the podcast. And if you’re new to the podcast, welcome!
44 episodes and going strong! I’m proud of myself for managing to keep myself moving forward, which wouldn’t be possible without the help and support of my new team.
They’re helping me get things done, and also so I can build a strategy to get my valuable content in front of other people. People who really need to hear what I have to say. That’s the beautiful part about podcasts, too: you can teach and help so many people at once.
Alright, so this week, there's going to be more of my personal story than usual—kinda like when I was talking about my conference speaking experience.
It's the story of how my life got flip turned upside down after I decided to create my first online course, and then how I went on to make a business out of it!
A lot of my listeners already know that I'm a huge EdTech nerd, and my interests stem predominantly from my own experience with learning online after a hellish traditional classroom educational experience. There were reasons for this that I'll go into, but that background story of mine really helps to explain why I gravitated toward the field.
And I previously did an episode on why I became a tech entrepreneur in general. That really addressed the “why” behind simply wanting to work for myself. Now, I want to hone in on the product itself, and how it went from a little side project to a whole ass career.
In 2016, I began to consider the possibility of creating online courses after being exposed to the idea by a few online course industry figureheads. By 2020, I had launched 2 online courses and built a career out of a mix of online course sales and coaching career changers and programmatic problem solvers.
My hope with this episode is not just that you'll consider whether or not online courses are something you may want to look into creating, but also to be cognizant of the process and mindset behind them. Why people decide to create them based on their own knowledge.
Courses take a lot of time and energy to create, maintain, and provide exposure for so students can actually find your information. There are lots of reasons to do this, but the reasons I had were really personal to me. They might just resonate with you too.
And really, I want to emphasize that each of the subtopics involved with the process—from being product-less to product created and sold consistently enough to provide me with a healthy income—will need to be their own topic.
I've done enough 45 minute episodes after proclaiming that I was going to do shorter ones, so let's break it down more in the future and I'll fill in the process more and answer your questions where I am.
Ok, without further adieu, let me tell you the story of what led me to create my suite of courses, Newbie Coder School.
My relationship with online courses started back in the early 2010s. Before I even found Treehouse in 2010, which I largely attribute to my love of online programming education, I had taken a couple of video-based courses on Skillshare and that I purchased off Groupon.
One was on photography, another was on Adobe Illustrator. I was so excited to follow along with the instruction, and it became pretty clear pretty quickly that this new video-based approach worked far better for me than a traditional textbook or even classroom instruction.
There were lots of reasons for that struggle in traditional classrooms! I was actually diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum at 32 years old, alongside a Non-Verbal Learning Disability that prevented me from being able to mentally “model” the complex concepts I needed to learn.
When I was at Wellesley College in 2003, I decided to give Computer Science a shot. This is usually where I start talking about the actual online course experience, because I realized I couldn't hack it in my in-person CS courses, and ultimately switched majors.
It took me years to return to tech, and when I did with the goal of learning to build websites, I was able to achieve my dreams via online courses, where traditional education had previously failed me.
So, I learned to code with online courses, and I really started to build interest in learning *why* these apps had been so much more effective in helping me learn those complex topics than classroom environments. The questions led me to answers in the Educational Technology sector of tech.
In Educational Technology, the focus is on using technology to deliver an effective learning experience for the learner. Because I'm a massive nerd, I did a 3-part series on Educational Technology if you're interested in learning more about the field! I believe it's episodes 15 through 17. Definitely worth a listen—I did a series called EdTech September just to share what I was learning, and it really helped me to solidify information.
That's actually an excellent example of Educational Technology at work: I leveraged a podcast to share that information with other people, and also to help myself learn. This stuff is really interesting, and at the end of the day, learning about EdTech really did help to answer so many of my questions about why I was able to learn more effectively with online courses.
What I found, in a kind of condensed version, is that online courses are more effective learning tools for me for a few specific reasons:
- They tend to be video-based, and information conveyed visually REALLY helps me to absorb AND retain it. I have that non-verbal learning disability, remember, so I have difficulty just trying to imagine stuff. When I have a model created for me, and it really makes sense to me… there's my “aha” moment!
- I can control the pace of my exposure to the information. Online courses with videos have video controls. Podcast episodes, which I also enjoy for certain topics, have audio controls. I can pause for a break, or so I can kinda put a bookmark in that video and go look for supplemental information elsewhere to make it click. I can go back once I've put together enough context to help that “aha” moment happen.
