Rocco Balsamo


Getting Paid To Learn: The Online Tech Teaching Hustle

Paying for education is so 1999.

A few months ago, I put out a course about Google Chrome Developer Tools on Udemy. This article is a bit of an update, with some thoughts about the learning that I was able to achieve in the process of creating the course.

I believe that you can do the same, and make money while making the world a better place.

Creating my First Course

The course creation process was definitely not free. I bought the top five courses in the subject, and paid for a good microphone and screen recording software. I go into the costs in depth at the end of my original article about Udemy, but the gist is that it cost me more than $4K to produce my course if I value my time at $100/hr.

Here’s my earnings chart for the course, two+ months after release.

Don’t worry about the downward trend. It’s because we’re only a few days into June.

My results are definitely not typical for a first time instructor. I’ve talked with another successful instructor on Udemy and he said that he earned significantly less in his first few months. The trick was that I was able to find a subject in which:

  • I had lots of experience.
  • had other classes that were outdated or just plain introductory.
  • had other classes that were making significant sales.

For a month, I checked the number of enrollments each day on each of the competing courses and tracked the sales on a spreadsheet. FYI, this is better than looking at the total number of students, because some instructors are known to give out lots of free coupons to get their courses off the ground at the beginning. (BTW, I do not give out free coupons publicly).

Positive Externalities

I mentioned that I value my time at a high rate, and that the R&D and recording for the course took a significant amount of time. But what else did I gain from the course creation process?

I got smarter.

I became a true expert on the topic. By reading documentation, experimenting, and watching other people’s courses, I got a full 360 view on how to use Google Chrome Developer tools. This helped me improve at my job as a software engineer, and share my knowledge with other engineers that I work with.

Back in the Day

Back when I was in college, I was a scam artist. I gamed the system. I figured out how to get the highest possible GPA with the least amount of work. I figured out how to use projects for multiple courses at the same time and I would blow off studying for a test if I knew that I had a 97 average in the class and a 90 would still get me an A.

But that all came to an end when it was time to be a teacher. I truly learned C++ when I taught a lab section of Computer Science II as a grad student. There was no way to finagle my way into being a good instructor. I had to truly understand the topic to teach it to others, and this was a wakeup call.

If you want to truly learn a topic, try to teach it.

What’s Next for Me

I recently gave up a great well paying software engineering job to start a company (TINT is hiring my replacement, BTW). I’m in semi-stealth mode right now, but there are many technologies where I will need to gain expertise. WebGL and Unity are two of them.

OK, this is lame PHP code, but you get the point.

As I have been learning about these, I’ve been keeping detailed notes and references. I’m considering making a course on WebGL with Unity because it will help me become an expert, and earn me some cash as I build out the main product for the company. Additionally, I can repurpose parts of the course content into articles and Youtube videos that will help me market the company.

Udemy Insights

If you’re creating a course for the sole purpose of learning, I’d say go for it. But don’t expect to make lots of sales unless you do your research and are smart about SEO.

Udemy recently released a new tool, called Insights (hint: you may need an account to access). The tool gives you a better idea about the student demand for certain types of courses.

Here’s the Insights page for Unity:

Essentially this says that there’s already a lot of good course content for Unity, but there’s also a ton of demand (100th percentile in search volume, meaning that this is the #1 subject searched for on Udemy).

Doing a straight up Unity course wouldn’t make sense. It would be way too much work, and the other courses are just too high quality for me to effectively compete. But what about WebGL with Unity? Let’s look at the insights chart for WebGL:

There are a low number of courses for WebGL, and frankly, I don’t even know if web developers are aware that they can create WebGL content with Unity. They might buy the course, just out of curiosity, when searching to do WebGL another way (with a library like three.js or similar).

This is my topic!

I will learn and get paid for it. I challenge you to do the same.

Join the WebAssembly Revolution

I’m building some really cool sh** right now. I would love to keep posted about my company (and courses!) as things progress. Join my email list to be the first to know.

P. S. If you’re interested in Chrome Developer Tools, get my class for only $10. Good till June 8, 2017.

Did you learn something new today? Please 💚 and follow me. It gives me lots of motivation to write more articles like this.

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