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How some good corporate engineering blogs are written (2020) (danluu.com)
215 points by montyanderson 23 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 60 comments



I never ceased to be surprised at the clarity of thought that Dan can bring to even ostensibly qualitative topics.

I had the rare pleasure of catching up with him briefly not all that long ago and we somehow stumbled onto trying to describe our individual specializations. I don’t remember if I actually articulated this or realized it shortly after, but my conclusion is the same.

Dan is many things: a mathematician, an electrical engineer, a discrete logic specialist, a computer scientist. He’s a demonstrated expert in all of these things.

But the unifying theme is Dan’s real speciality, which is rather general in utility: rigor.

An excellent essay and an excellent analysis as usual. If you haven’t read his entire catalog, I recommend anyone passionate about drawing plausible conclusions or building things meant to last do so.


I don't write blog posts not because there is some bureaucracy stopping me (although I am sure there is bureaucracy), but because it's a poor use of my time. I have never in my career had a point where I felt I could sacrifice 1-2 workdays on a polished technical blog post. Even if all of one's planned tasks are on track (they are never on track - by design of the process, one inevitably takes on more tasks than time exists), there is always a years-deep backlog of papercut bugfixes, tech debt cleanups, and minor-ish feature requests, not to mention colleagues wanting some advice, rubber-duck design conversation, or in depth code reviews - doing any of which would be both more useful and more personally satisfying than writing a post.

I suspect people mainly write blogs only when required - either they are forced to promote themselves by their circumstances (they are between jobs or they are an independent consultant) or their boss asks them to (a tech blog makes for good PR for our project).


I’ve worked with some blog post writers in the past. They tended to be people who were singularly uninterested in career advancement. At least one of them left industry for academia.

Different people have different motivations, and some of them get a ton of satisfaction out of sharing knowledge with the world. It may not lead to maximum career earnings, but they’re operating under a different utility function.


Strong disagree.

>it's a poor use of my time.

You state this as a fact, but it's it really true? Is "a years-deep backlog of papercut bugfixes" really that important? I don't think so, the bugs have waited for 4 years already, they can wait another year.

In contrast, good technical blog posts bring actual value to the world. You share your hard earned knowledge with others[1] - imagine how much poorer the world (or HN frontpage) would be if nobody wrote blog posts.

Blog posts also bring marketing value to your company (way more value than fixing the css bug in privacy policy that was filed 3 years ago), and bring value to you (by allowing you to self-promote).

I'm not saying everyone should write - I do it because I like it, and my job is in large part research so I have insights/stories to share. But claiming you don't do it because it's a poor use of your time is - in my opinion - an excuse .

[1] Assuming you have something to write about, instead of writing yet another post about a well covered topic, like "introduction to C++". In this case I agree, that - unless your approach is really novel - it's pointless.


> Blog posts also bring marketing value to your company

there's an european engineering firm doing amazing work and they attract amazing engineers because, in part, they document their work via some youtube videos that rival the quality of most documentaries out there. fascinating work and fascinating videos. if anyone is looking for a video to watch today the drilling one and the moving bridge one are great https://www.youtube.com/@MartiGroup


Think of how many bugs would be fixed if people did work instead of reading blog posts. A good, relevant book beats 100 isolated blog posts.


A book is a huge amount to write and will probably be outdated in a few years. Generally speaking, blogs probably have a lot more bang for the buck than most books. (Yes, there are exceptions and books/big reports have a certain "thunk factor" and perhaps outsized halo effect than blogs but I'm skeptical as someone who has done a bunch of both.)


It's one of the best uses of your time. No one is going to notice your papercut bugfixes. There's a good chance that the bug-fix itself will be deleted in a few months with the rest of the code.

However, a written artifact of your technical thinking and contributions with your name on it will outlast probably even the company.

These things matter. Unfortunately there's so much garbage self-promotion nowadays through Linkedin and other platforms that the pendulum has swung in the other direction for people with actual skills and expertise.


In addition to the self promotion benefits, writing about something in plain terms is the best way I know of to shine a light on areas I don’t fully understand. It’s a useful tool to have if you’re serious about self-improvement.


