Want Free Coding Lessons? Twitch Makes It Happen in Real Time

Every Sunday Suz Hinton sits down at her computer to write code. Unlike most programmers who work on open source projects on their own in their spare time, she programs as hundreds of people watch online.Hinton livestreams her screen as she types code. But she doesn’t just write code: Hinton also verbally explains what she's doing and interacts with the audience. A chat room appears in a frame to the right of the code, where viewers ask questions, make suggestions, and make conversation. Below the chat room is a box with video of Hinton's face.She's among hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of programmers from around the world who regularly take to Twitch, a site best known for livestreams of people playing videogames. You might ask, who would want to watch someone else code? But you could just as well ask who'd want to watch someone else play videogames, or cook, or fish.
Many people watch to learn something. There are countless programming tutorials on YouTube that let aspiring programmers watch others write and explain code. But the chat rooms and widgets give viewers a chance to ask questions in real time.

A screenshot from one of Suz Hinton's livestreamed coding sessions. Photograph: Suz Hinton

Live code streams also provide a more natural view of how programming works. Hinton says she started by watching other coding livestreams. "I'm really someone who likes to be a fly on the wall," she says. "You know how people give really vague answers to the question 'What do you do all day?' You get to see exactly what they do."

Streamers also learn from their audiences. "Honestly, it's made me a better programmer," Hinton adds. "When you have to explain every choice you're making as you're typing the code, you become more insightful, and you have people giving feedback in real time."

"Live coding on Twitch is a great way to learn to code and present in front of others, especially for those of us who grew up shy or self-conscious," says Allison Day, a live code streamer who maintains Belly.io, a directory of cooking and programming livestreams. "Things inevitably go wrong when you're live, or you make a silly mistake, or you forget something simple. You learn pretty quickly not to be so self-conscious, and that most of your viewers are really rooting for you."
Community is a big part of why people stream their work and why other people watch it. Programming can be solitary work. Twitch's chat feature gives programmers another way to connect with each other, swap tips, or work in tandem. "I love helping out people who want to learn to code, and having that opportunity for live conversation with anyone around the world allows them to ask questions, and me to go more in-depth when there's a topic that people are curious or confused about," says Day.