Have you ever seen a problem and said:
“I swear I saw something just like this a few years ago!”
And maybe your thought process goes something like this (which is oddly similar to the fives stages of grief…)
- This problem is different than the last time.
- Dammit, it’s the same and I have don’t remember what I did.
- Why didn’t I write it down?
- I’ll just Google for an answer, it shouldn’t take long.
- The answer is lost to the sands of time.
Bad news. Time is a flat circle. Everything repeats itself and that what happened before is bound to happen again. But just because we will keep hitting errors over and over doesn’t mean we can’t be better prepared.
Let’s start writing things down!
Approaches that didn’t quite work
Blogging was always an option but starting a blog seemed like such a daunting task. Here are a few alternatives that I tried out.
- Write it down in a notebook? What is this, the 1800’s!?
- Tell your colleagues about it on a company chat? You’re probably debugging with a colleague anyway, seems like a good place. But wait, my buddy is leaving the company and now the chat is being deleted.
- Save it in a documentation tool like Box or Google Drive? Good luck ever finding it again!
Looks like I was going to start a blog!
We all know what blogs are, but in my opinion there are a few different types of blog platforms, you got:
Company blogs: Blogs hosted by a company, like https://shopify.engineering/, and they’re great for providing a sense of authority to the reader. But it doesn’t exactly help you build a personal brand, and turn around time for blogging on a company site can be weeks long.
Publishing platforms: Platforms like https://medium.com/ are great for reach. If your goal is to be seen as an expert or thought leader in a specific field, or you have something profound to say, then this is the place for you.
Personal blogs: This site is a wonderful example! A major pro for me is that I own everything on the site. From the ideation process to the writing to the maintenance of the site. I can write about whatever I want, I don’t have to go through a marketing team or a tech writer. The obvious drawback is lack of reach.
Why should you start a blog?
Here are a few reasons why you should start a blog:
- It’s important to have a body of work that represents your area of expertise.
- It’s a good excuse to practice writing.
- It’s can help demonstrate thought leadership.
- It’s an easy way to build a brand.
But, why do I blog?
An approach I take in my life is to always help people out. Colleagues, family, friends, whoever. I’m the guy who will help you move on the weekend or jump on a video call to pair up. I took the same approach to blogging. In my mind, if I ran into a unique problem that I couldn’t find a solution for online, then I’m obligated to document how I solved it. I’m helping people by saving them hours of frustration.
What sparked the fire?
I blame Sean Dague for writing a post on splitting up git commits. I saw it in 2014 and the site’s nav bar had years of posts. He still writes to this day. I saw this as a teasure trove of information.
And so I started to build my own site (more on how I do that a little later), but first I want to talk about two early wins I had that kept me writing for years.
My checklist for performing OpenStack code reviews: My write up on how to perform code reviews was shared with teams at other companies that were just starting to join the open source community.
My write up on Python LDAP basics: At IBM I probably helped out about a half dozen different tech sales folks set up a PoC that needed an LDAP configuration.
Why are personal blogs so popular in OS and Dev Advo?
I think there’s a reason why you find many folks in both open source and dev rel making use of personal sites. There are many shared values between them.
- Work in high trust environments
- Grassroots efforts - lots of working with people on the details
- Authenticity is key to growing in either group
- Highly decentralized ecosystems
But isn’t blogging old tech now?
It’s been said that social media killed blogs, but to that I have three things to say:
- It’s not a zero sum game
- Depends on your goals
- Think about the reader
- What’s old is new again
It’s not a zero sum game
This doesn’t need much of an explanation. Just because someone finds a blog about learning Linux doesn’t mean the same person may not watch a video about the same topic. One person’s gain is not equivalent to another’s loss.
Depends on your goals
If your goal is to be a thought leader then definitely stick to social media. That’s where the audience and reach is. Blogs cannot keep up with that.
Think about the reader
As a reader, I want discoverability and grokability. I want to know in seconds if what I’m looking at is relevant. I can do that in a web page. I can quickly scan through a page, look at a few error messages and final result, and I’ll know if what I’m reading is applicable at all.
My two main issues with videos is that I cannot quickly search to see if something is applicable and I can’t copy text or code from a video player.
My two main issues with social media is that they are notoriously hard to search and the idea that you don’t actually own the content you wrote.
What’s old is new again
This happens all the time. Moving to the cloud was all the rage for a decade and now people are considering repatriating workloads. When ebooks came out it was assumed that bookstores would go out of business, but now big bookstore chains and independent stores are seeing huge sales. Social media was the main way of communicating for over a decase, but now opinion on social media is starting to sour. Facebook is losing users; there’s seemingly ongoing talk about banning TikTok; and now Twitter has a new owner; is it time we all go back to blogging?!
How to get started
I used minimal mistakes to generate a blog template. It’s stored in a private GitHub repo and tied to Netlify to host the site. So far this has cost me nothing. I bought my domain from Google for $10/year.
Q: Should I post on my company blog or personal?
A: Working with an editor is a FANTASTIC experience and you’ll learn so much more. Also great for recognition and career advancement.
Q: Why not blog on a platform, like Medium or LinkedIn?
A: For me, ownership is the primary reason.
Q: How do I get started?
A: Start small, don’t overthink it. Focus on getting a good workflow down.
It’s not going away. Maybe it won’t be as popular as it was years ago, but it’s a great way to create your own brand on the internet.