A future career path wasn’t even a blip on the radar when Sara Dietschy first displayed the determination and moxie that would catapult her to Internet stardom in the traditionally male-driven arena of tech. As a 4-year-old in Grapevine, Texas, she just wanted to play sports with the boys.
Dietschy credits her parents, particularly her mother, with the total support that has allowed her to always follow her dreams. “From that early on I was like, ‘You know what mom, the ladies aren't taking this as seriously as I would like to, I think we're going to have to try boy’s baseball,’” she says with a laugh. “I was just super passionate about sports, and at that time, the more competitive, the better. And that seemed to be where the boys were at.”
According to a story her mother often tells, one day during her first season, as Dietschy stepped up to bat, two boys called out loudly from the dugout, “Ewww, I didn't know a girl could play.” Unfazed by the heckling, she notes, “I proceeded by hitting a fly ball, and then I shot them a look and moved on with the rest of my life.”
This anecdote is emblematic of the tenacious approach to life and work Dietschy has modeled ever since. She says, “I’ve had some really amazing supportive people throughout my journey that has made things much easier, because I’ve surrounded myself with good people. So, if I have those naysayers—whether in social media or YouTube comments, where there are just blatantly awful people—there are enough people around to support me. So, I'm able to not pay attention to the negative influences,” she asserts. “Sometimes it's hard but having the right people around you really helps.”
Rewarding her Efforts at Work
While Dietschy’s parents always encouraged her childhood interests, she points out, “They always needed to see something on my part. From an early age they did a good job associating, ‘Hey, you want that thing? Amazing. Let's go find you a job.’”
As her passions progressed from sports into music, and she yearned for an electric guitar, Dietschy notes, “My parents weren’t going to buy it for me, but they'd help me go to the neighbor's house and introduce me to the mom with young kids I could babysit for. So, they always supported me in the work endeavors that would get me the money to buy that guitar, and the basketball shoes.”
Yet, after she demonstrated her commitment through sweat equity, and she was begging for guitar lessons, Dietschy’s parents boosted their support. “At that point, they were like, ‘Okay, we see that you're actually pretty passionate about this, and you spent your babysitting money on that $200 guitar, so maybe we'll help you out now.’”
Stepping into to the Hustle Life
Dietschy first explored working with video in a middle school class. She admits, “I was never really into filming, I was always obsessed with editing, so it was just me and iMovie. My dad would shoot with all these low-end camcorders he had, and I would put random clips together, but I had no idea how to properly expose things. So, I was always just messing around with all these bad cameras.”
Her early filmmaking forays served more as a backdrop for her mounting passion with playing electric guitar in a church group, which led her to form a band by age 16. As she notes in the video, “Film My Life,” “Guitar saved me from the lameness that was high school. Every school project that came up, I would make some sort of video montage or rap music video. Music was my safe haven, and gateway into the craziness that is the creative world. Photo/video was always a means of expression for me,” she adds, “but something I didn’t take seriously until graduating high school.”
After her father bought a Canon T3i, Dietschy’s enthusiasm for video grew, “That's when everyone was getting into DSLRs,” she says. “Professional music videos were literally shot on cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II, and it was cool to be a part of that wave.”
Ever the entrepreneur, throughout high school Dietschy reinvested the money she earned from babysitting and other miscellaneous jobs to amass a large collection of guitar gear. Over time, this would go a long way toward funding her photo/video ventures, as she bought and resold items on Craigslist and Ebay.
Her own first camera was a Canon 70D, released in summer 2013. “The 70D introduced dual pixel autofocus, so that was a big step up from the T3i, where you had to manually focus everything,” Dietschy says. “This new type of autofocus was good for video creators because it was smoother and quieter to operate. And it was so exciting to have these things in a camera that was somewhat accessible, price-wise. But that was still such a big purchase for me,” she concedes. “Everything I earned went back into gear.”
Setting the Stage for an Audience
When Dietschy was just out of high school, she went on a group trip to Greece with about 30 other kids. “I had all my new camera gear, and I was really excited to use my new GoPro underwater along with all my other camera stuff. I was just filming my friends, and the action around us,” she notes, “but I had so much fun on the edit, and seeing the final product, I had this moment of, ‘Oh, I could do this for a job. People can pay me for this.’”