How long something lasts is not the measure of its value.

A rock lasts million of years.


I bet you felt very clever saying that. Now could you please engage with the actual intent of my comment?


I worked at a startup where the CEO wanted each technical contributor to write a blog post per month, every month.

I wrote two internal memos and then quit. Exactly zero got made public. Imagine thinking this is a good use of time for a startup right after closing Series A.

One per IC per month.


Funny: I was forced to write a blog post every month by my CEO, about a decade ago. I did it for about a year, and some of these went to No1 on HN (for example this one [1]). Just searched for it, and although the company is turpor, the blog is still alive. Looking back it gives me an insight on my opinions at the time.

https://incubaid.wordpress.com/tag/functional-programming/


The best setup I’ve seen is a rotating support engineer where everyone takes a week at a time. Unless there’s an emergency, support is typically less than 40% typical load.

You’d use that 60% to write a blog post and fix any bugs you felt inclined to. Obviously, if support duties were heavy, you wouldn’t write a blog post


A lot of the good blog posts were invested in during the ZIRP era because it was viewed as a differentiated hiring tool. Now that the supply/demand curve has totally shifted, we might see a drought of great new corp blogs for a while.


There are also just fashions with such things--I've seen a lot of cycles between the early 2000s and today--as well as a lot of variation among companies and between individual roles at companies. In some cases, a senior developer is sort of the public face for a new technology they've been involved with and promotong.

It's perfectly reasonable for someone not interested in doing this sort of thing to push back--they won't do a good job anyway if they're being pushed to do it. Others get a lot of recognition by writing and speaking. I'm not even sure the hiring pipeline is that big a part of the rationale.


It’s the opposite. Writing and effective communication are the best use of your time.

People write company blogs only when required. That’s true. But it is incumbent on management to make that an incentive. Good technical blogs will attract talent when you want to hire.

For you - it’s a public validation of your job skills. 3 in-depth blogs will carry a lot more weight than a resume.

For the company - it’s a place to advertise the kind of work done to hire talented devs.


At Google my team wrote a post for the Google Cloud blog about our product. This article is painfully true, in particular "Non-engineering approvals suggest changes authors find frustrating".

My coworker wrote an initial draft and the rest of the team left some minor suggestions. Then we waited for weeks to get approvals from multiple people, mostly non-engineers, one of whom was at the company for whole of three weeks. Had to make several changes we didn't like but had no choice.

After addressing all their (at best, non-consequential) feedback we had to wait another few weeks to hear back again. This time one person who initially required we change X to Y was apparently replaced with another review, who insisted we absolutely have to replace Y with X.

In the end it got published, but was so heavily butchered it is a very bland and uninteresting post.

As a silver lining, we ended up writing a technical paper about the product later and that was much better experience, reviews came from internal researchers and domain experts.

(throwaway so I don't add too many bits of identifiable info to main pseudoanonymous account)


As a former Google employee who had wanted to write a technical blog post, I saw first hand how much power the non-technical product manager had in shaping the blog post. That killed my interest completely.


> Despite the seemingly obvious benefits of having a "good" corp eng blog, most corp eng blogs are full of stuff engineers don't want to read. Vague, high-level fluff about how amazing everything is, content marketing, handwave-y posts about the new hotness (today, that might be using deep learning for inappropriate applications; ten years ago, that might have been using "big data" for inappropriate applications), etc.

It's sad how the majority of corporate software blogs do seem like they're written (1) so Marketing can justify their existence or (2) to cast an SEO line in the hopes of reeling in some C-level who's ready to whip out the corporate credit card on a new tool. The latter is a pretty valid use of resources if it brings in revenue, but it's still a bummer how many blog posts seem like they're going through the motions... speaking as someone who once got conscripted to write a bunch of half-baked "thought leadership" blog posts in an industry I barely understood. (Never again!)


Semi related: anyone know of a good link aggregator of mostly software development content? Preferably good quality stuff, not blogspam/medium.com crap. HN isn't really scratching my itch anymore.


