Moves, Blues, Death, Triumph: My Pluralsight Course Retrospective

Author’s Note: Many people share their accomplishments publicly, only showcasing the successful end result. In reality, the creation process is never as smooth as it appears. In my “Behind the Curtain” posts, I intend to shine a light on the reality of the hard work, successes, failures, and struggles encompassing knowledge work.

I signed a contract agreement with Pluralsight on February 24th, 2015 to create my first developer-oriented online video course, PhoneGap Build Fundamentals. The course went live on July 11th, 2017, over two years later. This is a look back on what ended up being a long, challenging, but ultimately satisfying journey.

Excited Beginnings

Over several years, I built up knowledge of a unique software development space: creating mobile apps using web technologies. With several successful apps under my belt, I began to look for my next challenge. I’d long been a fan of Pluralsight so I took a look at their “Become an Author” page. I had my doubts (“I don’t have an audience!”, “Do I really know PhoneGap as well as I think I do?”) but there’s a simple form to fill out so I gave it shot.

I heard back rather quickly, inside of a week later. I was asked to download Camtasia, review some short videos on how to use it to record and edit video, then prepare a 10 minute audition video on a topic of my choice. “Just teach us something small from start to finish”, they said. I really like that approach; it’s a fair way to validate a prospect’s skills and dedication; I imagine lots of people drop off quickly once they realize the work involved. In total, I spent 14 hours on the video (I decided right away to record my hours worked and am glad I did because my estimates were way off! As it typically goes with software as well. See full stats below).

Shortly after submitting the audition clip, I heard back: I was in! I did spend a lot of time to ensure that the video was as perfect as possible, but was still shocked and excited to be selected. Time for the real work to begin.

Diving In

Pluralsight assigns an editor to each author, whom help with a plethora of things, including course design and feedback. I was immediately impressed with mine’s enthusiam for the role and the support provided. Since this was my first course, I really had no idea what to expect, but any concerns quickly evaporated. I began by creating a course outline using a template guide that was provided to me. In this document, you lay out all the high level details about the course, including the title, audience, and outline/length of all proposed video modules (one module consists of many video clips, usually around 5 minutes or less each). Your editor and larger Pluralsight team must approve the course outline before you can get started with the course. Fortunately, mine was approved right away without issue.

I got started on Module 1 right away; the introduction to the course. I was immediately overwhelmed with how much there was to do! For each video clip, you have to write down what you’re going to say (some authors skip this step and effectively “wing it”, though I’m not sure how), design and create PowerPoint slides (and potentially write demo code), record, then edit the video. Additionally, I’ve never done video production before, so there was a moderate learning curve in getting up to speed with Camtasia.

Fortunately, my editor was incredibly supportive, helping me through lots of detailed questions and providing useful feedback. Once you complete a module, a member of the Pluralsight QA team reviews each clip in detail, checking the boxes on all sorts of quality-related items: near-perfect speech (no “ums/uhs”), consistent audio levels, background noise, and much more. It took me several weeks of nights and weekends work to complete the first module. Authors are given three written sections of feedback: “Good”, “Could be improved/work on moving forward”, and “Fixes required”. While the initial feedback was difficult and tedious to fix, I’m glad they push for it; it results in Pluralsight standing out as the leader in online video courses.

Cross Country Move

I began the course while in living in downtown Chicago. Just two months in, my wife and I decided to make a huge life change: a cross-country move to Seattle, Washington. Good for me, bad for my course. I immediately got wrapped up with move planning and saying goodbye to friends/family. I’d never moved that far before and honestly didn’t realize how much time and energy it would take up. I don’t regret the time spent away from the course though, as the time instead spent on maintaining our relationships was (and still is) incredibly important to us. I immediately told my editor about the move; she was incredibly supportive and told me not to worry.

Seattle Blues

I arrived in Seattle and continued working for my Chicago company, albeit remotely. We came at the tail end of Summer, which in Seattle means darkness and dreary rain for upwards of six months straight. That, coupled with being in a new city with no friends and home alone all day, I quickly fell into a light depression. It was the perfect storm: a two hour timezone difference shifted my work schedule, phone calls to support outsourced developers forced my day to begin very early, and I took on additional responsibilities because my (already small) team had recently lost several team members. Working from 6AM to 6PM every day meant all work, no play, and no happiness. I was experiencing burnout like never before.

By the time my workday was over, I was completely drained. I had no energy for anything, let alone a Pluralsight course. Realizing I drastically needed to turn things around, I paused work on the course, shifting focus to my health and getting a new, local job. Almost overnight, things improved immensely.

I was able to get back to chipping away at the course bit by bit, but it was difficult. I went to work for a consulting firm, which means that I really had two companies to get up to speed on: them and my first client. Twice as many people to meet, cultures to absorb, technologies to learn, and more. During multiple crunch periods at the client, I had weekly late night deployments that ate up many evenings. Needless to say, in addition to depression, I don’t recommend starting at a new company (or two!) while in the middle of creating a Pluralsight course! Fortunately, Pluralsight continued to be understanding and patient with me.


