Why should you blog?
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Hi, I'm Jamie Tanna and I'm a Senior Software Engineer at Elastic. My URLs can be found on my /elsewhere/ page.
For those who don't know me, I'm Jamie and I have a website:
As the t-shirt suggests, it's kinda part of my personal brand.
I've been blogging since 2016, where my site had a whopping ~250 views:
And as the years have gone on, I've gained more traffic:
And at the time of writing, I'm currently at 322000 views so far this year.
But I'm not here (just) to brag about my site stats, or to reference a paid sponsor, didyouknowjamiehasawebsite.co.uk (HTTP only).
I'm here to talk to you about the resurgence of the personal blog in recent years - although I don't have any stats to hand - there have been a number of posts such as Mattias Ott's post Into the Personal-Website-Verse. Folks are starting to rediscover the incredible fun that can be had when building personal websites, and with the demise of social media sites, a lot of folks have discovered that they can microblog on their own websites, while interacting with the IndieWeb, Fediverse, and beyond!
Today I'm going to try and convince one or two of you to start your own blog, too.
Blogging is great
I have to say, I think that starting to blog has been the most impactful thing I've done to supercharge my career, especially with how I approach blogging as a form of documentation (aka blogumentation).
Throughout the last 7 years, I've contributed towards and led a number of projects, each of which I've learned a tonne in, and for a lot of the difficult - or even simple - technical problems I've faced, I've got a blog post to cover it. I've not written a post for every problem I've solved, but I've got enough of coverage that a lot of the annoying problems I've seen - that can be shared publicly - have got known solutions now.
The process of writing has improved my technical communication skills, especially with a focus on being able to communicate asynchronously, and has given me confidence in my own skills.
Writing all these blog posts has also led to me building a lot of Open Source along the way, as I need a lot of minimal examples and solutions for my posts, all of which are Open Sourced.
Over the years, I've written 691 posts, of which 441 have been blogumentation-style posts, which ends up as a pretty good percentage, to be honest.
For me, as a neurodiverse person, it's also been hugely useful, because I can do a thing, write a blog post to document how to do the thing, and then next time I encounter a problem, I don't need to remember how to do it, just that I've vaguely written about it before. I've written about this more in How blogging has affected me, as a neurodiverse person if you'd like to hear more.
I've also been able to help lots of folks over the years with my posts - I've had thank yous from people directly, and I can infer that at least a reasonable percentage of visitors get their answer.
That's all well and good, but that's just what works for me as someone writing content. Why would I recommend all of y'all write a blog? Because I think blogs are a superior medium for content compared to video or audio.
For one, blogs are a text-based medium which means a reader can search through the text if they're skimming for an answer, especially helps with folks who want to just copy-paste some code or skim read for the nugget of information they're trying to find - and be honest, we've all done that, right?
As a medium, I find them easier to digest, refer back to several times, and I'm able to download them to read offline very inexpensively.
So if blogging is so great, why am I up here on stage talking to you about it? Shouldn't I have written it as a blog post instead?
(Note to reader: this is more impactful when presented as a talk, rather than as a writeup, as you know it's a blog post 😹)
Aside: if you're doing public speaking, I'd recommend writing up your talk as a blog post, like this.
Reasons not to blog
Whether it's imposter syndrome or something else, something I commonly hear when talking to folks about blogging is any of a few reasons that they feel they can't blog:
"I don't have anything to say"
A common point of view is that you don't have anything to share. I don't believe this to be true - what did you learn this week at work? What did you learn today at the conference? What do you wish you'd heard as a new developer?
"There are better people who can blog about this"
You are the best person to share your unique viewpoint, set of circumstances and level of understanding for this, and I definitely subscribe to the principle that we should be having more voices sharing, not fewer, so we can make sure that we've got a more diverse set of approaches and explanations.
"I'm not very good at writing"
A good way to learn is through practice, so I'd say this is a great chance to try it out.
"I don't have the time"
This is a hard one, because yes, it does take time. It gets easier as you do it, especially as you get more comfortable with hitting publish before you've made it perfect, but it still takes time and if you don't have, or can't make, spare time for this to fit into, then it's difficult.
Reasons to blog
Leave the internet better than you found it
As mentioned with my blogumentation posts, I try to write the post that I wish I had when I was trying to tackle the problem. Even if it's just for you, what can you do to leave things better than you found them?
As part of having a wider website
As I wrote in Why I Have a Website and You Should Too, there are a few other things you can do with your website, one of which is your blog.
Remember and show off all the great stuff you've done
It can be pretty cool looking back at all the stuff you've worked on. Too often, our achievements are locked away in a private repository somewhere, possibly referenced on your CV and you may remember the details for a while, but after some time you lose the context of all the great stuff you've done.
For instance, looking back at my site-in-review posts, I can see that in 2022:
Starting the year doing a lot of Java in CDDO, but then moving to Deliveroo and doing a lot of Go and OpenAPI is reflected in the top tags in the year.
Whereas in 2021:
As I was working on a team with a bit more Java, I had a few more posts around that and some of my thoughts around testing.
