I talked with MIT undergrads who make YouTube videos! Read on to learn about their unexpected challenges, college advice, and wild moments. Interview answers have been edited for brevity.
Give me the one-sentence pitch for your channel.
Sarah Chieng: My channel tries to capture the highs and lows of being an MIT student and everything that comes with that experience.
Kyle Markland: Learn anything and everything you’ve wanted to know about LEGO MINDSTORMS robotics (and beyond) with Builderdude35!
Shawn Chao: Does this guy even go to MIT? Continuously learn, entertain, and seek experiences that will make you grow!
Jocelyn Luizzi: My channel is a weekly snapshot into my life, whether that be basketball vlogs, hanging out on campus, talking about my MIT experience, or reacting to the TV shows I watched that week!
How did you start with YouTube?
Jocelyn: I started making videos about a year ago because our basketball team was going to the NCAA tournament and my teammate and I wanted to document our trip. A couple weeks later, that same friend and I went on spring break together and we kept filming. When I got back, I had a ton of fun editing the footage and looking back on all the memories, and my friends and family loved getting to see what I was up to, so I just naturally kept vlogging fun events.
Shawn: I began Youtube during the start of quarantine (March 2020). A lot of activities, such as badminton, socialization, and traveling, that brought happiness into my life were abruptly disrupted and ended, so I needed something to keep me excited. At first, I solely made videos that were academic, but then, I realized many of my life events were both entertaining, (hopefully) inspiring, and potentially worth sharing.
What’s the best part of making videos and having a YouTube presence?
Kyle: The best part–and the thing that kept me going for five years–was knowing that I was making a difference in the lives of hundreds of kids (and adults!) from across the world. After a while, there was a steady stream of comments from viewers thanking me for my videos. Occasionally I would receive emails through my website from people who were exceptionally moved by my content. These individuals would take time out of their day to write a long, thoughtful, and very personal email about how much they have learned and grown from watching my videos.
The first of these I ever received was when a team of middle schoolers from Israel emailed me to tell me how impressed they were with my sample robot design “Sirius,” which I use for demos on the channel; they had just won their national championship with a variation of my design. I still remember the day a software engineer from Google sent me an email telling me he had randomly stumbled upon my channel and wanted to write to say how impressed he was with my content. Or a peer from Cyprus who followed me from my early days, whom I met for the first time in person when I arrived for orientation at MIT in my freshman year, who ended up pursuing a degree in STEM because of my channel!
What was an unexpected challenge that came with YouTube?
Shawn: I was not completely oblivious to this fact, but I found that making a video takes so much more time than I thought. From thinking about the idea to taking the footage to editing, there are videos that have easily taken me over 20 hours in total.
Sarah: Haha, you don’t realize how hard it is to grow a channel until you start. Then suddenly, you see people with even 100 views and you’re like wow, that’s really impressive.
Kyle: YouTube is an incredibly time-consuming hobby and there are so many things that viewers don’t necessarily see that take a lot of time… I knew that if I wanted to publish consistently each week without compromising video quality, I needed to innovate on my workflow. Making one video the weekend before its release wasn’t going to be sustainable. I adopted an assembly line style workflow. I would set aside one weekend to make 4-6 videos in bulk, and production would be done horizontally; for example, I would record all of the voiceovers at the same time, then all the scenes where my face appears, then all of the robot footage. Then I would edit all of the videos at one time, then upload them all at the same time and schedule them to publish on their release dates. This ended up being a more “scalable” long term solution!
Do you have any fun stories that happened while you were filming, or a nice interaction with a viewer?
Jocelyn: When I travel, a lot of people ask me why I’m filming and where I go to school. Normally they’re really shocked that I go to MIT, but there was this one man who saw my friends and I filming in a Starbucks, and we ended up finding out that he’d also gone to MIT! It’s always cool when you see older MIT alums in public, and I love that vlogging started that conversation and allowed us to meet someone!
Kyle: I’ve been recognized in public as Builderdude35 exactly once in my career, and oddly enough it was near my hometown. As a rising senior in high school, I was working a summer internship at Brookhaven National Laboratory. While on line for first day registration, a middle-school-aged kid walks up to me and very politely asks me, “Excuse me sir, are you a YouTuber?” to which I answered yes. His next question was, “Are you Builderdude35?” When I answered yes, he said, “Woah” and nervously walked away. It was a pretty surreal interaction for both of us!
Sarah: Last IAP, I went to Hawaii with one of my friends as part of an MIT program. I told her before we left that I really wanted to vlog the trip, and she was surprisingly very very down and sooo excited to be in vlogs. It was just really cute.
Shawn: I went playing golf with a high school friend (Spoiler: I am terrible at golf). I somehow broke the driver on video, and the driver head flew further than my ball did.
I also accidentally walked too close to a cactus while filming, and multiple cactus pods got attached to my shirt and skin. Was pretty unpleasant and painful, but it was funny to watch in hindsight.
What advice do you have for high school students?
Sarah: College isn’t all fun and play! There are going to be a lot of really hard and emotional moments. You just have to know that everyone will be going through those moments so don’t be scared.
Jocelyn: Don’t make everything about getting into college. All of my best memories are when I was doing something I was passionate about, whether it was playing basketball or creating a blog, or just hanging out with my friends. Four years is going to fly by, and you’ll regret not taking advantage of all of the time you have. Plus, doing what you love will make the best college-app essays anyways.
Drop a link to a video of yours that people should check out!
Kyle: Here’s a cool tutorial from the time I started at MIT, which shows how to implement a PID control for LEGO MINDSTORMS.
Jocelyn: Ooh it’s so hard to decide which video! I’ll have to go with my vlog of this year’s NEWMAC basketball playoffs because our team made such an awesome run, and also I miss playing with them!
Are you doing something cool that should be featured on the blogs? Or do you know other people I should interview? Comment below or reach out at rona [at] mit [dot] edu!