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Engineers Should Blog (excitingrole.com)
172 points by patgenzler on Feb 25, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 127 comments



Engineers should blog publicly when they have something to say. Something useful for their colleagues. Engineers shouldn't waste time forcing themselves to blog instead of work just to push their career forward: frequently they just expose they don't have anything to say in extremely unreadable way. What a waste of time for everybody.

Soft skills helps you grow as an engineer, it's true, but I think it's important to understand that not every exercise should become a public material.

But, in a generation publishing their every 2nd gym workout on instagram, who am I kidding anyway.


> Engineers should blog publicly when they have something to say. Something useful for their colleagues.

This sounds a lot like saying, "You should only learn to code when you have something useful you want to build. Something useful for other people".

You can't write a good blog post without having already written some number of bad ones. If you think you might someday have something to say, you should practice blogging.


> You can't write a good blog post without having already written some number of bad ones.

To add to this, I'd say: if you don't have a writing habit, the barrier to actually writing something when you do finally have something useful to say will be incredibly high.

I am willing, however, to give the GP the benefit of the doubt because they said "Engineers should blog publicly when they have something to say", not "Engineers should blog when they have something to say". Practicing writing does not mean that you have to publish everything.


So how do you get feedback for non-public work? On technical blogs, I always read the comments. Even for obscure/somewhat poorly written articles. Because someone who knows more than the author will sometimes leave feedback which will lead you in a better direction and expose you to more ideas.

And thankfully, technical blog articles don't attract too many comments on average. Quite often I find that a blog article on a technical point actually advances discussion on that idea.

All I would say is to make a honest effort. Try and do a basic rewrite before hitting publish.


People have been practicing privately and only occasionally getting checkpoints of public feedback across all kinds of skillsets for centuries. It's silly to act like we don't know how to practice in private.

Yes, you need a good guide, good general principles so that you're not practicing in the wrong direction. And yes, you need occasional "recitals" where you test audience reactions. But 99% of the work involved in developing any skill is just raw, rote repetition that most audiences are not only not interested in, but actively avoid.


>> People have been practicing privately and only occasionally getting checkpoints of public feedback across all kinds of skillsets for centuries. It's silly to act like we don't know how to practice in private.

Fair enough. I can see why my comment came across as if I said there were no other options.

But my point is to use resources at your disposal. One of the amazing resource at our disposal today is the ability to cost-effectively publish a half-baked idea on our website knowing that a) that could still be useful for a small section of people and b) its mistakes could be corrected by another small section of people who know the topic in greater detail and c) all this happens in such a way that everyone is, quite literally, "on the same page".


I also find that the second I hit publish, l tend to find errors and implicit assumptions, etc. Something about going public adds extra polish.


Embrace it like Philip Greenspun. The tag line to his blog: "A posting every day; an interesting idea every three months..." (Which is about right. Most of his posts these days are trolling but there are still gems in there.)


Perhaps one should refrain from posting their practice posts, then. Write bad blog posts to get better, sure, but it does not need to be published by necessity.


While I find value in writing things I don't ever intend to publish, that's a different sort of writing. For me, at least, a post written without intent to publish will be very different from a post written with intent to publish.

Writing a post without intending to publish is similar to writing pseudocode, never intending to compile. With great discipline one can learn to write good quality code without compiling it, but if you intend to compile, you actually think differently and produce better quality code.


The analogy doesn't work for me for a few reasons:

* That may be true for producing better code in a particular programming language or family of languages, but not designing better solutions. Designing software including prototyping and pseudocode independent of the constraints of a particularly development environment is invaluable. Too often I squish my problems to fit the tools I know best.

* Depending on the audience writing can be very different. This feels like a different spectrum of communication. I mentor teammates in improving all forms of written communication and this often starts with connecting with the audience of their email.

* Journaling (keeping a dairy) is being shown in recent studies to have all kinds of health benefits.


* Working out solutions free from the technicalities of the compiler and framework is a great technique, and one that I use often. Again, this is great for those who already know how to code, but if those technicalities still trip you up sometimes (as they do a beginning coder/writer), then you get a lot of value out of writing the code before declaring the problem solved (= publishing the blog post before declaring it written).

* For sure, and most people get a lot more practice with certain kinds of writing (email, technical documents, HN comments) than others. Blog posts generally have a certain audience in mind (you can specify at the beginning of the post which audience you're targeting, if you want), and it's a very different audience than most forms of writing. You should write blog posts if you want to get better at that.

* I don't contest the value of writing for an audience of one. It's just different from writing to an audience of a blog (even if that audience is mostly theoretical).

I should note that I disagree with the statement "every engineer should blog", as it has the usual failings of sweeping statements. However, if you wish to become a better writer, and in particular a better writer of content that can be widely understand by a relatively vaguely defined audience, then I highly recommend blogging.