This can be treated like a brag document, or as something to go hand-in-hand with your CV.
As a CV builder
It can work well to go alongside your CV, showing prospective employers your ability to explain technical topics as well as give them an insight into how you approach problem solving.
Off the back of my posts, I was approached to work on training courses (at different companies, too!) as well as an offer to join a company as their Developer Relations lead, and I know many folks who've had similar based on their blogging alone.
For the dopamine hits of the traffic
As mentioned in Phew, that's a lot of traffic 😅 What happens when a blog post goes viral?, it can be quite fun watching the traffic come in from various places, and hearing folks saying nice things, and unfortunately some not so nice things
Because it's a good way to learn through doing, and improve your teaching skills
It's commonly said that the best way to learn a subject, or prove to yourself that you know what you're talking about, by teaching someone else.
And because you often can't link to the exact code you're trying to work with at your job, it's a great way to learn how to write minimal reproduction cases, as well as explain the why without sharing all your company's secrets!
Because you can help others
Over the years, I think I've had at least a couple of dozen people get in touch to ask for help, and it's been nice to be able to help, often improving my own articles, or writing new ones in the process. I've also had some nice folks contribute to support my blog, which is always appreciated!
Free labour for your employer
This is a great way to get an opportunity to write more blog posts, and if you're willing and able to take the time outside of your job to do this, it works really nicely. I've very much enjoyed spending evenings and weekends solving a problem only to come in on the next working day and proclaim the solution.
The key thing here is that I've made that choice and have been happy with the trade-off of spending my personal time carrying on with work-related problems, and it's worked nicely as I've enjoyed solving the problems and having a chance to share the solutions.
Because I'm writing about it publicly, I'll move from my employer's private projects to a freshly implemented minimal example for my blog that I can safely share. It therefore doesn't feel like I've "wasted an evening carrying on with work", because I've got something very public to show for it, as well as solving a problem for work, and it's not quite as much free work for my employer.
This also links in quite nicely with my post Does the tech industry thrive on free work?.
On your employer's blog
A great way to get more visibility and audience for your ideas is to post to your employer's blog, and it's a great way to get feedback from talented technical writers at your company. I've enjoyed each of the opportunities I've had to write for my employer, and would recommend everyone try to do this if they get the chance. It's great for you to get your name and work out there, and it's also great for your company to show off the awesome stuff they're doing, too.
Just try and make sure that you can also post a copy of the post back to your own site, so you are able to keep a thing you've written, as well as having the official copy on your employer's website.
Because you are an awesome, interesting person, and the world will care what you have to say
As the title says, don't be so hard on yourself. You're awesome, and we want to hear more of what you've got to say.
A few things to remember
It's your blog
You get the final say in content, style, variations on topics, frequency of publishing, and how garish you want the colours to be. I'd recommend at least making it somewhat accessible (I know I've got some things I need to do to improve my own site) but otherwise, don't let people dictate how you should do things.
You don't have to write publicly... but it helps
You can write privately in a wiki, journal or just a local Git directory. But I find that to get a lot of the benefits I've felt, it should be public, if at least you can share a URL with someone, or browse to your post on someone else's device.
Own your URLs!
As a proud member of the IndieWeb, I hugely recommend writing on a website you own, or at least a domain you control, rather than using something like Medium or Dev.to.
Don't aim for perfection
If you can avoid waiting until you've written the most eloquently explained, perfect piece of code, and instead become more comfortable with a "good enough" solution, that can really help.
It absolutely takes a mindset shift, and an ability to rein in your perfectionism, but I'd recommend trying to get to this point if you can. I find it helps by thinking of my blogumentation posts as only being for me, whereas my other posts are world-readable and therefore I'll spend more time and care polishing them, especially posts I would want to be more widely shared.
Choose a schedule that works for you - including none
I dislike writing a post, and then waiting until some arbitrary deadline to publish it - I want correct publish dates in my posts, and if I've written the thing, I don't think it's worth leaving it.
It's my blog and I'll be as inconsistent at posting as I want to.
As mentioned in my post about how blogging + my neurodiversity go hand in hand, it's also that I find then I can let it go.
But it's your blog so if you'd find it easier to post one blog post a week, then that's great. It could be a starter to get you into the habit of it, or it could be just what you need to keep you going.
Don't optimise for views
It's likely that for the first while, you're unlikely to have your blog post go viral and receive tonnes of views. You're absolutely free to chase the views and traffic if that's what you want, but also remember that it can grow organically.
Aside from my self-promotion of my blog with colleagues and on social media, my blog's grown through writing good content, which is pretty cool!
Blogging is good. You should do it, preferably on a URL that you own.
Blog to teach yourself and others how to solve problems, and it'll lead to you having a better understanding and explanation of the solution, as well as distilling your problem to a more basic form.
You don't have to write the most perfect blog post, it doesn't have to go viral, nor does it even have to be publicised.
Write for yourself, at first. Work out what you'd have wanted to read. Or if it helps, write for others.
I hope to read your posts soon, if you're willing to share.