Stuck with university teachers that suck? Ready to learn more engineering topics or brush up on ones you forgot? This episode is for you. Today we interview Braden with Engineer4Free. He runs a very successful YouTube channel that has been viewed over 15,000,000 times! He helps those in school and those out with all kinds of engineering university topics. Today we discuss his channel, why he does it, and what advice he has for you. It’s a great episode and one you’ll not want to miss.
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CEA Show Notes
Isaac (00:00): All right. Let's get right into it. Braden, thank you for joining me on this podcast episode. We're excited to have you here and learn a little bit about what you do and why you do it. As we begin, it would be helpful if you told us a little bit about yourself, maybe how you got into engineering or how you even started this YouTube channel. How did you get into that? Why do you do what you do?
Braden (00:23): Yeah. Cool. Well, thanks for having me man. I got started in engineering as actually it wasn't really direct. I did another degree before I studied engineering. I did a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Science. When I was studying environmental science, I was interested in sustainability. The jobs that I was actually looking at getting where we're all focused on renewable energy. Around where I live, the jobs that really interested me were all civil engineering jobs. I was near the end of my environmental science degree when I decided that I wanted to pursue engineering. That's actually how I ended up in engineering. As I was in my last year of science, that's when I started taking some math courses in preparation to go into engineering because the science program wasn't that heavy.
Braden (01:21): I took linear algebra and calculus one in my last year at school, of the science degree and in preparation so I wouldn't have to take it in the first year of the engineering program. It was when I was in those courses, it was linear algebra was the one that I took first and my professor was not that good. I ended up learning most of that course on YouTube, specifically I was using Khan Academy a lot for that. That would have been around 2012, I think. In Khan Academy they were pretty established, but the whole YouTube thing was just getting going for teaching. I started looking at the rest of the engineering courses that I was going to be taking, if there was going to be YouTube tutorials, whether with those guys or with other people covering all of the engineering courses that I was going to take.
Braden (02:20): Because I figured if linear algebra was so hard that I was gonna need a lot of help going forward. Back in 2012, I came up pretty empty with that, there was some basic math stuff, but calculus and algebra. So I was a little bit nervous about the rest of the degree thinking that this is going to be how it is. I'm learning everything on YouTube. It just took a few minutes to think about it that. That's an opportunity that no one has. No one has covered those things yet. I was watching what these Khan Academy guys were doing and I thought they have a huge volume of people watching that stuff and the guy that was doing those lessons, he's an engineer, but he wasn't a professor,
Braden (03:09): He wasn't the teacher, he was just the guy that had a knack for explaining stuff. So I thought, well, the fact I can do it, and no one else is doing it yet, maybe I could do it for engineering. So I basically just went with that while I was a student. While I was in classes, I would just learn them and then just turn right around and flip it onto YouTube at the same time. That's basically how I got started with it.
Isaac (03:36): When did you actually start the channel?
Braden (03:39): It was right at the beginning of 2012 and I was actually still enrolled in my environmental science degree when I started it as the name Engineer4Free. I basically saw that there was potential and that it was something that I wanted to try. So I started it before I was an engineering student with the plans of growing it as I went through school.
Isaac (04:04): I think that's pretty cool. Your main focus here is to obviously help engineers that are in school, but you have so many courses there now. It's almost like you could get a college degree checking out your channel. You've pretty much got all the coursework there. It's pretty crazy how much you have there.
Braden (04:20): Yeah, of course and that's basically the plan. Of course I can't offer degrees or certifications or anything like that, but I was thinking that was maybe the goal at the beginning. But I think there's just a huge need for people who are enrolled in university programs, taking those courses in university and need extra help and it's really nice to be able to help them.
Isaac (04:49): For sure. I think that's really admirable. I got my degree in civil engineering. Is that what you ended up getting your degree in?
Braden (04:58): Mine is civil as well.
Isaac (04:58): Okay, cool. Yeah, so we probably took very similar classes for sure. I specifically remember times when I was in college where I really struggled with a professor that I had to deal with. I took an environmental class and it was just really a struggle for me to learn and understand what the instructor was saying. I ended up having to learn everything on my own, reading textbooks and whatnot. So it just made it a real struggle to learn subjects.
