Debugging with Dean: My first YouTube screencast

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I wanted to solve a real bug in real-time, to show you my thought process. Here’s how it turned out. –

If you’re impatient and want to watch the video immediately, you can watch it directly on YouTube. Just remember to subscribe so you won’t miss my next videos!

Table of contents


A few days ago, a bug report was opened in one of my R packages {timevis}. I wasn’t able to reproduce the issue, so I asked the submitter to share his exact input data.

This was not unusual for me. Between all my packages, tutorials, and other online content, I’m often asked to look at a bug in a Shiny app. My clients also commonly ask me for help troubleshooting and fixing bugs in their complex apps. Along with fixing the issue at hand, I’ve also developed a habit of sending them detailed emails with a walkthrough of my exact debugging process. I’ve received very positive feedback from these emails, and I’ve been told many times that I should share my debugging process with more people.

A typical Saturday morning

Getting back to the {timevis} issue: When I woke up on Saturday morning I saw that there was a response with a dataset attached. Instead of looking into the issue right away, I had an idea: I could do a screencast showing how I address a bug report, in real-time!

So I did a quick Google search to find a free screencast software, turned on my webcam, and talked through my thought process while recording my screen. I even came up with a (catchy?) name while recording – Debugging with Dean. I had no script, no proper camera or microphone (I used the ones that are integrated into my laptop), and no expectations.

Ten minutes and one quick debugging session later, I had my first webcam-made video!

To share or not to share?

I showed the video to my teenage brother, who himself hosts two podcasts (Entertainment Bites and For the Boys). He was disgusted. He said that my microphone quality is appalling, and he wondered how he could be related to someone so stupid that wouldn’t even make a script for the intro. Because I didn’t even know if anybody would watch my video and if my efforts would be well-received, in a typical big brother fashion I brushed him off and proceeded on my way.

I asked on Twitter if anybody would be interested in seeing this:

The response was pretty clear, so I put up the video on YouTube. I didn’t do any editing (which is why the first few seconds are me awkwardly being silent and orienting myself!) and posted the raw video to YouTube right away.

The initial response

I announced it on Twitter immediately.

Despite the poor equipment and set up, I was very surprised by the amount of positive response. Right away I was getting views, likes, comments, even people subscribing to my “channel” which I never meant for. It was overwhelming!

Even though the “bug” in the video was very simple and was “solved” in less than a minute, viewers told me that they still got a lot out of the video, just by seeing my process: The fact that I used a real-life example, my demonstration of good practices and why they help me, showing why a reprex is useful, talking about what I do with my working environment before I begin, showing my productivity keyboard shotcuts, reviewing documentation as part of debugging, the authenticity of it all… I was very happy that people found value in it 🙂

This was all very encouraging. But I did remove my announcement of the video after a few minutes because of one issue…

My whoopsie

I tweeted the video and expected people to just watch it and that’s all. I didn’t expect any further engagement.

Soon after I tweeted the video, someone emailed me to tell me that by going to my “channel”, they’re able to see a lot of my personal videos and playlists. Videos of my little brother dancing and singing, or playlists I made for road trips and certain events, are not exactly what most people would want to see as the follow-up to a debugging session. I removed the tweet so that it won’t get too much more traffic.

It’s ready: Debugging with Dean!

After getting over my embarrassment and making sure my YouTube channel is cleaned up, I’m ready to finally officially announce my first video: Debugging With Dean!

Into the future

If I continue to get good response, I might make more videos. Make sure to subscribe on YouTube so you won’t miss my next videos! There are more debugging session videos I could make, and a lot of other Shiny content inside of me that I’d like to share.

I think my brother is right and I should at least invest in a microphone for any future videos. So I asked Eric Nantz (host of The R Podcast and Shiny Developer Series) for suggestions, and I already placed an order for a fancy microphone.

I would be very happy to make more videos, but they do take a lot of time away from my private paying clients. So if you enjoy my content and want me to make more, please consider supporting my efforts.

Lastly, I would very warmly welcome any and all feedback, especially any constructive criticism, so don’t hesitate to comment on the video or write to me!

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