> But, in a generation publishing their every 2nd gym workout on instagram, who am I kidding anyway.

This is the issue. The latest generation has been told to constant work on their personal brand (ugh), and blogging is one way to do it. Though if we're working together, keeping the engineering wiki up-to-date is probably more helpful for the team than a some Medium fluff piece.

Don't get me wrong, there are some great blogs out there (e.g. A List Apart), and there's a benefit to a blog post reaching 100 people versus a Stackoverflow answer relevant for 10, but I think those that will blog well will do it naturally ("hey, people have been asking about this a lot, I should share a write up").

If everyone just contributed more by answering questions, or updating wikis, that'd would already be hugely beneficial, but to tell people sit down and write long-form is asking a lot. And JCDenton2052 also mentions the possibility of fucking up the signal-noise ratio.


I actually miss the days when engineers blogged more rather than accumulating karma on Stackoverflow. When Stackoverflow emerged it was a great source of knowledge but these days you have to sift through the comments to check if the solutions are still current after api changes. For a lot of stale answers github issues can be more helpful.

The benefit of blogging isn't just to broadcast your knowledge but creating a place to discuss the subject and learn something yourself.

I find it strange that this is the top comment on a forum that wouldn't exist if engineers didn't write publicly. This site is curated from a wide pool of writing and and would benefit from more people writing. Whether something is worth saying is a very subjective call and I don't see how your opinion should dissuade someone from writing.


>I actually miss the days when engineers blogged more rather than accumulating karma on Stackoverflow.

100% hit. I do write sometimes on StackOverflow to give back some help to the wonderful minds over then Internet, because, sharing knowledge is what makes the whole engineering better. What percent of clickbait attention-craving blogging does share some useful insight and/or knowledge?

>I find it strange that this is the top comment on a forum that wouldn't exist if engineers didn't write publicly.

Maybe because you didn't understand the core meaning of the comment? (I address this equally to my writing skills: English is not my first language). It's not "engineers shouldn't write", at all.


Your explanation is very different from the interpretation I made from what you wrote. Yes I agree that clickbait only adds noise but your comment seemed dismissive of engineers writing unless they were exceptional engineers.


Not so, regular engineers should write, it's a question of what they write. I'm a regular engineer, my colleagues are as regular boring folks as possible, yet we're writing stuff from time to time.

Look, here's an example, which emerged this morning as a pure coincidence:

I have a almost-finished blog post draft in front of my eyes my colleagues and I have been writing some time now. It outlines a problem we've stumbled, and, we believe, many other engineers have stumbled or will stumble upon quite soon (while migrating their code from Go 1.3 to 1.6 and further). The problem is exceptionally boring and stupid. We took extremely boring un-brilliant way to solve it.

The engineer who first encountered could've just written something like 'go memory management sucks', or 'how go moves forward and breaks my stuff in production', a million-and-first post about minor opinion. This is what I call useless noise, and, when used for self-promotion, quickly becomes click-bait out of desperation to get at least some attention.

Instead, we've fixed the issue, and in spare time have been slowly adding detail, reproducing cases and generating isolated statistics exactly for this case, and it grew into useful piece of knowledge for regular engineers (like we are) not to repeat the stupid mistakes we've done.

It is not as immediately rewarding, to sit on it longer until your writing has at least some utility for others, and will pay them off for the time and attention and context switch they've invested into you. This is what matters, not the "exceptionality" of engineers who are writing this.


Though they could document what they do or learn with brief posts that are not technically deep but still provide value to those learning. Even sharing one link is sometimes enough to provide value to others. Long form is not required.

Also, writing is a skill. The more you write the better. That means you will sometimes write shit. Thankfully, you can go back and rewrite your early work when your skills improve.

I normally write short posts and then revise them afterwards as many times as required. In fact, I edited this post to add more info.


Yes. The last thing the world needs is more half-baked self-promoting drivel.

I love writing. I put more than half of mine in a drawer. A drawer is a wonderful place for of unfinished drafts that aren't ready or aren't working.

I don't know if everyone should write; that feels presumptuous. But if you do, I highly recommend a drawer.


Bad writing hasn't ever hurt anybody.

I say - write as well as you can and as much as you can, and don't worry about quality. And if putting it online helps to motivate you - go ahead, use every tool you need to keep moving forward, because that is what matters, this is the only thing that matters.

There's been so many times when I was not sure whether my post was worth publishing, and then have received overwhelmingly positive feedback. And then there's been plenty of times I've written something I'm really proud of, and nobody cared.

So don't worry about the drawer, and don't worry how good your writing is, or "whether you should be a writer". All that's gonna do is make you insecure and stand in your way.

Just put yourself out there, even if you're feeling uncertain. Writing always has positive value, to you and to people around. Worst case scenario - nobody will read it, so by putting it in the drawer, you're guaranteeing the worst case scenario.