Braden (05:32): Yeah, of course. That's the thing too. Coming from being a student, I did two bachelor's degrees, so I was an undergraduate student for a lot longer than most people. I've sat through a lot of lectures on a lot of different subjects and I got really good at understanding what it is like to be an undergraduate student, like the level that undergrads like to think at and absorb information at. I don't have a PhD in some particular field. But I think it's good. I just come at it from a different background. I know what it's like to be a student and I can bring that, I can convey that aha moment as a student. That's what we're looking for when you first learn the topic and sometimes that gets left out.
Isaac (06:21): I love it when things come together like that too because when that aha moment does come, it just makes everything so much more enlightening. Like you finally understand the topic. I guess looking at some of the other questions I have, is there a favorite subject that you have now that you've been putting together all of these videos or just as you were going through the schoolwork yourself? I am curious.
Braden (06:46): I think that there's two that come to mind. I like statics, which is great, having gone through civil. The other course that I liked doing a lot is, I have a series on project management, drawing network diagrams and Gantt charts and things like that. I enjoyed both of those courses when I was in them. Now as people are commenting on my videos all the time on all the different courses. When I have to respond to feedback on statics or project management, it comes naturally. It's really easy. But when I'm answering questions on some of the other topics, I made a series on chemistry, but it's not my favorite. Yeah. I gotta think how does that work again? But no, I definitely love statics.
Isaac (07:37): Wow. That's really cool. I mean it's awesome. How much material do you have on there? How many videos do you have up there? How much content do you have out there right now and what's maybe your goals for growing what you have going on right now?
Braden (07:54): Right now I have almost 500 tutorials up on YouTube and that covers the most part of around 10 different courses from different first year, second, third year. I'd like to get maybe another thousand tutorials up before I really start running out of things to talk about. So just continue on by branching out into new topics like thermodynamics, fluids, all of those things I haven't covered yet. I'd really like to just to be the household name among engineering students when people are talking in class, Hey, where can I get extra help? And people would say, check out Engineer4Free. That's the goal of really focusing on engineering students. But I've realized that there are a lot of people that are using my videos as well that aren't just students. The project management people are a really good example of that. There's a lot of people from industry that are for there for industry certifications for project management that find they do a lot of this stuff with diagrams. I think most of the people that are watching those videos are engineering students. I see that in the comments and people for sure.
Isaac (09:11): Wow, that's really cool. Have you looked at maybe producing more videos related to project management since you see more interest there sometimes?
Braden (09:20): For now I've haven't gone back to add more content to popular courses but I think that's something that I'll consider after I run out of things to talk about. Basically after I've made a thousand more tutorials and then I'm looking for things to stay busy with. That's when I'll start expanding it and switching it up a little bit. I've actually done that a little bit in the last year. I started out only doing the tutorials and lately I've been doing practice problems with solutions, starting to build out a bit of a database for that. For now that's part of my Patreon reward system. That's one new thing that I produced in the last year.
Isaac (10:06): Wow. That's pretty sweet. So let's talk about when you're making videos, what's the most challenging part of making those videos for you?
Braden (10:18): Yeah. You touched on it before, it's that you can't remember everything all the time and I'm teaching a lot of different things. For example, right now I'm working on a dynamics course and I studied dynamics, probably seven years ago, so it's not fresh. I have to put in a lot of effort on my end to go back and just brush up on exactly what needs to be in a good explanation. That can be a lot of effort compared to when I started out as a student, when I was doing it, when it was all super fresh. I'd say that's the one of the more challenging parts at the moment. I think the advantages that I had when I was a student when I was doing it is as I was learning things for the first time, I kind of get that aha moment where something finally clicked and I would put that into the lessons and now that I'm going back several years later, I get that moment again as I see it.
Braden (11:31): I see something that's familiar and I think "ah, how did that work" and then "ah, that's exactly how that thing worked. Right." But I keep track of those and I put those in the lessons and so when hopefully someone's watching it, they're like, ah, okay. And they get that same moment.
Isaac (11:47): Yeah. I love it when it comes together or a concept makes sense for you. That's definitely a sign you've been doing your homework and learning. So I love that for my end. I guess that kind of rolls into another question. What's your favorite part about creating these videos for engineers? Do you have any success stories from anybody that you've heard about?
