Hello again, this is Kevin O’Shaughnessy from ZombieCodeKill.
I have been using Pluralsight since 2012. Looking back now more than three years on, I think it has probably been the second best set of IT resources I’ve had in my life. The best set of resources I have had is my job and the people around me: nothing will ever be better training for my career than my career itself. I believe that the third best set of resources I had was my computer science degree.
Hang on! Isn’t this just a thinly veiled, shameless plug for Pluralsight?
Okay, go on then
I have found most people are significantly less enthusiastic than I am about Pluralsight, and that people’s attitudes toward it are pretty much directly proportional to how much they use it. The more you use it the more you will get out of it. It has taken me years to get good at using it effectively and I want to share what I have learned here.
All You Can Eat
Pluralsight subscriptions are “all you can eat” type of deals, so in order to get value for money you need to use it regularly, much like a gym membership. However, it’s easy to find excuses after you’ve failed to do your exercise.
Here are some common excuses for not doing Pluralsight training:
I don’t have the time
This is the most common excuse of all. Everybody has various commitments taking up their time, and everybody wishes that they had more time to do the things that they feel they don’t have the time to do. In many cases what it boils down to is we are spending quite a lot of our time doing other things that are less taxing and more comfortable for us such as watching television, playing video games, mucking about on Facebook, or having a lie in bed.
So it is ultimately down to you how much time you can make for yourself. You need to decide what things you are prepared to sacrifice in order to make time for yourself to study. Time management is a subject with a lot of different online resources available to help you, as well as a number of books. Here are some sites:
You should plan on working 60 hours per week. The first 40 are for your employer. The remaining 20 are for you. During this remaining 20 hours you should be reading, practicing, learning, and otherwise enhancing your career.
This paragraph was a shock to me at first. “SIXTY HOURS?!? I don’t have that much time! No way can I do that!”
Initially I decided I was just going to do about 45 per week. The most important thing is the distinction between time for your employer and time for you. 60 hours a week is like the “5 fruit or veg per day” target. You won’t always achieve it but it is there as a goal for you.
During the time for you, you may want to spend some of it studying things that help you in your current job, and good for you if you do, but don’t feel under any particular obligations with regards to what you study. Just make sure to include topics that you enjoy doing so you can think of this time as “hobby time” as much or more than “work”. Always work on interesting projects with interesting technologies.
I prefer to read books instead of watching videos
I think this largely a good thing. Many developers get more out of books than videos and as long as you are learning I don’t think it matters which medium you are using. However my recommendation is to learn from all sources. Books and videos can really reinforce each other to give you a much deeper understanding. Most courses will recommend good books to read, along with online resources.
It is sometimes said “for the money I can save from cancelling my Pluralsight subscription I could buy one top rated programming book every month”. Although this is true, you would be limited to only one book per month. A book is roughly equivalent to one Pluralsight course in terms of the amount of information but reading a book typically takes longer than watching a course. If you can get over the “I don’t have the time” problem, you can watch several courses each month for no extra cost.
I get bored of watching someone else coding and would rather be coding myself
Again this is not necessarily a bad thing, and it is not a bad thing to be coding while a video is playing. If you have a Pluralsight plus subscription, I strongly recommend downloading the code accompanying the course before you start watching. As developers, most of our time should be spent reading and writing code. Experimenting with the author(s) code will help you understand and appreciate the course concepts better.
Because of the audio, I find it much easier to multi-task Pluralsight training and basic coding than to multi-task book reading and basic coding. With physical books, my head is either up while coding or down while reading. E-books are a little easier but still require too much concentration to read at the same time as coding.
The most important feature for effective studying and use of your time is the variable playback speed. The software includes time stretching so that the pitch remains the same even at double speed. Play around with different speeds until you find the quickest speed that you are comfortable with. Don’t play it so fast that you have trouble understanding the author, but do play it a step faster if you have no difficulty understanding.
The best playback speed will vary from course to course, depending not just on the speed at which the author speaks, but the strength of their accent and the complexity of the topic that they are teaching. For some easy courses I have found x2.0 was fine, and for others I watched at x0.9 and still needed to sometimes pause and even rewind. Increasing the playback speed just a little can add up to a big time saving. For example, if you watch “Mastering C# 4.0” at x1.3 instead of x1, you’ll save yourself almost 3 hours!
Many Pluralsight courses include captions. I find that being able to read the information at the same time as hearing it reinforces the message. If English is not your first language, you can display it in any language that Google translate supports. The closed captions are not written by the original authors so if you find spelling mistakes please contact Pluralsight support to get them fixed.