Driven by the beat of electronic music, Dietschy’s 3:30-minute Greek travel video contains no words or personal narration, a creative device that would become a hallmark of her mature style. Nevertheless, this footage caught the attention of the tour company that had organized the trip. “They just loved the video,” she says. “I remember them tweeting it out to their 1,000 followers. It was such a cool thing for me at the time. Fast forward to a few years later, they hired me to go on a trip to Belize and make a video for them. That was one of my first sponsored videos,” she adds. “But I still didn't get paid that much, because I had no idea what I was doing.”
When she posted her Greek travel video to YouTube in August 2014, Dietschy had a tiny YouTube following, but by early 2017 when she was commissioned for the Belize video, her audience was 100,000 strong (Dietschy has an audience of nearly 600,000 today). In the intervening time, she had discovered the value of her personal presence in setting the stage for her work. “I finally understood that the audience wants some personality. They want to see through your eyes, and I was finally comfortable enough on camera to share that experience, to turn the camera around and talk directly to my viewers, and not be weird about it.”
Yet, even with this realization, it took her at least five years to become fully at ease on camera. “I think it takes filming yourself in hundreds of videos before you can really get comfortable with it,” she says. “Just like anything, you have to practice and really observe what you're doing wrong and fix it in your next piece. I think in the past two years I've truly become myself,” she says. “I know how to put my best foot forward and come off as an exciting person to watch.”
To this day, Dietschy credits her eighth-grade theater class for providing the most important guidance she’s ever received about being a personality in her videos. “The teacher was like, you can't give 100% on stage, because that will come off as 70% to the audience, says Dietschy. “You need to give 150% of yourself in order for that energy to come off as normal to people.”
Testing Out College and Finding Her Niche
Dietschy spent her high school years navigating a shifting tide of personal interests—from sports to theater to music—along with maintaining a strong drive for academic achievement. “I didn’t hate school; it was just never my thing. I worked hard and got good grades,” she writes in a 2016 blog post.
Although she became burnt out on academics, as a self-described math and science geek, Dietschy made plans to study electrical engineering at a local college. During her first year, she picked up a job fixing guitar pedals and amps at an electronics shop. “Whenever I dove into something, I really went all in,” she says. “We were literally soldering stuff onto circuit boards, and I was building my own guitar pedals, because I loved music and I had played electric guitar for a while.”
Yet, instead of enhancing this passion, her deep immersion in the technical aspects of music backfired. “I enjoy playing guitar,” she notes, “but I could care less about the nitty gritty of these technologies. Six months in, I realized, ‘This is the worst.’ So, I basically just started hanging out in the back of class, editing videos on my laptop.”
By junior year, Dietschy had switched majors to computer science, another subject she would discover to be woefully underwhelming. “A computer science degree is definitely more about theory than learning languages that you can actually code with in the real world,” she explains. “We weren't learning how to code iPhone apps and websites, which is really what I was looking for—real world experience.”
In hindsight, she recommends that anyone with an interest in programming consider a software engineering major over computer science, “which is so theoretical,” she says.
However, one silver lining in Dietschy’s studies was her realization that, “Computer science wires your brain to think differently.” She relates, “At one point, I remember editing video in Adobe Premiere, and there was this issue I couldn't fix. I basically moved some clips around and nested them to apply the effect. And then it worked. I had this crazy moment of thinking, I would normally never have done that,” she concedes. “I felt like my brain got rewired because I was learning this new skill.”
Ultimately, she says, “People need to know how they learn. If you need teachers and a classroom of people as a support system, maybe college is right for you. But I probably could have learned those skills in one semester on my own, because I’m a self-starter.”
During her school years, Dietschy’s YouTube presence evolved from her earliest travel and music videos through tech content focused on unboxings and gear tutorials and extending to ambitious collaborations with other content creators. Although she was slowly building an audience on social media, all of these efforts were driven by pure passion rather than economic gain.
It’s worth noting, however, that much of Dietschy’s paid work has stemmed from these passion projects, with the help of her “cool creative collaborator friends. This industry is so relational,” she explains.