- They're FUN! Online courses are engaging, and as I've learned from my forays into the world of EdTech, engagement is directly correlated with improved learning. The last episode of EdTech September was on learning with games and gamification. I started learning on Treehouse in 2012 and it was heavily gamified with points and badges and leaderboards and whatnot.
Additionally—and I was actually talking to a friend about this the other day—online courses are really in a very interesting place right now in terms of education overall, and their role in our lives as learners changed with COVID. A lot of people who weren't previously exposed to online education are now discovering its potential.
We've had an opportunity to get massive amounts of feedback on Educational Technology platforms this year, and feedback provides drives improvement. I'm SO excited to see what comes from all that feedback, because EdTech is going to be changing and growing at a rapid pace.
We recognize that we need to close these gaps between traditional classroom education and online education, and we need to close them fast. We know that not all learners learn well in an online environment, which may be an unavoidable reality.
Alright, so let's start back in 2016. I first hear about actually creating my own online courses from Pat Flynn's Smart Passive Income podcast. I could not even tell you how I came across his podcast—that tends to be the way things work in my life's progression. I just come across things that turned out to be total synchronicity!
I took things one step at a time, though. I was hearing him out about courses, but I decided to start the La Vie en Code Podcast first in September 2016. I didn't feel like I was ready quite yet for some reason. Maybe the podcast felt easier for me or something, and I was just avoiding what I perceived to be the “hard thing”. Who knows.
I had been considering entrepreneurship already, and my next step while doing the podcast was to try freelancing. And I pretty much immediately hated it. I think I had to go through that experience though to really appreciate the type of entrepreneurship life I have now.
After I decided to leave entrepreneurship, I kinda had to stop and assess my current situation.
I had tried a company life, didn't like it. Didn't like freelancing. What was left? Entrepreneurship, I surmised. Selling what? Well, I had seen that digital products had the benefit of no inventory to manage or overhead, making them a really attractive option.
Pat Flynn's podcast tagline was “work hard, so you can sit back and reap the benefits later”, and that was a very attractive idea to me as well. I am no stranger whatsoever to hard work, and if I could put in the work first, being able to relax down the road would be totally worth it.
Prior to choosing entrepreneurship, I had been worried that I was going to be grinding my whole life. I was tired of being valued so cheaply, and I didn't want to work so hard throughout my entire career when quite frankly, companies aren't even loyal nowadays.
By this point, I'd had time to listen to a bunch of episodes on online courses. I had SO much that I could teach, and Pat had really helped me to recognize that.
I recognized that I knew more than I thought I did, and although the idea of someone paying me to access my creation boggled my mind (especially at the pricing I saw others doing), I decided to try my hand.
What would I create a course on?
So, what would I create a course on?
Well, again, this could be a topic all its own, but TL;DR: I used my own experience overcoming obstacles to teach others to overcome them, too. I had overcome them successfully, and as a result, I was an expert on how to move past a variety of common bottlenecks for new developers.
Two of those bottlenecks, for me, were with being able to solve programmatic problems like code challenges, and actually retaining the information I was encountering. Pat had emphasized that the riches were in the niches, and I still couldn't really even contextualize having a product created and being sold.
But because I was filling valuable gaps that I had discovered myself during my journey, I naturally settled into a niche that nobody else was paying much attention to, despite how freakin' important it was.
Because I'm a perfectionist, I did the most. I figured that people wanted a huge project from me, like the online courses like I'd seen on Udemy, with a hundred bajillion modules and perfect videos. I mean, we know that's not what the videos ACTUALLY look like, but in my mind's eye I was expected to do the most.
My first course was called “30 Days to Web Development”, which over the course of its development morphed from a course to a course PLUS a coaching program component.
My goal was to provide my students with a course component that highlighted their journey from first starting learning to code to landing a job in a fulfilling career. I wanted to help them get from point A to point B, and support them every step of the way.
This past year, I renamed the cohort program Newbie Coder Career Change School to fit in with the Newbie Coder School brand. I deliver to my students the individual support they need to complete their career transition into the tech industry.
Of course, again, this was based on my own personal experiences, as well as the experiences of the many potential and successful career changers I've seen out there. I had switched from the Customer Service industry into Web Development back in 2015.
I want to be really transparent about this entire process, and the first thing I'll tell you is that creating a course is HARD WORK. At virtually every stage, I had to keep pushing myself through and figuring out the best ways for me to approach each stage.