Braden (12:16): Yeah, absolutely. I think honestly my favorite part is the feedback that I get. I get comments on YouTube all the time, several every day. I can read you a couple if you would like to.
Isaac (12:35): Yeah, if you would like to, sure.
Braden (12:36): Yeah, sure. I'll just grab a couple. This is an example of when someone says, "My teacher doesn't even explain anything. He just throws all slides that he stole from somebody else at us and tells us to finish the exercises." Then she switches to all capital letters and says, "SO THANK GOD I FOUND THIS TUTORIAL. THANK YOU!!!" Exclamation marks. That's a situation that I've been in and I can relate to. So that makes it really all worth it to hear things like that, that I'm not actually really making someone coffee.
Isaac (13:11): That's awesome.
Braden (13:12): Yeah. So there's tons. I'll just give you one more. Someone here said, "Before watching your videos, I thought I could never pass my statics course in my whole life, but you made me feel confident about this course. Thank you so much." It's just really heartwarming to get that, that's a huge thing that gets you going with this.
Isaac (13:35): Yeah, I can imagine hearing those things not only makes you just feel awesome, but it does drive you to want to keep making them for the next person that's struggling in whatever class they're in. That's awesome. I imagine that's probably your most favorite part about the channel, in what you're doing there. What's going on right now in your own world? What are some things you're interested in today? What are some topics you're just like, I really enjoy that, regarding to engineering or otherwise.
Braden (14:17): Yeah, of course. I'm still really interested in renewable energy. When I follow news articles, that's typically what I'm always searching for. I like to follow the trends with that. I just think it's a fascinating world that I'd like to be part of.
Isaac (14:44): Yeah, that's a great topic. Is there any country that you see doing this that you're following or is there someone that seems to be a leader in doing that kind of stuff? Or anyone in particular you're following?
Braden (15:07): I like to follow what's going on with geo thermal energy, the geo thermal power. That's a super cool technology and industry that is generally not very utilized in the world and it has a lot of potential. I track news for that and especially I'm from Canada and we have a situation there where there's no joke on the power yet in the country despite sharing the same geology as United States, which is the world leader in geothermal power production. So we have the same geology, but we have zero production. That's a fascinating topic in itself. You can read about that for ages.
Isaac (15:58): I work for a local utility. Some of the fleet that they have does include geothermal power plants.
Braden (16:08): Oh, cool.
Isaac (16:08): They have regular coal fire that they've tried to really really clean up. So they call it clean coal now. And as more and more times those are being usually shut down for whatever reason as they move into solar and wind, which has been definitely a growing industry. Then natural gas is also another one that is there too. I think the geothermal stuff is very fascinating and you almost wonder why more countries or people aren't taking advantage of that.
Braden (16:58): Yeah. I think that there's a huge opportunity in the future as people are looking for low emission or resources. That'll be a big feature. That's exciting to us.
Isaac (17:10): Well, this next little bit, I just want to throw out some quick questions to you. You can give me very quick answers. They don't have to be in length, but they can be lengthy if you want them to, but it's just some quick answers. Quick questions. What are some obstacles you faced when you became an engineer?
Braden (17:29): So I came in as a mature student already with a degree and I thought it would be a breeze. I've done this before, no problem. But the weed-out culture in engineering schools is very strong where I studied and it was not a breeze. That was a huge struggle just like everything else that I went through first year, again, it's not something easy. I'd say that's the biggest struggle that I had, was trying to deal with that.
Isaac (17:57): Would you discourage somebody that would say they were going to go into engineering or what kind of attitude do you think they should have? I mean a lot of times it's like getting through just the institution, the way each professor holds and handles their own classes a little bit, less about the material. It's more how are they grading you and all that kind of stuff. Would you encourage somebody? What would you say to them?
Braden (18:25): I don't think I would discourage someone from fitting engineering, but I would like people who were considering engineering to know that the experience of being an engineering student often isn't all about the academic content. It's just about surviving and . .
Braden (18:44): Jumping through the hoops.
Braden (18:46): Yeah, there's hoops and just dealing with a ridiculous amount of volume and stress and everything. I think when I look back on it too, one of the best skills that I took from that degree wasn't even necessarily understanding academic content. It was being able to deal with insane amounts of stress, which is not what I was expecting when I started.