No, what makes you insecure is pretending youre a writer, when you know you arent. Thats why writers are perpetually insecure, in a nutshell. The advice youre giving is bad advice, as in, literally bad for you.


This is nonsense. What does entitle someone to be called "a writer" other than, you know, writing things? If you're writing - you're a writer. If you've practiced enough to develop good skill - you're a good writer. If you've found a way to make money with it - you're a professional writer.

Writing is never bad for you. It's like saying that you shouldn't be pretending to be a programmer, when you know you arent. What the fuck does that even mean?

First you aren't a writer/programmer. Then you pretend to be a writer/programmer, by attempting to do what writers/programmers do. Then, if you keep doing it long enough, you become one.


Yes, you can become a good writer, but dont pretend you are one.

And yes, writing can be bad for you. You sound like someone whos very attached to the idea that writing is good, but maybe lacking in reasons.

Writing, like everything, takes work. For a lot of people its a complete waste of time.

To me, most writing has no value.


You do realize the irony of your statement. Or do comments on HN not count as writing and therefore not a waste of time?

I would like to know how writing could be bad for you. Please elaborate.


Theres no irony in my statement. Youre just not (intentionally or unintentionally) trying to understand me.


I don't understand you either. Please elaborate.


Im not saying all writing is bad, so his comment just wasnt even relevant.

He seems like he doesnt even know why he thinks writing is good, and if i were him id be a little embarassed.


I'm not really trying to be abrasive or argumentative but your logic doesn't make sense to me and your comments are dismissive and you resort to ad hominem attacks which don't add any value. Which kind of proves your point if you take yourself as an example.

Please do elaborate and explain how and why I should be ashamed of myself because I really don't know how writing can ever be bad for anyone.


On the other hand, publishing publicly will force you to fix every little detail.

For example, the most popular article on my blog is about the TCP "time wait" state on Linux. I knew for years how it worked and wanted for people to stop blindly use some sysctls. Therefore, I thought, what's best than a blog post to spread some awareness on this? But, for every sentence, I had to be sure that this was true. So, I checked, I tested. It took me a lot of time. I would never have done that if this was just for my drawer. My drawer never sets random sysctls and my drawer doesn't know better than me, nor it would shame me for telling incorrect stuff.

It's like publishing as an open source project: you have to be more rigorous in what you publish. There is some balance to find.


I agree.

The open source analogy is actually pretty good. Some projects you know you how to go about right away. But when you're not sure, start anyway; rough drafts are like prototypes. Dropping a few (not all) can be part of the process.


Many times you don't know what's useful to your colleagues until you hit publish. Writing is useful as experimentation that way.


Agreed, I tend to take the number of times I'm asked a question in person by someone new as a signal that a topic is worth writing up.

It's also easier to sit down and come up with a well thought through answer that you can link out when asked again. Opposed to paraphrasing each time and potentially missing key points/clarity.

For example, I wrote this up after meeting lots of clients when I was freelance who were regularly questioning why they couldn't find technical co-founders > https://hackernoon.com/developer-risk-profiles-why-you-wont-...


Writing is, publishing and noising the channels isn't. I'm afraid I find experimentation like that at cost of other people's time and attention to be a bit petty crime.


Do you want people who have a happening social media presence over productive and competent people? It rocks to have both, but one should be prioritized over the other. The moment soft-skills are more important than actually being able to deliver is the moment the game becomes politics.


Unfortunately, this is already the case. People do judge books by their cover.


before we jump in to analyse the content of an article, I think its useful to know who wrote it and what their agenda is.

Many want to sell their services and write long articles because its not as spammy as short snippets. But we should able to tell clickbait.

I mean there are too many clickbaity articles on the internet, arent there ?


It's really unfortunate that people do read my comment as "engineers shouldn't write". Engineers should write. I actually write a lot of stuff, because I like it. There are some pieces of your own research you can't understand unless you write it down in a readable, less formal way.

Some small grain of my writing becomes decent enough (English is not my main language) that my employer takes it and uses somewhere.

Because, I believe, writing is important. Noising everything around with your writing isn't important and isn't even OK.

There's even nothing wrong with using writing for promoting yourself, if there are great things you can share with the world. There are a few dozen blogs I read over weekend, some of them are obviously self-promotion driven to attract attention to services or products; but they give me insight into new things in extremely polite fashion, and I love it. But only when the first phrase of my initial comment is valid:

Engineers should blog publicly when they have something to say.


I love blogging. The OP makes some great points about how it exposes you to a different set of people than answers on stackoverflow or HN do.

I have been blogging for over a decade and have definitely had some positive experiences, including a co worker finding a post when searching for a solution and an interviewer checking out my blog and mentioning it. I have also had a small bit of work come to me directly because of my blog. (However my blog is pretty unfocused in part because I am a generalist and primarily wrote for myself. I am sure a focused blogger could do better.)

