More than 300 billion total calling minutes take place annually on Skype; 50% of those calls are video conversations. Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer revealed this stat at CES last month while discussing the Internet software’s ongoing success internationally.
While the technology continues to improve, users are slow to learn how to make video calls look good. While not all of us have Oprah’s Skype Guest Kit, which reportedly includes a state-of-the art laptop, desk-sized tripod, and prepaid return shipping label, there are some simple things the average business person can do to take online video chats to the next level.
Buying a USB-powered microphone is an obvious first step (along with using an Ethernet connection versus Wi-Fi) to increase your computer conversation quality, but it’s time to think beyond that. With many employers relying on video chat software to keep employees connected, individuals using webcams to produce expert how-to videos, and television broadcasters depending on this technology to beam guests in from all over the world, it’s no longer just good enough to be happy that your connection works.
Here are three simple tips (along with some convincing before and afters to seal the deal) to improve your webcam video picture.
1. Look up, not down. I can’t tell you how many people we interview for Fast Company’s Work Flow series who are staring directly down at their web camera, nose hairs and all. In other words, no matter how technical they are, most webcam users forget that your eye line matters. If you’re looking down at your camera, the person you’re calling is looking up at you. In other words, it’s not an attractive view. Set your computer (if you’re on a laptop) on a few books so that you’re looking slightly up at the web camera. Not only will this tip make your image look better—and slim down that double chin if you have one—it will be easier to focus on the conversation instead of the empty space in front of you.
2. Light in front, not in back. If you’re in a room with a window (i.e. natural light), face towards the window. This will ensure that light falls on your face. Never sit with your back to a window while doing an online video conversation or meeting unless you also have light on the front of your face to balance things out (a backlit shot is not a good shot). If you’re in a room without a window, dig around for a light that you can place in front of you—even if you only have access to a small lamp.
3. Go external, not internal. Built-in web cameras have come a long way, but external web cameras have come even further. Just a few years ago the iSight, Apple’s built-in cam, was excellent quality. However, many external web cameras have far surpassed this technology. For less than $50 you can buy an HD web camera that will dramatically sharpen your video. For example, I travel with a Logitech HD webcam C270 series for a better image. Ladies, keep in mind that while HD does provider a sharper picture, this also means that you might also want to do a makeup touch-up before your on-camera appearance since high definition shows a lot of detail.
The shortage of engineers is a perennial source of woe in Silicon Valley. Once they’re done combing the graduating classes at places like Stanford and MIT, tech companies start sniffing in each other’s backyards, hoping to lure over desperately needed talent with juicy salaries and tasty perks.
When David Albert and two partners joined Y Combinator, a VC firm that invests a small amount of money in a large number of startups in exchange for stakes in the companies, in the summer of 2010, they thought they could help solve that problem with a sophisticated algorithm that would match candidates and jobs. But what they’ve come up instead with is something surprisingly analog: a real-world school, based in New York, where they spend three months at a time helping people who already program get better.
What’s revolutionary about the program is both its business and operational models. There are certainly other schools that have set up shop recently, to help crank out engineering talent. In Chicago, Code Academy offers 11-week courses in web design and development, and at San Francisco’s Dev Bootcamp, students learn the fine points of Ruby on Rails and HTML5.
But at Hacker School, there’s no tuition. Students attend for free. (Though Albert and his partners, Nicholas Bergson-Shilcock and Sonali Sridhar, do vet for talent and aptitude.) The three make money through Hackruiter, a seperate arm of their venture, when companies like Airbnb snap up the participants. (The average recruiting fee is $20,000, the industry standard.)
And once school opens, there’s no instruction. Instead, participants work side-by-side on personal projects, usually involving open-source software. The learning comes by being jammed together in the same place and having smart people nearby to learn from and ask questions of. “It’s like a writers retreat for computer programmers,” Albert tells Fast Company. “You don’t learn English at a writers retreat, but you hone your craft.”
The venture has attracted funding from Ron Conway’s SV Angel and Founder Collective, which includes entrepreneurs like Flickr cofounder Caterina Fake and Meetup cofounder and CEO Scott Heiferman.
David Lee, of SV Angel, tells Fast Company that Hacker School and Hackruiter are emerging at a time when the tech world is rethinking the conventional wisdom that says you have to graduate from a school of higher learning in order to become a programmer. “There’s not the same sort of blind faith that people had in institutions and the conventional way of doing things,” Lee says. “There are now ways of demonstrating that you’re the best coder without going to a four-year college.”
Hacker School’s first session—a test drive—took place last summer with about half a dozen participants. Just about all—five out of six—were later hired. Same with a second session of 12 people. The third session starts next week with two dozen students.
Given that there are no classes, it might look to outsiders like the school’s founders aren’t really doing anything, and still earning some cushy dough for their efforts. What’s to prevent someone else from copying the idea and stealing Hacker School’s clientele? The answer: It actually takes skill to create an environment where self-motivated learners can develop skills and get better, Lee says. “It’s like throwing a party. Some people do it better than others.”
To that end, Albert and his partners plan to see if they can grow the school to 200 students. Along the way—in true Y Combinator iterate-as-you-go-style—the business model might evolve.
“The goal in the long term is to create an awesome school for programmers and hopefully inspire more people to want to be craftspeople,” Albert says. “How it’s going to do that in the long run, we’re not exacty sure.” But as long as the school pays for itself (and their expenses are low—mostly just salaries for the three founders), he explains, “that gives us license to experiment.”
Pro-rider Marcelo Gutierrez gives a first Person experience of bicycling down an obstacled hillside in Manizales, Colombia.
How can identical twins grow up with different personalities? “Jumping genes” move around in neurons and alter the way they work
- Genes we inherit and environmental factors both influence human behaviors. Scientists have recently discovered other underlying processes at work.
- So-called jumping genes, segments of DNA that can copy and paste themselves into new places in the genome, can alter the activity of full-length genes. Occasionally they will turn on neighboring genes in these locations. That activity occurs more in the brain than other areas, resulting in different traits and behaviors, even in closely related individuals.
- These mobile genetic elements may also turn out to play a role in people’s disposition to psychiatric disorders.
- Researchers are now beginning to investigate whether jumping genes help us adapt to rapidly changing environmental conditions.