Blogs have been around for a long time, but how many of us programmers have blogs? And for those of us that do, how many are active and kept up to date? Most people who start a blog find out it’s a lot of work. For one, it might have been years since you’ve done anything in the way of writing other than send out some tweets or emails.
Writing long-form blog posts, in particular, requires lots of time with your butt in the chair. There are no short cuts. I think this is in part why platforms like Twitter — and other microblogging platforms — have become so popular. It’s simply easier to maintain an active timeline in Twitter than to keep a blog current on WordPress. With this post, I want to lay out some reasons why you need a programming blog. There are many reasons but here are ten:
- Employers love them. When you go looking for a job, which in this economy might be frequent, having a blog is the best marketing tool you can have. The days where you showed up with a hard copy of your resume are mostly over. Sure an employer can go to your GitHub profile and look at some of your open source code, but nothing compares to a few blog posts that describe your code. Lots of new hires are surprised about how important communication skills are to employers and for obtaining upward mobility in the workplace. For many jobs, they are crucial. For programmers, this remains to be very important as well. This is important, in particular, for those candidates who are to be tapped for leadership roles. You might say, “I’m not interested in a leadership role.” You might not be but your employers are going to always be looking for future leadership for their organization. Finding a young person with strong leadership and communications skills, who also rocks it in the technical department, is the purple squirrel, which is so sought after by the hiring folks.
- You are forced to keep up to date. Having a programming blog, as mentioned, takes some work, especially initially to get it all set up and to learn the ropes. If you don’t have a programming blog, you can stay up to date on technology, etc., but you may be less likely to. You would have to make a coordinated effort to buy some of the latest books on programming as well as attend programming conferences. When you have a programming blog, you want to keep it fresh. You start to get readers who are waiting to see what you have to say. You don’t want to let them down, so you are going to be more likely to go out and get ideas to write on, read other blogs on the topic, read books and attend conferences, etc. Again you don’t have to have a programming blog to stay up to date and sharpen the saw, but it will become more likely that you will naturally do it.
- You will end up networking with readers and other bloggers in your domain. Most programming bloggers also write code. Some of these people you may end up guest posting on their blog or vice versa. Or you may even end up starting a company together. To my understanding that is how Stack Overflow was formed (between Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood). Even if you don’t end up starting a company with one of your readers or peer bloggers, you likely will help strengthen your professional network.
- You may be able to parlay your writing into a consulting or speaking gig. If your ideas are sound and well laid out, you may find a company will contact you to interview you. Or perhaps a conference organizer seeking out a speaker in the topics that you write about on your blog will contact you. Many consultants and speakers started out as writers. In fact, it can be difficult in some areas to find a consulting gig without having written at least one book on a given topic. Think about people who are consultants in software management and software process related fields as well as those who speak on the topic. Most probably published some of their work before they were noticed. Many likely have a blog on their topic of expertise, as well, or at least they blog somewhere.
- … or you may parlay it into getting published with a brick-and-mortar publisher or perhaps as an indie publisher on Amazon, for example. Nowadays before a publisher will even consider a new writer, in probably 99% of the cases, they are going to want to see that you already have somewhat of a readership. They will want to see that your ideas have already resonated with an audience and that your writing is solid. And guess what? Likely you’ll need to go on a book tour, which entails giving a short speech about your book. Speaking/writing and often even consulting go hand in hand. Not that it’s to say you could never find a publisher to take you on without already having a blog and readership but it’s much less likely. A publisher is not going to want to take a chance on a new writer without a body of work and a following. They may take a chance but again not too likely. There are simply too many quality writers/bloggers out there with readerships to take a chance on someone less established. Besides, being an indie publisher (blogger), you show gumption and what publisher wouldn’t appreciate that. The love of writing — a deep passion for the written word — is probably the number one characteristic shared be all writers across various domains. And nowadays being a good programmer requires writing and promotion, or your software likely won’t get noticed.