However, the most important thing is to get started with some kind of public presence. If SO or HN or github are what you feel comfortable with, start there. Don't be an anonymous programmer.

If you are looking to blog, I think you should plan to stick with it for at least a year. Nothing is sadder than the abandoned blog. Here are some motivational tips: http://www.mooreds.com/wordpress/archives/2129


I'm surprised he didn't encounter the 4th reason for not blogging:

4. The topics I want to blog about are controversial.

That is, strong but controversial opinions on certain technologies are just as likely to help you get noticed as hurt you (i.e. get noticed in a negative way.) Even if the topic isn't technically controversial, it can still be a negative. Revealing that you helped {religious minority church} set up their network, or that you solved a problem with {porn website} can also put a mark on you that is not automatically good. Heaven forbid you worked for/supported {political organization} this election cycle.

So the answer is, of course, to self-censor. You have to strip out your opinion and context and only blog about technical details that you are very confident are correct. Keep your jokes gender neutral and your insights limited to your profession.

But that's boring. That's not blogging, it's writing a corporate memo. We've just ratcheted up the difficulty, limited the new thoughts you're allowed to think, and made you invisible to all hiring managers who can't recognize when your technical manuscript applies to their industry.


> That is, strong but controversial opinions on certain technologies are just as likely to help you get noticed as hurt you (i.e. get noticed in a negative way.)

I think the way to get around this is to stick to your best evidence as much as possible to back up your opinion, and try not to stray too far from it. That makes the conversation about the evidence, and not your "out there" take on things. For example, if you're pushing TDD (which has experienced a bit of a backlash of late), you might cite something like https://www.infoq.com/news/2009/03/TDD-Improves-Quality or http://blogs.ugidotnet.org/luKa/archive/2010/06/27/scientifi... which is a list of studies .


I don't know if this is strictly true. I don't deny that blogging about controversial subjects will turn off possible employers or close doors. That is definitely something to be aware of.

But you could look at the flip side of that and say that this is actually filtering out opportunities wouldn't be a fit. Much like qualifying leads in sales is something you want to do as quickly and easily as possible, doing the same for employment opportunities can help you focus on organizations where there is a culture fit.

With respect to your example, if an employer was offended by your support for a minority group or political candidate, is that an employer you'd feel comfortable bringing your whole self to work at?

I may be hopelessly Pollyanna, but I think I'd avoid that type of situation. If you are a software developer and those are the only type of opportunities you have access too, I agree, you should avoid blogging about such controversial topics. Or get good at remote work.


Strictly speaking, the only way my post can be untrue is if "fear of controversy" was not a reason people avoided blogging, or they feared controversy for an entirely different reason than the one I provided.


No, every engineer should not blog. It is hard enough to find the right information when you have to shift through clickbait and the signal-to-noise ratio is abysmal.

If I was interested in assessing someone's caliber, I'd rather look at their Github than their blog. Anyone can write a blog post, not everyone can write good code.

Blog if you have some insight into technology that hasn't been already elucidated or if you disagree with what's out there.

Having said that, I plan to start my own blog at some point. What will I be writing about? I'll start with reviews of technical books. Why? Because I have read a couple since the beginning of the year that I was unhappy with and had to return, but bought them in the first place because other people said good things about them. Hopefully if someone in the future considers them they will come across my view and take it into consideration.


I don't particularly want everyone publishing code, really.

"not everyone can write good code"

Not everyone can tell what's good, what's not, and why.

And searching through 20x the amount of code now to find something that a) works, b) is documented, c) is kept up to date (and is also accurate/correct) - just gets harder the more 'stuff' gets published.


Tim didn't say it's useful for other engineers. He said it's useful 1) to get non-technical people can hear about your skills (the ones who couldn't tell good code from bad code) and 2) for yourself, since writing forces clear thinking.


Another thing this turn hurts is this another avenue the "pretty people"[0] can use to get a foot in the door with little to no actual technical experience. I am reminded by a blogpost that got to the front page a few weeks ago about the "new Google OS" that was going to replace everything...written by an admitted non-coder/technical person.

Many hackers are great at what they do, actually producing working, sensible products, but aren't bloggers. Sure, if you can do both, all the more power to you. People who can't blog (out of desire or time or just because they don't like writing may be) shouldn't be seen as any less a hacker because they don't. The best way to gauge a person's ability is their work, which github, et. al. is supposed to provide.

[0] https://techcrunch.com/2015/02/28/beware-the-pretty-people/


> Anyone can write a blog post, not everyone can write good code.

But can "anyone" wrote a good clear blog post that explains a problem, talks about a solution and some of the plusses and minuses of alternatives? Can "anyone" maintain a blog for a number of months or years?

I'd say these are differentiating features.


Code and blog posts are just two ways of crystallizing ideas. In the same way that not everyone can write good code, not everyone can translate ideas clearly into blog format.


