This is the last year of The Hello World Program (https://www.thehelloworldprogram.com/). We launched the project in January of 2012 and we intend to wrap it up on the 5 year mark, whether or not it’s finished. This is the homestretch, the beginning of the end. Goodbye, Hello World! We want to share with you here the backstory and some of the hard-won lessons learned. We hope you find this post educational and entertaining.
In The Beginning Was The STEM Rainbow
If you’ll recall, 2012 was the cusp of the STEM/Make/Learn to Code phenomenon. We were both feeling malaise in our tech-oriented day jobs. We loved the renewed interest in the sciences coupled with hands-on learning, but were wary of the rhetoric surrounding these initiatives. The discussions focused on career path, wages, and the fear of America losing its dominant global economic position. Why is it called the STEM pipeline? It sounds like something Obama should be vetoing, not supporting. Why not STEM rainbow? Or better yet, STEAM rainbow. That’s what we wanted to see in the world, thus, The Hello World Program was born.
We didn’t know what we were doing when we set out. We didn’t know how to make a web series. We didn’t know how to make puppets, let alone sew. We knew next to nothing about Linux. We didn’t program in Python. We didn’t know what NLE we would use or how to model and animate in 3D. We didn’t know anything about KPIs or MVPs or all of those other seemingly-important marketing acronyms other than SEO. We both had backgrounds in web development and video production and that was it.
We also didn’t have community or a plan for building one. All of the skills I mentioned above can be farmed out or picked up on the fly. But meaningful relationships take time and we are terrible at it. We’re both extreme introverts and have a very small group of friends, most of whom are also introverts. It’s not really a group you can ‘leverage’ for viral effect, which, honestly, is a terrible way to think about people. But what do I know?
That was our starting point.
Most importantly, we didn’t know our audience. We had this idea, which we thought was great and we thought everyone else would think it was great and all we had to do was make more content and follow the guidelines outlined by social media ‘gurus’ and it would explode. We were sorely wrong. Right from the start we got so much hate from anonymous individuals going out of their way to post lengthy comments explaining in-depth how terrible our work was and what idiots we were.
To some degree, they were right. We did everything wrong.
But we stuck with it. Why?
Love. Love for our bastard child, love for the creative process, and most importantly, love for each other.
Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.
In December 2013, emboldened by our experiences with The Linux Foundation, we launched a very ambitious Kickstarter campaign. We didn’t meet our funding goal. We raised more than half our goal in the first half of the campaign and then contributions plateaued at 67% and we only experienced a small uptick in the 11th hour. We were an anomaly, according to a Kickstarter spokesperson who contacted me for a study: if a campaign crosses the 50% mark, it will generally reach its funding goal. Failed campaigns rarely get anywhere near 50%. In retrospect, I’m glad the campaign wasn’t successful. We weren’t realistic about the amount of work on the timeline we were promising. We discovered this by running a scaled down Indiegogo campaign a year later, which was successfully funded. We’re now a year overdue on delivery of our product and we have at least 6 more months of work to go before we can call it complete. (Sorry, backers. We’re learning the hard way.)
The night our Kickstarter failed, we got burgers and beer and had a heart-to-heart about The Hello World Program. Neither of us wanted to abandon the project, even though we knew it was a loss. We wanted to follow through if for no other reason than to build an impressive portfolio piece. And it is impressive! Look at how far we’ve come. Here’s our first video, “What is a Robot?”:
And here’s the first in our new series, “What is Computer Science?”:
We’re professionals now. And we primarily use free and open source software and run everything on Linux on machines we built ourselves. We now know a few things.
Lessons Learned from The Hello World Program
- Family is more important than anything. As siblings, we’re lucky we were able to build adult relationships while working on The Hello World Program. It was fun. It was hard. It was worth it. We learned more about each other than anything else outlined above and that’s going to have deeper, longer-lasting effects than any technological or marketing skill.
- Community is everything. We followed the Field of Dreams model of audience acquisition and failed. In the end, the work we produced (and continue to produce) has an audience of two: us. We focused more on product and less on process and the best way to build community is to engage people in the work as it’s happening.
- Balance ambition with reality. We didn’t realize just how much work we were taking on when we set out to create The Hello World Program. How do you eat an elephant? Not like this. We tried to eat the entire thing all at once. We learned way too late how to map out all the steps and time involved in production, which is mostly due to the fact that we were learning our skills as we were implementing them. While the journey of a thousand miles might begin with a single step, the project of a thousand hours should begin with all the steps.