Seeking Collaborators and Perfecting Her Craft
In August 2015, Dietschy’s 21st birthday was marked by two significant milestones—her move from Dallas to Nashville, and the launch of her first season of the docu-series, Creative Spaces TV.
Inspiration for this series came from her fascination with the MTV show Cribs. Dietschy envisioned making a version of this show that would explore the spaces that filmmakers, designers and photographers work in, showing off their creative process. “Although it's very normal to create content around creative process today, it just didn’t exist back then,” she explains. “And so, I was obsessed with that idea.”
One of her earliest episodes featured portrait photographer Sebastian Smith, who soon hired her to shoot the video portion of his photo shoots for a production company. “He was basically just paying me to tag along and do the video aspect of these shoots,” she says. “It wasn't a lot of money, but it was him getting the jobs.”
Another early paid gig was editing corporate videos. “The best thing I learned from that phase in my life was taking a 30-minute interview and really dissecting the most important parts,” she says. “They always wanted a full-fledged story told in just two to three minutes.” According to Dietschy, “Getting to the meat of the story is one of the hardest things about making videos, and probably the most significant.”
As her own videos were gaining traction on YouTube, Dietschy also spent some time making wedding films, paid work that she found particularly helpful for developing her storytelling chops. She points out, “There are so many different emotions happening and so many things you have to capture. That really taught me everything, from filming to editing to doing an entire story and making everyone happy. In terms of learning, it was like pedal to the metal,” she exclaims. “I learned so quickly because the pressure was so high.”
Achievements of a College Dropout
Although Dietschy was still working toward a computer science degree, her move to Nashville had put an end to both scholarship money and home cooked meals and lodging. With the realization that the college route was directing her life toward a plan B, she dropped out of school to immerse herself fully in video projects. She had been putting tremendous effort into consistent uploads of fresh content for her YouTube channel, and she was chasing even bigger opportunities on the horizon.
Shortly after leaving school, Dietschy made a video parody of YouTube influencer Casey Niestat, which she called “How to Casey Neistat a Vlog.” His enthusiastic response video, “Is She Making Fun of Me?” earned her heaps of praise and boosted her YouTube audience from 4,000 to 40,000 subscribers, virtually overnight. In another strategic move, Dietschy timed the release of her Niestat parody to just before she released the second season of her docu-series, Creative Spaces TV.
Yet, her most ambitious pursuit was the advance planning she undertook before applying for an Adobe Creative Residency, a one-year funded opportunity to focus on a personal creative project, while sharing the process with the creative community. Dietschy had learned of this program while attending an Adobe MAX conference in Los Angeles in 2015. “It was seven months before the next application window would open, so I basically looked at the current residents and worked backward,” she says about her application strategy. “I was like, ‘What do I need to do to be the perfect candidate?’ Every single day I was going out and creating something, interviewing people and sharing what goes on behind the scenes. I was obsessed with showing creative process, and just being that perfect candidate.”
After learning of her acceptance as one of four Adobe residents, in May 2016, Dietschy immediately decided to move from Nashville to New York City. “Because I had a proper paycheck during the residency, it allowed me to take these risks, as well as to experiment with format. That was probably the most helpful thing I got out of the whole experience,” she reveals. “I was vlogging but also producing episodes for my two docu-series, Creative Spaces TV and That Creative Life.”
In 2016, vlogging was the hot creative pastime, so Dietschy also tried her hand at that. She says, “Everyone was vlogging every day and posting five to seven videos a week. And so, I kind of got sucked into that. I thought that's what I had to do to be successful on YouTube,” she admits, “even though that's not what got me there.”
Another huge takeaway from her residency was the realization that she literally hated the act of vlogging. “It nearly killed me, says Dietschy. “It's not the type of content that I like to create. I understand this landscape where you’ve got to be fast, but I can't just throw out what I had for breakfast in a video. I want to be able to provide some type of education, or inspiration or entertainment. So, the time I spent vlogging allowed me to discover that it just wasn’t for me. And I was able to get back to my roots of storytelling through creative eyes, as well as to really focus on tech. Once I figured that out, I was good to go,” she concludes. “Then I started growing again.”