Not everyone has a full github profile as their work is in house.


Yeah I agree with this that most software engineers should consider this. It's another way to set yourself apart from the masses that most people will never put in the time and effort to do. The idea that other people put forward that you should only write about things if you think your ideas are innovative always seemed silly to me. A lot of things we think of as trivial could end up being useful and important information to someone else. Besides how are you supposed to know if what you're saying is 'innovative' before you say it and get feedback on it?


> A lot of things we think of as trivial could end up being useful and important information to someone else.

This is very true. There have been many, many times when there's a technical article on the top of HN on a topic that I would never have imagined writing about simply because it seemed too basic or "entry-level". There have even been a few topics that I had actually considered writing about but dismissed it, thinking to myself "nah, everybody already knows that".


Some of the highest traffic blog posts I've written have been on the "entry-level" side of things.


Now that I think about it, one of the pieces of advice I got most comments on was helping an indie writer figure out the intricacies of the "a" HTML tag :) [I left a comment on her blog and a lot of other indie writers thanked me for the details - they needed them when formatting books for Kindle.]


One of the rarest and most under-appreciated skills in tech is the ability to explain things. As an industry, we mostly focus on building and selling, and the twain don't always meet. Many of the builders have deep and excellent understanding of the tech they work with; many salespeople are excellent at persuading customers to do x. But there's a very important and underused bridge between insiders who understand, and everyone else. Blogging is a great exercise for deeply technical, because it's a chance for them to actively ask themselves: What do others not understand, and how can I explain it clearly?


"If a thing be really good, it can be shown to be such. If you cannot demonstrate its excellence, it may well be suspected that you are no proper judge of it."

-- William Godwin

goo.gl/wylZZm


Unfortunately, I don't think blogging improves this skill unless you get someone good at writing to review every post you make.

I read (or rather, try to read) plenty of poor technical writing linked on HN and Lobsters every week. Because a lot of people blog as a form of self-documentation and to improve their "personal brand" activity, people rarely give or listen to writing criticism.


I maintained a blog for a few years (mostly while preparing to take the Cisco CCNP exams) but I haven't wrote regularly for going on five years. It was extremely beneficial to me in several ways.

I ran into an issue with some HP ProCurve switches that HP basically said "yeah, that can't happen". It was only after writing it up -- along with a video -- and someone from HP reading it that they reached back out to me, flew an engineer out to "witness" it firsthand, and fix it. Later, they flew me out to Roseville for a few days to hang out with some of their engineers. Later, they invited me (and paid all my expenses) to attend an HP Tech Day as well as Interop NYC.

In addition, I was invited to attend several Net Field Day [0] events where I got to hang out with some very smart people in the networking industry in Silicon Valley. Stephen Foskett, the guy behind NFD, knew about me from my blog.

Also, while I was at one of the NFD events, I got an e-mail from someone who "knew me" from my blog. An ISP in my area needed a new Network Engineer to replace their main guy who had just left. They were about to start doing some new things and needed someone with lots of experience with OSPF and BGP in particular. After I returned, I met the owners to chat over breakfast one morning. I've been working there a little over five years now.

I've done a handful of small "side jobs" as well, mostly for smaller companies whose IT guys found me via a Google search and reached out to me for assistance.

Last, it's certainly not making me rich but (even though I really haven't written much in the last five years) the ads that appear on my blog (and Youtube videos) still earn enough so that Google has to send me a 1099 every year. Beer money. :-)

ETA: I actually wrote up a similar post, "Why You Should Be Blogging" [1] in 2011. It was kinda sorta aimed at others studying for Cisco exams but I think it's probably general enough to apply to the HN crowd as well (I haven't re-read it recently, TBH).

[0]: http://techfieldday.com/

[1]: http://evilrouters.net/2011/10/20/why-you-should-be-blogging...


You should certainly blog if you did something different, something that is innovative, if you solved an interesting problem. But.. lets be honest, political correctness aside. Most software engineers have nothing to blog about, they just glue some libraries and make couple of db requests and that's about all they do. Nothing what they do is innovative or worth blogging about. Not every engineer should blog or we would see tens of thousands of new links everyday on HN that would point to another blog that writes about how someone wrote an api and did 3 mysql requests - That's called spam. We already have thousands of resources/articles/blog posts that solved those problems and unless you are bringing something new to the table, what you wrote was already written.


The specific problems encountered and methods that proved to be a workable solution for an engineer when gluing any set of arbitrary modules is practically guaranteed to be unique information, though mired in a ton other, more mundane information.

It'll be the mark of a good writer to properly cut the content from the fat.

But this isn't about being a good writer. It's about improving your own understanding and simply widening our dataset of known engineering practices.


Sometimes gluing together libraries in a certain way can produce an error or behaviour that's not documented (as it's outside the scope of each individual project) as either nobody has tried to do that before or they've not written about it.