I'll be doing a future episode on the actual tools and resources I used to create my course, and the process of getting it created, but in short, there are different phases:
- Surveying and selling the idea
- Outlining the course
- Offer discounted text-based beta
- Integrate feedback from beta
- Create slides/course animations
- Record voiceovers and videos
- Edit videos into final product + integrate into course content
It's a LOT of work to create a course, but once you create it, it's there to help people in perpetuity. You can teach so many more people with it. You'll maintain the course content and grow it as you talk to your students and determine what they need, and then provide it.
Building courses for a living, and entrepreneurship in general, is a trip. I did a podcast episode on why I decided to become a tech entrepreneur in general, because it's been a very personal life choice for me and it was kinda nice to parse through my thoughts about the experience and my feelings about it.
Ok, so that's more or less why I chose online courses. I absolutely freakin love them. Now, let's talk about the “career” part of this episode title, and I'll give you the considerations I made while I figured out how to turn those courses into something that would pay my bills.
Because that's a career: an area of specific skill or expertise that provides you the income you need to survive—and optimally, thrive. Then you can put more energy into your career, because you're not worried about your income situation.
I've been poor for so much of my life, and it was hard to even imagine really being able to support myself off my own perceived value. If this was going to be a business and not just a hobby, money was going to have to be a part of the equation.
Online courses can provide great revenue options. If you don't want to fall into the “cheap courses” category and would rather focus on delivering the most personalized value for people, you don't need to price your courses cheap.
I can't emphasize this part enough: you CAN make a whole-ass living creating and selling online courses. You can be a brilliant instructor and change lives, and be worth every red cent of what you earn.
From my experience, as an excellent instructor, you will literally be worth tens of thousands of dollars to someone out there when you help them get the edge they need to succeed and thrive by sharing what you know. You don't even have to sell many courses for this to happen.
Tap into your deep strengths and leverage those in your content, and you'll find that you can offer even the same important information from your unique perspective. That perspective might just help someone to make it “click”—this has been the case with so much of my content.
This one was a hard one to reconcile, because as I've talked about in some of my previous podcast episodes, the urge to connect our self-worth to our product or service pricing is strong.
It's a complex topic all its own, but I had to internalize that the important part of pricing is to consider your overall value to your student. What kind of transformation are they going to undergo? How will that transformation boost them?
Maybe I'll do a whole episode just on that topic, because it was a real headache at first trying to understand that myself and my knowledge are worth WAAAAY more than what capitalist society ever valued me at.
Another big challenge I faced was how to actually build enough income for myself to make course creation sustainable. Because, I mean, you have to pay your own bills in order to survive.
Initially, I did some launch events, which kinda varied in terms of success. Mostly because I was managing my own marketing, and I had no idea how people thought. Waaaay too much on my plate, and the Spectrum issues really interfered with understanding what people want.
After several launches and workshops to help people learn about the concepts I teach in my courses and see why they need to know more, I found that I wasn't really able to create regular income for myself that way
Now, I have a team of marketers working with me, so they're helping me reconfigure things in such a way that I have regular enough income to thrive and continue to support my students.
And so that's the overview of how I got to this place where I'm focused on providing my students with the lessons I've learned through my own experience, and saving them time by avoiding the pitfalls I fell into.
So, that's it! Well, not all of it yet, obviously, but I'll provide more info over time in terms of actually creating said courses. Because whether or not you choose to create your own career out of online courses and teaching others, I would love to see more developers sharing what they know via courses.
They're hard work, but such a wonderful way to convey information in a way that resonates with a wide variety of students and learners all over the world.
Online courses are not ideal for everyone, but they are accessible by anyone—especially when you build in actual accessibility features like closed captions and transcripts, good color contrast in your video… lots of things I'm totally still learning about.
You're never going to get it perfect on the first attempt, so if you want to explore online courses, do your best and remember: people NEED what you know! Don't do them the disservice of keeping your information to yourself. You can always improve things down the line.
Creating online courses has been a marvelous career path for me. If you asked me 5 years ago if I ever saw myself being an educator OR an entrepreneur, I'd have laughed. Hell, even more recently than that. But once I saw the potential… I just knew.
Alright, if you enjoyed this episode, and the podcast in general, please be sure to leave me a 5-star review and a little love note on the La Vie en Code iTunes reviews. I love the feedback I get, and honestly, I don’t get enough of it because I never ask. So, please consider supporting me and the podcast!
Next week, I’m going to help you develop a resilience strategy for managing those times when you just want to throw in the towel.
I've been at that point many times, and I have some valuable advice for talking yourself down off the ledge. And also, letting other people help talk you down. Because you want to keep going, and achieve your dreams, so that grit and resilience is going to be crucial.
Alright my friends, it has been a pleasure to learn with you today—and until next time, peace, love, and code.