Matt's Blog: while { coding }
 

The Hump

About 3 years ago I went out and bought a skateboard. The official reason was to model an active lifestyle for my kids. The real reason? I woke up one day and I realized I hadn’t ridden a skateboard in over 20 years. That killed me a little inside.

One lingering regret is that I never learned to ollie. After I got comfortable skating again I set my mind to learning how to ollie. Last summer I made a small bit of progress, and this summer I’m hoping to finally nail the damned thing.

This weekend I shot some footage of myself practicing. Then I wanted to use that footage to make a little movie. For me, on my Mac, that means iMovie.

I’ve had some modest successes with iMovie in the past, but I’ve never really understood it. The interface is confusing. I’m sure they are trying to make things easy, but it’s like there are so many things to make easy that they make it crazy instead.

I had two and a half minutes of footage of me flubbing around with the skateboard. What I wanted was to grab two portions of the video (where I was actually practicing) and join those together with a modest transition. Then I’d add a title screen and upload it to YouTube to embarass myself.

Simple, right?

First I had to figure out how to get my video out of Photos and into iMovie. I imagined that I could just export the file and then import it, but that seems like The Hard Way. Apple ships the computer with both programs. There must be a Better Way. Off to Google I went, which is ok because I’m basically a Professional Google User (uncertified). Much to my consternation, the recommended way to get your movie from Photos to iMovie is… to export it to a folder and then import it. Stone knives and bear skins!

iMovieInAction

I did the export/import and created a new project in iMovie. That part went fine. I had a project, I imported my footage, and then I started to make a title. That took a while to figure out (despite the fact that I’ve done it before) but soon my title was in place. Ah, but I needed to split up my footage into two parts. How do I do that? More googling. It was easy but not obvious. I finally figured out how to split it up, but then realized that I have the opportunity to have a cold open on my video where I walk up to the skateboard. So this will be great. Cold open to establish I’m doing something with a skateboard, then title, then my two clips. Ah, but what would be really cool is to have the background audio going over the title sequence so there is continuity in my little story. Googling again, I find out how to do this in iMovie 11. (Later I find out I’m on iMovie 10.) I can’t find the option I found with Google, but poking around in the right place helps me figure out that I can detach the audio. Perfect! This is great. I mess around a little more and then I have a cold open, a title, and then I’m on the skateboard. Something is not quite right though. Ah, the title card just pops in. There is a tiny effect but no smooth transitions. I see the option for transitions and pick the simplest and put it in place. Now everything is set up! I sit back and watch. Something is still wrong…. Ah! The audio is out of sync. Probably by the amount that it is offset during the title sequence. Or maybe I just dragged the wrong slider and screwed something up. I really don’t know. It’s all voodoo at this point. I have no idea what is going on and no idea how to fix it.

I gave up. I wasn’t pissed, just disheartened. I could see nothing but frustration in my future, so I stopped.

And this is The Hump.

The Hump is this point on your learning curve, usually after some early success, where you decide that the effort just isn’t worth the reward. This is the point where opportunities are lost, where you talk yourself out of victory, and where dreams die.

Seriously.

Look how close I got to success before I gave up! This is common. And then there was my bad attitude. I felt like I was being held back. I blamed the software. I blamed Apple. It wasn’t until I realized this was just The Hump that my attitude started to change. I stopped thinking about how messed up the situation was. I started to think about how I was going to get my video done. I went from being indignant to resolute. I went from being pissed at tools to being pissed that I was letting little things get in my way.

I tossed out the crappy work I’d done earlier and stepped back. I started to reframe the problem. I realized that since I now knew how to split footage, I could at least start by breaking things up into clips. With that done it was easy to delete the cruft. I was left with a series of scenes that were keepers. That formed the backbone of my movie. Instead of trying to build the movie from the front to the back, I created a scaffold along the critical path of what I was trying to do.

I eventually got my movie done. It took about an hour more than I thought it would, but I shipped. (WARNING: Super-boring single-shot video of 42 year-old legs mostly not ollying. My wife panned it, it’s that boring.) The movie isn’t the exciting part. Beating The Hump is the exciting part.

I worry that The Hump is this quiet killer of potential engineering careers. It’s great to see the energy behind programs to encourage people to learn to code, but it’s not enough. You can show people how to code all day long and all you’ll ever create is a bunch of people who can follow instructions. That isn’t what programming is. Software is a particularly cruel medium. You don’t just get over The Hump when you learn how to code. The act of building software is a non-stop series of Humps. Even worse, software eats problems. That means today’s hard problems are always a little harder than yesterday’s. Meaning the Humps never stop coming.

May you turn your Humps into moguls.