Multiple times now it's been an obscure blog post found on google that's given the answer to those issues.


I think this misses another equally important reason, which is to do your part to help build the gift economy upon which we all rely in our day to day work. Near every common solution and recipe has been written up by someone, somewhere, and we all make use of these gifts.

When you learn to do something useful that other people will likely also have to accomplish at some point in time, write it up. Not only will it benefit people out there in the world, but it is also a great way to ensure that you yourself don't have to reinvent the wheel a few years down the line. Who remembers the details after that long? So write it down, and if you write it down, you may as well publish it.


While I agree generally with what you've written here, my only issue with it is that writing it up takes about as long as building the thing, and I'm pretty lazy.

Also, if someone, somewhere, has written up nearly ever common solution, how do I know which ones are novel enough to put the effort in to publishing. Most of things I build aren't novel or new in any way, I'm fairly sure.


You will know what to write. When you spend time searching for an answer to an odd problem but don't find it and have to do it yourself you will want to write about it afterwards because you will want others to know you figured out the solution.


> do your part to help build the gift economy upon which we all rely in our day to day work

Great point, but I think most folks aren't going to be persuaded. I asked a tech meetup how many folks had read from stackoverflow the past month. 95% of hands went up. Then I asked how many folks had answered a question. Far fewer, maybe 10%. And I think I was the only person who had asked a question on the site.

The 90/9/1 rule is real.

But I agree, we should encourage folks to join the 1% of content creators.


When I read ,,the only thing you need is an editor'', I thought how cool it would be if what I write would be reviewed by some people before going public...it would make me less shy about it.

Then I realized he means a text editor (though he's an editor himself)


I'd be happy to take a look at your posts before you publish them if you'd like. That goes for anyone, feel free to email me. In return I might send you some of my own.



I try to run my articles through my kind colleagues and ex-colleagues before any publishing. It helps clarifying bits that are potentially misunderstood. People are however a bit shy so I don't get style recommendations often


That's my biggest problem, how do you improve your written communication without an editor? You can do the same thing over and over and call it practice, but without a reviewer how will you magically improve this skill?


1. Post stuff for people to view. Pay attention to what is popular, and what isn't 2. Read stuff aloud before posting 3. Read widely, and pay attention to writing you like.

I've built a business off of writing: https://lsathacks.com/explaantions/

I got started by writing a travel blog during a yearlong trip. I posted each entry to Facebook. When an entry got a lot of comments/views, I could tell it was better. I also got confidence that I was writing well.

As I kept writing, I always made sure to show my work. And I found that reading aloud helped me find awkwards parts.

Finally, I got started during a time when I was reading lots of blogs and novels. Good reading will help your writing.

That's about it. Practice, tempered by feedback and observing the work of others.


> Pay attention to what is popular, and what isn't

So poorly written, navel gazing, clickbait titled, troll bait articles about how X tech sucks and we used Y and here's what happened next™ posted on Medium?

I'd rather not blog at all if what's popular on HN is our goal :-)


The problem doing that with technical writing is that your audience isn't going to be judging you on your writing skills, they'll be judging you on the technical content. OP isn't worried about their technical content, they're worried about their writing skills. The technical audience is going to be affected by writing skills (it'll affect how well points are made, etc), but they aren't going to give feedback on that part. "Just ship it" doesn't work with soft skills.


They don't have to start with technical writing. I didn't. I wrote a travel blog and shared it with my friends on facebook.

That transferred directly to my later technical writing.

You can also do technical writing, share that with a few technical friends, and get feedback.

I don't think any of my comment was about doing technical writing immediately though.


> Just ship it" doesn't work with soft skills.

I disagree! Maybe the relationship is less direct but practicing skills like writing, speaking and networking is one of the best ways to improve (reading about sick skills is another)


Wait a month or so and then read it. You will see your own writing with fresh eyes.

Side note: not every reviewer is a good one.


This is the Internet. Simply write something, others will be quick to correct your grammar and spelling mistakes.


Same way you acquire any other service. Pay for it, or know somebody.


I used fiverr.com to proofread my CV, I think you could also ask them to check your blog posts.


I used to have my silly micro-blog posts reviewed by a respected peer, but it kind of defeated the purpose of cracking me out of my shell. Sometimes diving into the deep end works for the better.


If you hang out in some IRC (or whatever) channels which are related to the topic at hand, you can ask the people over there.


I find that blogging helps me untangle messy reasoning, to the point where I often end up improving the code to make it easier to explain. The marketing angle is less interesting to me, I'm not selling anything. What's missing from the article is the bigger perspective; by sharing ideas and knowledge openly, everyone wins.

https://github.com/codr4life/vicsydev


> Marketplaces like UpWork and ELance, which were originally designed to match US companies with global talent, have literally made it impossible for US engineers to find work...