From Residency to Sponsorship
Beyond spending an entire year focused on making work and building her audience, the Adobe Creative Residency was a key time for Dietschy to build business relationships. “I didn't necessarily have to cash them in immediately,” she says, “but having that residency helped me hit the ground running once it was over. Right out of the gate, I had a project with Adobe, and then people like Intel® and Squarespace. A lot of these companies resonated with audiences who wanted to learn creative things and who liked the idea of how tech helps you live your best creative life.”
By this point, Dietschy had a lot of practice in translating corporate taglines into her own language. She had also found her stride in front of the camera, which made it easy for her to incorporate sponsored messaging in her videos. In June 2017, she landed a gig to do red carpet celebrity interviews for AT&T at the Vulture Awards ceremony, in New York. “Being a host was really fun for me to explore in the beginning, she says. “And now, two to three years later I’ve found a good blend of all those things, where brands want to come alongside not just to sponsor a video, but also to let me host their brand at an event and add flavor to some of their own content. So, it's been fun to find the balance between all those different types of gigs.”
Another opportunity Dietschy pursued at the end of her Adobe residency, which has become central to the growth of her business, was establishing a relationship with Adam Krasner, founder of the talent management company Two West Entertainment. Today, Dietschy has the support of a strong management team, including two contacts to help her with communications and scheduling, and an entertainment lawyer who handles contracts. “That's been super easy to delegate, because I don't want to be involved with those tasks, says Dietschy. “I just want to make the videos. So, luckily, because we have enough inbound queries, they're able to break down my email inbox and see what's worth it, and what's not.”
Inheriting a Leica Legacy
Although Dietschy is an undisputed expert in all things tech, she had minimal experience with analog camera gear until very recently, when she immersed herself in a treasure trove of vintage Leicas handed down from her paternal grandfather. “He was a doctor, so creative passion was always just a side thing for him,” she says. “But he did an amazing job documenting my dad's childhood. My grandpa climbed mountains, and he did a lot of beautiful photography.”
Many of his pictures were shot on 35mm slide film, which used to be viewed with a projector and screen. But after recently retrieving these miniaturized memories from storage, Dietschy’s father invested in a slide scanner and started making prints. “It’s kind of surreal to see these vintage pictures of people who’ve had such long amazing lives, and they look so crystal clear,” Dietschy says with amazement. “That's when I was like, ‘Oh, this film photography thing is interesting.’”
After her grandfather’s cameras fell into her hands, Dietschy began playing around with some of them, while also engaging him in conversations about his gear. “I didn't use any of his old school Leicas, like his Leica II. I have those in a camera bag,” she notes. “The Leica R6 was the most accessible to me, because I had used 35mm SLR-type cameras before.”
Her homespun take on an unboxing video featuring her grandfather’s gear soon captured Leica’s attention on YouTube. Within months, she had secured an invitation to Leica headquarters, in Wetzlar, Germany, for the launch of its newest digital camera, the Leica SL2. “It's cool to learn about a brand that's been around forever, and has an amazing heritage and legacy,” she says. “I was also able to show my grandpa what I shot in Germany and be like, ‘Hey, look what I got to do because I made a video about your cameras.’ The story came full circle with that.”
Dietschy remains intrigued by what Leica is doing with digital technology. “It really led me down a rabbit hole of using the Leica Q2, which is such a fun little point-and-shoot,” she says. “I don't consider myself a photographer per se, but because I'm so involved with video, it's not that intimidating to get into it. It's been a fun skill for me to work on, exploring different cameras.”
Everything You Need to Know About Gear
As a tech maven, Dietschy is constantly trying out the latest products. The gear she uses on a daily basis is featured on her website, and she shares some further details with us here.
“Panasonic GH 5 with a Panasonic LUMIX 12-60mm lens,” she says. “Those cameras are super small and easy to travel with, but because they're considered primarily video cameras, they don't have the 30-minute record limit. So, you don't have to get up in the middle of the interview. They’re super seamless,” she adds, “and they have a great battery life.”