Which Courses Should I Watch?
There are so many courses that it is impossible to watch them all and you will need to be selective about what courses to invest your time in. I think it is important to be mostly watching courses that you have a natural interest in. Not only will it be more fun, you will find it easier to learn and have more enthusiasm to keep learning more.
Don’t pay too much attention to level attributed to the course. This is very subjective and what one person considers beginner another will consider intermediate or even advanced. However the learning paths are useful informing you which courses to watch before the more advanced ones.
You will want to decide on a subset of the categories to learn, and I recommend that that subset includes “Careers”.
There are over 40 of these courses including Cory’s “Becoming an Outlier: Reprogramming the Developer Mind” and several other good ones. If you want to get a taste of Pluralsight without signing up or spending any money, watch Get Involved. A course that is useful in helping you decide what to study is Dan Appleman’s Learning Technology in the Information Age.
There are also many free video clips from various courses. Beyond that, it is very much a personal decision as to which areas you want to focus on in your career, however I have written another post on the Top 10 Pluralsight Courses for developers, and will probably do a follow up post in a few months time.
Although the Plus subscriptions are considerably more expensive than the basic subscriptions, in my opinion they are well worth it for the extras that you get. If you have a Plus subscription, don’t just watch the videos! Download the accompanying materials and exercises. Seeing and being able to experiment with the code created in the courses can make a big difference to your level of understanding.
Also, prove to yourself and others that you’ve properly learnt them by taking the assessments. These assessments have anywhere from 4 to 12 questions and they usually take less than 5 minutes to complete. You might think be thinking “I do Pluralsight to learn, not to take tests!”, but taking the tests really is learning. Until you take them you won’t realize how much you’ve missed. You wouldn’t assume your code works fine without testing it, so why assume you’ve learnt everything without testing yourself?
Pre-assessments and Post-assessments
If you’ve watched less than 25% of the course the first time you take an assessment it’s called a “pre-assessment”
In my first week of using Pluralsight, I did 9 pre-assessments, passing 3 of them and failing the other 6. I was disappointed that I hadn’t passed some courses on technologies that I’d been working with for years and retook some of the assessments after only watching a small part of those courses. Again I didn’t score well.
I had used LINQ at a basic level for a couple of years. I watched maybe one hour of the “LINQ Fundamentals” course before getting bored and deciding to take the assessment. After I only scored 40%, I thought to myself “I feel stupid. I don’t get it, I passed courses at university many years ago that were more complex than this. Why can’t I pass this now?”
And I remembered the LINQ in Action book I had bought the previous year. As I’d bought it, deep down I must have realized I was never all that great with LINQ. I had read about the first 50 pages of it, and it had sat on the shelf ever since. It was a well written book, but I had just found the subject quite dry and not made the effort to carry on reading after I started getting bored.
And then I realized, at university I had passed courses that were not only drier than LINQ but also much bigger. It wasn’t that I was getting dimmer, it was due to the approach that I took. Instead of just turning up for the exams expecting to pass, I had followed all of the lectures and written notes throughout the courses.
So it was then that I committed to printing out all of the slides from LINQ Fundamentals, writing handwriting notes on the slides as I watched the whole course, and also supplementing it by reading LINQ in Action. I started to feel that LINQ was quite an interesting topic after all.
When I felt ready to take the assessment again, I had all my notes with me but to my surprise I found that I didn’t need to look at them at all. There was hardly any thought to it – I just read the questions and knew the answers straight away – all of them. I went on to score 100% on the more advanced LINQ Architecture course.
An alternative to handwritten notes on printed paper is typed notes on the computer. I still use printed notes some of the time, but in order to save trees and ink I sometimes go for the electronic option.
I used MS Word at first but for a variety of reasons it didn’t prove to be the best tool. Then I switched to notepad++ and found that it’s much more helpful with code samples and the auto-completion feature helps me to write much faster notes as I progress through the course. I’ve also found that Visual Studio Code offers the same auto completion functionality.
Text files don’t contain images, headers, bold text or coloured text. I used to recommend a basic notation to represent headers and the like, for example with ** Module name ** and * Section *, however Justin Schwartzenberger taught me that it is much better to use markdown instead. Markdown Pad has very good markdown functionality and I recommend using it for final editing and exporting to html (or PDF if you have the Pro version).