As a freelancer working from India - this stands true even for the good experienced freelancers in India. Upwork (and Elance that is now Upwork) make it hard to get good rates - forget about raising rates. And when Elance merged to Upwork - it just made it harder to filter out good clients (I had some respect for the former Elance). Most buyer's have this perspective - "You are from India, your cost must be cheap!". Add to that rated courses on Udemy that underline "Get your work done at 1/10th the cost" (that I subscribed too) and similar stuff on YouTube.

Blogging helps. Mine is a pretty small one. But I got quite a few leads from my blog and at one point I was heavily overloaded with requests that would give me acceptable rates. I stopped writing for 6-8 months and the leads stopped coming in. Also, these days video-bloggers(good ones) get to take much of the leads.


Ok, I'm kind of cynical when a recruiter says "You should blog! It will make it easier for us to find you." It sounds like the hunters suggesting to the game wardens that deer would be better off if you painted them international orange. :-)

I certainly agree that public comments on the internet can help people get a sense of who you are, but just like sharing on Facebook or any other infinitely long lived expression of opinion there is also a huge down side to it. A number of good engineers have been fired over the years by blogging an opinion that their manager didn't like or mentioning an activity that their employer felt violated the inherent NDA in place in any employee/employer relationship.


I used to have an issue with writing classes in college. Since the writers-to-be in the class aren't experts in any particular field, they are forced to pick sides in ridiculous polemic topics just to fill a page. This transfers over to the real world in the form of frivolous articles written to provide a constant stream of content to a readership.

People like engineers and other folks with technical jobs have some of the best writing material to work with - all they really need to do is recount their day's work and the problems they've encountered, and any non-expert interested in the field can read and learn from it.

There is a plumber who lives in my state who publishes video documentation of every job he goes on. Since I'm not a plumber, I learned a ton from these videos. All of the things he did would seem basic to anyone in his field, but for a lay person like myself, his videos were extremely educational.


> recount their day's work and the problems they've encountered

Damn... I never thought of this. Great idea.


I just like discussions on HN. I think if I aggregated them all over the years it would make a decent blog. I am lazy. With a blog I think I would just end up not updating it and after 2-3 years it would be abandoned. Is it better to see an abandoned blog or not blog at all...? I don't know I never really considered blogging for the recruiters, which it seems this article advocates.

I also prefer a conversational style so that needs a others who are engaged and want to discuss things, otherwise it seems like I am broadcasting into the ether with nobody potentially ever reading or seeing it. Well technically it would be showing off for the potential recruiters here. But so far I never had problem getting good offers without the blog. I don't have Twitter Facebook, G+ or a LinkedIn. My GH profile is probably how they find me, which is fine so far. Also probably language specific mailing lists.


I think there is some truth to this. I landed my first startup engineering position via a blog post.

This particular post only took 30 minutes to write - they can be short and sweet.


This is awesome! Did you expect the post to get you a job? Do you have a link to it?


Reading this, at least from my perspective, makes it seem like the author asks three questions, then provides an answer that doesn't really actually answer the three questions.

In particular, from my own experience in blogging/twitter etc, getting an audience is a really hard thing to do, so much so that years later I haven't succeeded yet.

On top of that, what about people who don't blog because they feel they have nothing interesting to say? Why should I write about my experiences with moving to modern javascript practices when 500 other people have already written the same thing, said all the same things I would have and actually have an audience that gives a shit?


READ: I target engineers with email advertising/recruiting, and want you to make my job easier.


Engineers should stop telling other engineers what to do :)


By far the most frustrating part of blogging for me (though certainly not the only one) is the assumption that no one will ever see it. I can probably solve this by options I dislike -- giving up ownership to Medium or obnoxiously cross-posting to all social media platforms -- but the end result is I am discouraged before I even start.

Oddly I love speaking at conferences...maybe because some nonzero audience is more or less guaranteed?


Thanks to Beeminder I stuck to blogging for a while (my results, such as they are, can be found on my website) even though I wasn't happy, and they are all full of horrible grammar.

The only thing I learned from the project is that I really don't like blogging, I want to build stuff.


What's the link to your blog?


>Recruiting systems are optimized to filter out false negatives (i.e eliminate people that don’t satisfy their bias) at the expense of false positives (i.e miss out on good people).

I thought the definitions of false negative and false positive were the opposite.


Yeah, I had trouble parsing that sentence, but I agree. Recruiting systems usually encourage false negatives.


It is the opposite. False positive in this context would be thinking someone is good when they're actually bad and vice versa for false negative...


I think the biggest thing is that any kind of writing makes you visible to the right audience. The key though is to know who you are writing to and make it tailored to them on their level.

I think far too often people try to get their name out there and even though they should be writing for a specific crowd, in reality, they end up alienating the very people they were trying to tailor to. The writing should always be for yourself and in that way you will reach the right people. Let the rest fall into place.