When recording audio in her office Dietschy uses a Zoom H6 audio recorder and a Shure SM7B mic, “So many people use those mics, because they sound amazing,” she says. “I think they've become the podcasting mic, but they're not as fun to travel with. So, when I travel, I like to go a little bit lighter. I still use the H6, but then I use the Shure SM58 or the Shure Beta 58A version. I've really enjoyed those mics. They're very economical and they sound great. You can plug them straight into the recorder, which has a little bit more punch so you don't have to use a Cloudlifter preamp, like I do with the SM7Bs.”
To coax good audio from a subject, Dietschy offers the following tip. “Whenever I have a mic mounted on a desk, my interview subjects tend to get really comfy and lean back. They don't get close to the mic. But when you give someone a microphone, what I've discovered is they actually have to hold it. This might be a little more annoying,” she points out, “but they usually keep it closer to their mouth. That's honestly half of capturing good audio, just making sure you're in a decent room and that you're close to the mic.”
One of her favorite cameras from 2019 is Black Magic’s Pocket Cinema Camera 6K. She had tried Black Magic’s original pocket cinema camera for a more professional look than what she could get with her Canon 5D. “Those cameras were so small, it’s crazy, but they deliver such an amazing image,” she says. “I bought two of the first models for my fancier interview set ups. They were a pain to use,” she admits, “but the image was always great. So, when the 6K came out, I wanted to go back and try them again.”
After buying both 6K and 4K versions, Dietschy was convinced of their value. “Having that bigger sensor on what is still a relatively small film camera at a reasonable price point has been very impressive,” she says. “Even though I don't use them every single day, they’ve been so fun to use for interviews, to make things look a little more professional.”
While she recommends these cameras to other people all the time, she suggests, “They’re great if you're doing a lot of behind the camera work like interviews or short films, and you want that more filmic look. But they're terrible to film yourself with,” she points out. “Don’t buy one if you just want to make YouTube videos.”
Out of all the gear Dietschy has tested, the one item she feels best withstands the test of time is the classic Sony a7S II. “I love that camera so much,” she says, “and still to this day, I'll pull it out when it's needed. While my go-to for everything besides podcasts or long form [pieces] is the Sony a7 III, if I need a B camera, I’ll often pull out the Sony a7S II. It just never fails me,” she says.
When it comes to recent trends, Dietschy points to a habit she’s embraced in the past few years when working on the latest Windows laptops, such as the Dell 13.3" XPS or ASUS Zenbook Pro Duo. “I've fallen in love with touch screens,” she raves, “For the longest time people have told me, ‘Oh, nobody needs a touch screen on a laptop. Just get an iPad if you want that.’ But, oh, my gosh, I use the touchscreen on my laptop all the time. Not just for scrolling on Twitter or YouTube, but literal content creation.”
Considering the wide variety of products featured in her videos, Dietschy’s computer and laptop reviews are among the most time consuming and complex to produce. “The more tech heavy I get, the more complicated things get,” she points out. “If it's a laptop, I actually want to integrate it into my life, and share how it performs. I'll often start using it in my everyday life for two to four weeks before I make a video. I find that I can be more genuine in my thoughts about a product when I’ve actually used it awhile.”
Introducing Switchboard AI
Never one to rest on her laurels, Dietschy has teamed up with her friend Adam Barker for her next big project: Switchboard AI. This collaborative effort involves AI-driven content creation as a means of streamlining the most mundane of daily tasks. As an example, Dietschy describes spending two hours on captioning a one-minute video, then asks, “If you could press a button for that to just happen in a few seconds, like, why not? We want to make the process a little easier for small teams of creators who are expected to have so many pieces of content everywhere, at all times,” she says.
While this new endeavor is still at an early stage, Dietschy is confident it will be widely embraced by the creative community as it goes into beta testing and is launched later this year. “As a creator myself, I'm well aware that the person telling the story is the most important part of creating content,” Dietschy points out. “So, I don't think there's going to be any automation with that anytime soon. But, based on past experience, I know that by the time you finish making one YouTube video, you’re exhausted, and you want to go to bed. So, we’re trying to solve some of those problems,” she affirms. “I’m really excited to get it into the hands of creators’ and hear their feedback.”
Do you have other favorite YouTube influencers working in tech? Please tell us about them in the Comments section, below.