After a few months into my new company, I finally get in a good groove with the course. Shortly thereafter though, I receive news that a very close friend has passed away suddenly at age 29. I’m devastated of course, once again losing my drive to work on the course. I’m incredibly fortunate that I almost made it to 30 without experiencing any major loss. My entire world came crashing down that day. In a sense, I’ll never be the same. Fortunately, I came out of it with a new appreciation for life and work ethic.

Renewed Focus

I’ve always been a finisher. Even if I begin a bad book or movie, I have to finish it. If I don’t, it gnaws away at me; a feeling that I must know the ending to everything. As odd as that may be, the need to finish what I’ve started comes in handy all the time, such as when trying to wrap up a Pluralsight course. The last year and a half had been a turbulent ride, with my friend dying being the cherry on top. I realized that even after going through so much change and turmoil, I still felt the need to finish the course. I made a commitment that should be honored. There was nothing else to do but buckle down and finish it!

I revamped my work schedule, said “no” to everything except the course (and exercise), and published it in July.

I had been working on the course during nights and weekends. Consulting work can be intense, so I finally realized that I was using up all of my brainpower during the day. I needed a change if I was to successfully finish my course. I was working on it during the times I was the most tired! No wonder focus was often difficult. I began to dedicate early morning hours (6AM to 8AM) to working on the course and immediately saw progress. I made progress every day, while still maintaining high quality work output at my day job. Nowadays, I either go to gym or work on a personal project immediately after I awake. If I have the energy, I’ll work on something in the evening but having already accomplished something that day, there’s no pressure if I don’t.

Another change I made was turning down all commitments with exception of my course. I’ve always been a people pleaser, so this was very difficult for me. Going out to drinks with coworkers? Nope. Attending Toastmasters meetings on Wednesday mornings at 7AM? Nope, that’s critical Pluralsight time. A friend wants to start a podcast? Cool, but nope. By saying no, I eliminated any possibility of distraction. I’m an expert procrastinator, so finding excuses like these come easy. I’ll definitely use this tactic in the future.

Hours Worked

I often forget to track hours worked on my personal projects. Fortunately, I started tracking at the very beginning, including the audition video. The following totals include all work involved: learning Camtasia, writing, recording, editing, and feedback. They’re definitely not 100% accurate, but are a close approximation.

Task Hours Worked
Audition video 14
Course Outline 2
Module 1 20.5
Module 2 21.5
Module 3 19.5
Module 4 60.5
Module 5 19
Module 6 28
Module 7 22
Module 8 10
Final Edits 11

Of note: Module 4 took me about 3x longer than others because it was during this module that I wrote the code for the sample app used throughout the entirety of the course. The next highest module, Module 6, involved debugging on real mobile devices, which proved tricky to record. 228 hours basically amounts to six 40 hour work weeks. Taking a step back, that’s not bad! If I had tackled this project with a stable schedule, it wouldn’t have had to drag on for so long.


Pluralsight authors get a one-time payment upon completion of the course, as well as a share of ongoing quarter revenues. The quarterly payments work like this: there’s a pot of money set aside for authors that we all split. The split is determined by a complicated formula involving total minutes of your course versus all others’. Basically, the more popular the course is, the better. “Intro to Technology X” courses perform the best, which makes sense because there is a lower barrier to entry. While I’d love to share the exact numbers, my contract doesn’t permit it. Therefore, I’ll just say that the one-time payment was decent and the quarterly payments will make for some nice ongoing “beer money”. Dividing the amount I’ve been paid thus far by the total number of hours comes to approximately just above minimum wage for each hour worked. While that’s not a substantial amount, it could be quite lucrative over time provided you build a decent following and publish many popular courses.

Key Takeaways

If you’re interested in creating a Pluralsight course, here are some parting thoughts:

What’s Next?

…that moment when I first hit the keys to spell out THE END was epochal. I remember rolling the last page out and adding it to the stack that was the finished manuscript. Nobody knew I was done. Nobody cared. But I knew. I felt like a dragon I’d been fighting all my life had just dropped dead at my feet and gasped out its last sulfuric breath. Rest in peace, m*f*er. Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him I had finished. “Good for you,” he said without looking up. “Start the next one today.” - The War Of Art, Steven Pressfield

The above quote is so great! It makes me laugh, as it’s true: you spend months or years toiling away at creating something, but once you’re done there are no fireworks or town parade in your honor. While I don’t intend to start a new course anytime soon, I’m keeping plenty busy. At the moment, I’m focusing on promoting the course, then plan to evaluate my next steps later this year.

Many thanks to Kari, Troy, Spencer, Jeff, and the entire Pluralsight team. Special thanks to my wife Lisa for her patience and support during the long journey.

If you’re interested in learning how to build mobile apps using web technology, please check out my course, PhoneGap Build Fundamentals. Cheers!

So unbelievably stoked! A long journey comes to an end. My @pluralsight course has been released! Cheers to a wonderful editorial team and @nursingaround 's support. #PhoneGap #Cordova #MobileDev

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