Isaac (19:08): Good tips there. What's a personal habit that contributes to your own success?
Braden (19:19): I'd say just trying to be consistent, whether it's studying or performing at work or even my work with Engineering4Free. When you look at Engineer4Free now and you see that, oh, there's, there's hundreds of lessons and that's great. But it took a lot of consistent work, always publishing, staying involved with it. And same when you're in school, typically you can't learn everything by the way. It's just constant effort, just always showing up.
Isaac (19:52): That's great advice. Yeah being consistent and all you're doing. Even after you've got your degree, you have to consistently be learning and sharpening the tools you've got. As an engineer, you're kind of in the business of you and your own personal brand. So what do you bring to the table? Polishing the skills you have I think is a good thing that takes effort. How about a sweet resource that you might recommend to the CEA community? Obviously I think Engineer4Free is a good one. Are there any others out there that you particularly like, they don't have to be YouTube things. It could be software or otherwise.
Braden (20:41): I was going to say YouTube in general. I think it's overlooked as how ridiculously useful it is for students, all of the academics, all of that kind of help that you could ever need is there. But not even just for students. If you look at anything. I did my internship basically, it was largely focused on energy efficiency, which was not something that I had learned in my civil engineering degree. YouTube and Google in general were in my back pocket the whole time and helping me catch up, get up to speed on that and succeed in that job. I think it's under utilized.
Isaac (21:28): Yeah, I agree. There's so much on there. I talked to my own parents and they're like, YouTube is a magic mirror. You just ask it stuff and it will show you how to do stuff.
Braden (21:40): Completely. It's amazing.
Isaac (21:42): You look up how to do things and somebody made a video about it for whatever reason. That's awesome. Have you been reading any books? Is there any book that you would recommend to the community?
Braden (22:00): I haven't been reading a lot lately. After going through so much school and reading textbooks, I dropped off reading for fun.
Isaac (22:07): Yeah. That would do that.
Braden (22:11): Yeah, I've just read so many textbooks man.
Isaac (22:16): Okay. So good textbooks, we'll recommend that. I think on your own website, you recommend textbooks or books that are applicable to courses.
Braden (22:27): Yeah, of course. And that's another thing too, for engineering students. There's often like the recommended book for a topic. It costs a lot usually from your university bookstore, but then there's some other guy that's wrote a book on the same topic that's way cheaper maybe on Amazon or AbeBooks or used university bookstore. Half the time I was just using a different, let's say statics or something like that. I would just get a different static book and work out of that. And it's all the same stuff at the end of the day. Maybe throw in a plug for that the current version or anything like that of a particular course isn't that important. Just the topic itself.
Isaac (23:06): Yeah. Good advice. This is kind of just a fun question, but if you had all the resources and the knowledge in the world, what's something you'd like to be a part of? I think you've already answered that with sustainability, is that the direction you'd go with that?
Braden (23:29): Absolutely. I think in particular too, like I said, I'm quite interested with geothermal power and all of its potential. Coming from a country where it's really held back. With all the resources and knowledge in the world, something that the problem could be involved.
Isaac (23:47): Get that going. Cool. To conclude with our little interview, is there any last piece of guidance or advice you want to share? What's also the best way to connect with you if people have questions?
Braden (24:06): Yeah, sure. If anyone would like to connect, you can connect with me on any social media. I'm Engineer4Free everywhere. You can send a message or you can even just comment on a YouTube video. I see all of the comments and I try to reply to all of them. That's why I'm pretty easy to get ahold of. Otherwise, I think just for anyone that's a student that might be struggling with school, struggling with the weed-out culture or anything like that, just know that I'm not the only one that's doing something like this. There's tons of people on YouTube, there's tons of people on other websites that are just out there trying to be helpful and nice. You should try to find us because we're there to help you. There's a lot of people in that category.
Isaac (24:50): I agree. Take advantage of it. We at Civil Engineering Academy we're on there as well, take advantage of that. Engineer4Free is a great one and there's plenty of others if you just want to do some homework. Braden, thank you for joining me today. I think this will be fun for everyone to hear about. I just appreciate you taking the time in your life to sit down and have a chat with us.
Braden (25:16): Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.
Isaac (25:18): Yeah, thank you. We'll see you later.
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