I represent a drawing of one sending something to another simply with one thing -> another
I know many other users prefer to use another tool that supports proper headings and screenshots, such as EverNote. I recommend trying out some different options to find works best for you. The following steps get you off to a flying start in your favorite text editor:
1. Create a new text file and name it after the course name
2. Start playing the course from the beginning
3. While listening to the course introduction, on the Table of contents screen, open up all modules, drag your mouse to select all section headings and press your copy keyboard shortcut
4. Paste this into your new text file
5. Now you can use macro shortcuts to turn these into headings.
Where you see the times displayed e.g. 2m14s, if they appear on a separate line you can remove them with Ctrl+Shift+L, otherwise use Shift+End then Delete to remove all text from the cursor to the end of the line.
The Section headings tend to be among the most frequently used words for each course. By doing this paste at the start you will have auto-completion functionality for these words and be able to write notes more quickly and accurately.
Passivity / Activity
The act of note taking is important in helping you to understand the course material. When reading a book, you must always read it line by line. Videos, on the other hand, continue playing whether you are concentrating or not and it is easy to miss a lot of important information if you aren’t.
I find the process of writing notes helps to keep me engaged and avoid my mind drifting onto other things. Or at the very least, if I am getting distracted I get reminded of that early on because I can see I have missed notes! Jason Alba has some more useful tips on eliminating distractions in his becoming a better listener course
Show Off Your Profile
One of the biggest examples of Pluralsight Plus subscribers not making the most of their subscriptions is failing to set up your own profile. Setting up your profile on Pluralsight can help enhance your image and attract potential new employers.
When you set up your profile, make sure you click “Share my profile with everyone”.
Now update your résumé and include a link to your Pluralsight profile. This proves to employers that you are a self- motivated individual who is serious about learning and self-improvement.
Now go to your account. If you are a member of a corporate plan then you can click on a link here to view your individual reports. This lets you generate reports of the assessments that you have taken along with all of your scores.
This report displays weak scores as well as good ones. If you have retaken a course assessment, it shows how much you have improved on your original score. However unlike the all attempts reports it will not show how many times you have retaken a course or what your scores were for those attempts.
Use your transcript
The transcript page shows all of your scores, lets you view certificates or takes you to the assessment.
My recommendation is not to bother with the certificates for each course. A pass in any one course on its own is not worth very much. Instead aim for many passed courses and use the Generate Report button at the bottom on this screen.
The Transcript report will only show your best assessment scores for each course, and will only display courses where you have scored at least the minimum 70% pass mark. So, if you have some courses that you have scored badly on that you don’t want anyone else to see, use this report. You can either print to paper or save as a PDF.
If you have built up a good report, show it off by printing it out and taking it with you to your next job interview.
Once you have passed a Pluralsight course, you will see a link to add it to LinkedIn. If you have a LinkedIn account, it makes sense to do this because even if you are showing off your profile, recruiters are unlikely to know that you’ve passed these courses unless you advertise it on LinkedIn.
You can also retake courses where you have a weak pass mark, although a cooldown period may apply.
Aiming for 100%
When I first started with Pluralsight I was happy with any pass (70%+) and felt like that was enough to show that I understood the course. Now I am more experienced, I think of scores around 70% as quite weak and feel I should always aim for 100% with every course. Anything less than 100% highlights a lack of understanding somewhere.
Having said that, there is a trade-off in terms of whether you should spend more effort on learning fewer courses better versus learning more courses to a lesser degree, like there are common dilemmas on the amount of time to spend on your analysis and implementation work as a developer:
Covering the above dilemmas fully would take a series of blog posts and there is already a course on getting things just right and also Cory’s great architecture course related to these real world concerns. I’ll just say that I think you should aim for 100% for each course, but don’t get too hung up on it because the reality is there is always more to learn than we have enough time for so as long as we keep learning we should feel good about ourselves.
The Pluralsight authors have other jobs and can be busy, but I have found that most of the Pluralsight authors welcome feedback on their courses and are happy to answer questions.
So get in touch with them to let them know. The authors are professional enough to accept constructive criticism, but of course be respectful. And if you would like to watch a follow up course let them know that as well. Generally the authors are interested in doing follow up courses but need to know that there is enough demand.
Optimize for your primary motivation
There are many different reasons for using Pluralsight, including
- Aspiring Outlier
- Interested in learning a particular technology
- Looking for new ideas in programming
- Finding current job hard and need to upskill in one or two areas
- Seeking a new job
- My employer has bought me a subscription and wants me to use it for training
- Seeking a promotion
You may have several reasons, but one of them will be motivating you above all of the others. You will want to adjust your use of Pluralsight towards your primary motivation
You are aiming for a high level of expertise, and should be looking to gain both breadth and depth of experience. A very good point was made by Darren Cauthon in the comments: You should be learning a wide range of things. For example, you might be surprised by how much learning a new language could help you to improve your programming using your regular language. Taking pre-assessments for many beginner and intermediate level courses is a good idea. You can find out if you already know most of the content of these courses before investing a lot of time in them, and skip to a more advanced course if you feel confident. Having said that, I have managed to pass some courses at pre-assessment, only got around to watching them a few months later and was surprised by the amount of content that I hadn’t come across before.
