Our Anthony loves The Back Office Show so we sent him and Adrian to chat to the show’s creator Andrew Armstrong to find out more. Interview originally conducted March 2020.
Hello Andrew, how did The Back Office Show come about?
I started the channel around the same time that decided to clear out my dusty and unused office/electronics lab that had been sitting unused for a few years. I was always up to building, breaking or fixing things and thought it was a little sad that I did not have a way to show people so they use my experiences to fix their own things. So I decided to post a daily video on YouTube and for a few years I did just that – literally every day with no breaks!
I am sure you are curious about the name well, this office was one of two offices our business used, one being the front office where the software was written and the other where the electronics were prototyped, naturally, the back office!
Amazing! How do you start off making a new video and get the initial ideas?
I think anyone watching the videos are really getting a window view into my hobbies. I would love to say I plan my content, but usually it is reacting to events in my life. For example, if I have a video where I am fixing something, it is usually as a result of it breaking in operation a few hours before! If I need to create a new gadget to solve a problem, you see me making that gadget first time on camera – mistakes and all. That is why my videos lack a certain polish, they are not planned into nice clean chunks 🙂 Truth be told in recent years I do get a lot of inspiration from my Patrons and Discord channel, I have covered a lot of ground, so I am really thankful for the great ideas that come from the fans!
That is not to say there is not a process, anyone trying to make any sort of video (and I believe I have around 1350 at last count!) needs a mental checklist to follow. I am fortunate in that I prefer to have unedited videos so usually I just add the content into my templates, trim it down and render it.
You have over 16,000 subscribers (over 27,000 at time of publishing) to your channel. That’s some accomplishment. What do you think you’ve tapped into?
As the channel has grown I feel it has turned into a very nice community where we all share a lot of interests and are respectful to each other, which is unfortunately sometimes a bit of a rarity these days. We are all learning together and people are able to witness both my successes and failures in my videos. We attract like-minded people who are curious, want to learn and are interested in picking up a practical skill. We live in a world where people have unprecedented access to materials to develop new skills and I am happy to aid anyone on that journey.
Which video has been your most popular?
One of my most popular videos came out in January 2017, it was me trying to de-lid an AMD FX9590 CPU and unbeknown to me these are actually soldered on. It is a 17 and a half minute video of me blithely destroying a CPU while a few hundred thousand people shouting at the screen in sheer disgust. I got a lot of nasty comments mixed in with the good on that video! This throwaway video, with no effort put into it really launched the channel and was the catalyst – so it certainly did not match my expectations!
What console or retro machine proved the most difficult to repair?
I have a Ti-99 system that is in a sad state and I have put hours and hours into it. I picked it up as ‘non working’ while I was in the USA. I have been working my way through the machine, gradually repairing broken system after system in it. I have built a new PSU for it, replaced all the video memory, worked my way through schematics to discover and replace suspect logic chips, replaced main system chips (these are hard to find!) and it is still not quite there. I would just love for it to start seeing the keyboard, then it is finished. I have worked out that one of the MCUs is not strobing the keyboard multiplexer so I kinda know where the problem is ……….. maybe …..
What are your plans for the site and YouTube channel in the future?
I try less and less to make ‘plans’, unfortunately responsibilities have a nasty habit of out prioritising things so in order to keep positive I like to go with the flow. I really hope to renovate by lab so that I have more space to film content from different angles and to spend more time in front of the camera like my early videos. I find I can get quite animated in person, especially if I see myself on streams or on the videos of other YouTubers so it would be nice to make that connection with the audience. So all I can say is watch this space!
How big is your personal collection of retro goodies and which are your most prized possessions?
Because I do not have the setup to film my retro gear people are not really aware of my collection, but I would class it as pretty good. If you wanted a snapshot of computing from 1977 through to 2020 I think I have a comprehensive collection with a few examples of each generation. I do have my favourites and have an ever growing set of Nintendo handhelds – I think I am attracted to these because I still use them and play games with my kids. They are often up for a game of Terraria or Tank Troopers!
My most prized machines are those from my childhood. I have my original TRS-80 and BBC B Micro computer, the latter still going strong. I think my biggest mistake was selling my Atari STE. It was this machine that really built my love for coding – which really set the trajectory for my life. I have since replaced it but it is not the same, it is not ‘my’ ST.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to create their own retro gaming YouTube channel?
If I could give any advice to anyone wanting to start a YouTube channel, start one if you have a hobby or talent you love and you love telling people about it. Make videos for as long as you enjoy making them, and if you want to do something else with your time, that’s ok as well! Whatever you do, try not to sweat it on the subs or get dragged into YouTube’s rabbit hole. It is easy to give yourself a poorly paying second job working to make content – so just focus on the things your love. Subs and success will come as a byproduct of your enthusiasm and time!
If you could share a few drinks with any video game character, who would you choose and why?
Wow this is a great question, video game characters are often so two dimensional that I do not think they would particularly interesting – can you imagine chatting to Hen-House Harry from Chuckie Egg? He would be obsessed with chicken ovulations! I’m going to throw in a character that most people would not know, one “Mike Flinn”. He is the player’s character in the Superior Software video game EXILE on the BBC Micro (and later ports). I feel as an explorer with experience in electronics, AI, space vehicles and general Space Hero, we should have something to chat about over a pint. After all, we share the same interests 🙂
Adrian & Anthony