Yep, they definitely will. My blog posts usually make my job interviews easier, as usually I hear "oh, we have read your blog post, so let's omit some of the questions we usually ask".

Another funny thing is that you never know which posts will be popular. On my blog three old posts generate over 70% of the traffic. Some people have found them informative, and linked on a couple of pages.


The best way I've found is to blog what you learn. There is always somebody who is learning what you are learning and is a day behind you. They will benefit from your "experience" and being able to teach what you just learned means you know it well. 5 years and I haven't stopped learning. Http://maxdemarzi.com


If I wrote an engineering blog the first post would be about how meaningless the word 'engineer' has become.


May be some hacker should make a NN to produce hipster-hacker blogposts so they don't need to. Just do a couple posts, train on those, and sit back and get both the creds for having a happening medium profile while maintaining your productivity.


What do people view as good blogging platforms for this stuff these days? Jekyll on Github? Something else? I'd like to get going fast focusing on content, but of course want good syntax highlighting, comments, and such features.


Jekyll is pretty great (just chuck a disqus block in your footer), there's a real risk of getting bogged down in setting up the 'perfect' system with it and never getting round to publishing anything.

I think Wordpress still has one of the most outstanding install experiences, but keeping it up to date is a pain.


Indeed, I think I've spent more time tweaking my jekyll based site than actually blogging. It was a lot simpler when I just had some html pages I edited in Emacs :).


Cool, I may give Jekyll another shot(had a false start couple years ago).

I have tons of experience doing hardened WP installs(and compromise root cause) but almost no experience USING it haha. I'd prefer not to go down that rabbit hole if something like Jekyll is sufficient.


If you only publish an blogpost once in a while, you wouldn't even need Jekyll. Figure out your template, and save your post in an .html file, add a link to the index.html and upload both to /var/www/ on your own cheap Linux cloud webspace. Markdown is nice, but if you don't need much you can sprinkle some <h..> and <b> tags on your post and you're done. There are browser based syntax highlighting tools where you can paste in your code from your IDE and get it back nicely formatted with the appropriate CSS.

Might not be right for you, but I had to bring up the easiest, the truly minimalist, hey, the original way to it.


I use Jekyll for my site[1], and am very happy with it.

It gives you more than enough out of the box to put together a reasonable site without compromising anything too important.

Everything you need is there (comments via disqus, syntax highlighting, pagination, etc.).

Even with complex stylesheets and asset minification on hundreds of images and dozens of pages it reloads in development in about 3-4 seconds.

[1]: https://nickjanetakis.com/blog/


> Jekyll on Github?

Yep. That one is quite nice.

There is a bit of a learning curve, but actually using it is great. All your content is versioned, there are always backups, performance is most excellent, and security is a complete non-issue since there is no server-sided logic involved.

I also like writing articles in Markdown. It's a good fit.

The git/md combo also allows you to write anywhere without requiring an internet connection. I do write quite a lot during my train commutes, for example.


I've seen some people start with just a github repo full of markdown files, and issues for comment threads. Can work for programming blogs, and you can easily turn the markdown files into blogposts in another system later.

(downside is that you can't as easily tie it to a personal domain name)


If you are interested in having a static site with a browser based composer check Pragma (currently in private beta) - https://pragma.build


Been using hugo the last few months, and absolutely loving it. Easy to get going, great in-built functionality, cross platform executable and super super fast.


ok then, lets turn this around: every blogger should code!


Most jobs have "good communication skills" as a prereq. Compare with the fraction of jobs that require coding.


I agree. Such an easy way to market yourself and get your name out. Also, being able to write clearly is an incredibly useful skill to have.


1999 called. It wants personal websites back.


The title was editorialized. The word "every" was added to the title of the article.


Ok, we restored the original title, except for the leading "Why", which we typically remove.


To elaborate, the actual title of the article is "Why Engineers Should Blog"


No, they shouldnt.


I stopped reading when you started to suggest engineers might work on Elance and the like..


Blogging is waste of time. Most of blogs are paid PR/Marketing/SEO content that is low quality click-bait. Like this blog post that is PR piece for company that author works.

Engineer should sharpen theirs skills on github. During interview github profile is much larger hiring factor than blog.


> Blogging is waste of time.

It certainly is a waste of time for improving your engineering skills, it's a myth. But it isn't for PR, which is very important these days even to get somewhere in software engineering, not to mention for pushing any kind of product or attracting other engineers to hire.


... being able to explain things concisely and accurately is a skill that helps any engineer.


You are either Engineer or not. Writing blog post will have less of effect on your engineering skills than writing code.


I was able to step up to a major tech company because they noticed my blog posts, Stack Overflow answers and conference talks.

That nearly doubled my income.


But it doesn't matter how great of an engineer you are if nobody knows about you.




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