Try out the sample code as you watch the course. Challenge yourself to improve on it. Could it be made more readable? More performant? More flexible? More secure? If you take the assessment, you are definitely aiming for 100%, but more importantly you are seeking not just knowledge but skills. So, in addition to watching, practice, practice, practice!
Interested in learning a particular technology
Your level of interest will determine how many courses you want to watch. If there aren’t currently any courses available, have a look to see if someone has already suggested it. If so, vote of it. If not, suggest it yourself. Pluralsight do listen to the community. For example there was huge demand for a Domain Driven Design course, and although it was a long time coming, this course has one of the top ratings and has been in the top 100 courses since it was first released in June 2014.
Looking for new ideas in programming
Try a wide range of different courses, including a new language or two: http://www.pluralsight.com/tag/programming-languages
Need to upskill
If it is an urgent problem, for example, you need to get something working today, you may be better off going to Stack Overflow or another forum first, but also try the search box on Pluralsight. This is quite intelligent and the results include courses that you wouldn’t think of from the course title that do help with your issue.
If you have a longer period to learn, see if there is a learning path for the area you want to upskill in.
Seeking a new job
This year I moved from a mid-level developer role to a new role as a senior developer. I found Pluralsight helped me to achieve this in a few important ways.
Mentioning Pluralsight study on the résumé immediately marks you out as someone who is willing to do a bit more than just the regular 9 to 5 in order to pick up your paycheck. It shows a genuine interest in your profession and this may help you to get an interview.
Effective use of Pluralsight helps to build up a large body of programming knowledge. Most of the typical interview questions and many of the less typical ones are covered in at least one of the Pluralsight courses, so watching a good number of courses will give you a lot more confidence in your interview.
There are a couple of courses that are very directly relevant. These are
I recommend watching these courses, but they are unlikely to be enough on their own. More important is that you pay attention to the job description and the skills that they are looking for. Chances are you will already have good experience in some areas and little to no experience in some others. You want to focus your study in the areas you are weakest in. Try to find out as much as possible as far in advance as possible regarding the technologies that they use. And then learn as much as you can about them before the interview.
The employer may also be looking for important skills that aren’t mentioned in the job description. At the first face to face interview I found out that the company also used Entity Framework, which I had never used. The company then asked me to do an assignment and discuss at a second interview. This included Entity Framework. To cut a long story short, less than 24 hours before the interview I still hadn’t used it, but watching and passing Getting Started with Entity Framework and promising to keep studying and learning it was enough to end up getting the job.
Most employers appreciate that they can’t get someone with previous commercial experience in absolutely everything they ideally want. It is a fast moving industry we are in, with dozens of languages and thousands of different frameworks. So one of the most important attributes of a developer is being able to pick up learn new things quickly. Show your interviewers that quality with a good transcript report.
My employer has bought me a subscription
Well lucky, lucky you! Don’t forget that real money was used to buy that subscription, and that your employer will be looking for a return on that investment in terms of improving your skills. Keeping your current employer happy is important, but I don’t think that this should be your primary motivation for using Pluralsight. Think about what it can do for you and your career development. Find out from your manager if there are any specific courses you are expected to watch, but also watch as many others as you have time to do. Not only will it make you look good and help you to perform better in your current job, it will also help if the time comes when you decide you want to move on.
Seeking a promotion
Lots of Pluralsight study on its own won’t get you a promotion, especially if it’s done on the employer’s time. However if a more senior position is available that requires a particular set of skills, you can use your report to provide your manager(s) with evidence of knowledge in those areas. It will always be a secondary concern compared to your performance in your current role, but if you are performing well, the Pluralsight study might make the difference between the promotion going to you instead of a colleague of yours. For your study you want to be very focused on the particular strengths that your manager(s) are looking for. 100% scores in the most relevant courses are likely to be more persuasive than 70% scores across a wider range of courses.
Remember that passing the course isn’t the end of your learning, just the end of the first chapter in your journey to true expertise. It should give you the confidence to try it yourself and experiment, and then teach it to someone else.
Thanks for reading! As always, I would love to hear your feedback. I really hope that this helps you to get more out of your subscription, and I wish you the very best with your studies.