- Your writing will improve — likely even your speaking. Before I had this blog, I thought writing s*cked … and it showed. I had comma splices and run-on sentences galore. I didn’t think it was a big deal. Frankly, I thought it was a badge of honor as a techie to have less than stellar communication skills. Before I got too far down the blogging path, I did a mental inventory of which blogs I enjoyed reading and why. It quickly occurred to me as to what are the major ingredients of a good blog: programming-rich topics, well written and fun and/or at times entertaining, too. Many bloggers whom I liked tended to also be a bit sassy/sarcastic and/or opinionated, too, although not too much but certainly not bland in their writing. They had a specific topic or niche, but they also had some variety as well. Well, in order to improve on your writing, you can start by getting a copy of Strunk and White’s book, the Elements of Style. After you start writing your blog, you likely will notice holes in your knowledge, and you’ll need to go out and fill them. You’ll start Googling grammar topics and probably end up buying a couple of more books on writing. And when your writing improves, so in some ways will your speaking. This isn’t obvious but if your writing skills are subpar your speaking skills will be less powerful. As you learn to be a better writer, you’ll learn — or relearn — about active and passive voice, verb agreement, verb/subject collocation, subject/object differences, etc. You just might even master the dreaded who/whom debacle to which formal English remains married (see how I used formal English there!). So when you are preparing your slides or going over what you want to say for a meeting or speech, you’ll be able to say it with more eloquence, impact and power. Think of some of the most powerful communicators in American politics (Pres. Obama, Pres. Bill Clinton, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, etc.) All of the aforementioned speakers have very strong communication skills. Think of MLK, JFK and Pres. Ronald Reagan, too. Strong communicators can make big impacts in the world — even getting credit for shutting down the United States government (ha ha).
- You’ll be able to more effectively promote your code or open source projects. Promoting your open source projects can be a challenge. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen open your projects on GitHub or another similar platform and there are zero people who’ve downloaded the project. And nobody but the original author appears to be working on the code. An open source project that isn’t promoted to some extent will be severely limited in getting exposure and, hence, take off. Just like what startup companies have to deal with, you need to market your product. Even open source projects need to be marketed to be the most successful they can be. Say you write a post about your new open source project, you may just find that one of your readers will want to help you build out your code base. If there is any possibility for monetization, you might have just found a business partner, too.
- You’ll expand on your creative skills and have fun. Coding has lots of need for creative skills. There are often a hundred different ways to write code to solve a problem so creativity matters. When you write blog posts, you likely will want to add some humor, tell a story or add what is called “flash fiction.” This forces you to expand on your creative juices and exercise your brain in ways likely different than you’ve experienced before. You’ll learn about similes, hyperbole, metaphors and other forms of figurative speech to add color to your creative writing. You can quickly see when a blogger doesn’t introduce some story telling or figurative language; the writing is much more bland and dry. A great example of an awesome technical writer/blogger is Joel Spolsky. Although Joel is one of the fathers of tech/software blogging, others came before him, but none probably as good. When you read Joel’s writing, you can really tell he is knowledgeable, smart and having fun with his writing. Joel is, figuratively speaking, my writing mentor, an influencer. I found out about him after seeing this video on YouTube a few years ago. That’s when I discovered his blog and started reading his work. (He also has some writing on Inc. as well.)
- You will learn more and clarify your thoughts on topics. There is nothing like writing about a topic that forces you to flesh out your ideas on it. There are many posts I’ve done where what I thought was going to be the gist of my argument ended up being rather different. It was only after writing about it that I was forced to think about every angle more clearly.
Well, there you have it. Those are just some of the ways in which having a programming blog may benefit you (beyond benefiting your readers). It takes time to maintain a good blog, but the results are worth it. If your writing skills are rusty, they will get a little better after each blog post. Just develop a habit of trying to write at least one blog post per week. Many people consider one blog post per week to be the absolute minimum you must have in order to maintain an active readership. Some bloggers shoot for one post a day but that can be difficult to maintain, especially if you are working full time. Just remember to have fun with it, blog consistently and your readership will grow in time — but be patient.