HN Classic. https://news.ycombinator.com/classic

It is basically HN Frontpage ranked using only votes from accounts over a year old. But what I would really like as Dang mentioned previously, was to add a query param so you can decide how ancient you want the contributing upvoters to be.

I much rather have the HN Front-page in the Pre-2012 era. There used to be a time when media wouldn't even quote the source as HackerNews but only mentioned it as "an Orange industry forum". They wouldn't even link to it. It is as if everyone have an unwritten agreement not to pollute it from outsiders.

Then came twitter, and then some 2014 US election, after that HN isn't the same anymore.


I think it's frontpage ranked by only users from 2009 and earlier:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26465569 - HN front page ranked using only votes from early users (2009)

But a similar thread from 2009 says:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=607271 - HN Frontpage ranked using only votes from accounts over a year old

I am not sure if the one year threshold is relative to current year, or fixed at 2009.


https://www.plushcap.com/ brings in blog posts from tech startups, most of which offer dev platforms. Created by Twolio devrel who led the community writing program Twilio voices.


I think there's a feature to visit HN in the past, ie to see at least that front page as of a specific date. So you can check out HN 2009 or so?


Lobsters?


That looks interesting! Any tips on getting an invite?


Sent to info at your website.


Thumbs up, thanks!


Quite a few people are on HN and Lobste.rs. Usually if you ask here in a noticeable way, you can find somebody who will hook you up with an invite, although everyone has their own criteria on who they'll invite if they don't know you personally.

My take? I usually look at someone's HN post history and if it appears that they are a reasonable person who conducts themselves in a reasonable, moderately professional, respectful way, I'll invite them.

So yeah, feel free to drop your email here, or shoot me an email at the address mentioned in my profile, and I'd be happy to invite you.


I've asked a few people in the past for a lobster.rs invite and haven't gotten one yet, so I'm interested. Check out my posting history here or my (somewhat neglected) blogging on https://www.mcherm.com . My email is mcherm@mcherm.com.


Check your e-mail.


Thanks! I already got an invite though :)


searx


soylentnews


Having a technical editor is key (like companies in this article), and not editing too much. I’m non-technical and have edited drafts of engineering blog posts too much and lost favor with engineers who contribute.

Once I restored that favor, I would have lost it again if I told contributors, hey, we’re going to share your draft with a bunch of your mates (like companies in this article). That’s groupthink and it brings any blogging momentum to a standstill.


It's certainly possible to over-edit pieces and lose the original writer's voice because the tone or whatever is different from the editor's preference even though it's not wrong.

That said, for any company blog that has an editor, I expect there to be some style guidelines that posts/articles at least roughly stick to and, if the editor doesn't feel they're enough of a subject matter expert in the topic to provide at least a cursory review, they'll probably send it to someone who is if the writer hasn't already done so.

If it's purely a personal blog, that's something else but my observation is that, at least larger, companies have generally moved away from hosting individual blogs on company properties. The degree to which they're OK with people posting on their own sites I'm sure varies by company.


I worked for a company where every blog post went through an SEO team and came out keyword laden and unreadable.


Some are written, while the rest are just generated by LLMs?

Omitting one word makes the title imply something else entirely!


HN's title editor drops the word how at the start of titles in, I think, an attempt to combat clickbait. Funny enough, this might actually be a good use case for an LLM.


If you're into hardware, Analog Digital has Analog Dialogue which is pretty fun and somewhat like a blog in some ways. It goes way back to the 60s if you like blasts from the past.

It's also fun how one word lost the "-ue" and the other didn't, but they both come the same Greek -logos.

https://www.analog.com/en/resources/analog-dialogue/about-an...


Slightly tangential but I want to throw out the blog of my previous team/organization at Microsoft- https://devblogs.microsoft.com/ise/

I happened to be one of the engineers that designed and help launch this blog in July 2015.

Despite many attempts by marketing overlords it has remained pretty pure for 9 years - all the authors are engineers writing production code with real customers, and almost every blog post contains a direct link to a GitHub repo with the full code context to reproduce the article - again with production* quality code.

The same org also publishes the entirety of their engineering process here https://github.com/microsoft/code-with-engineering-playbook that has been continuously refined since 2018.


> Our team, ISE (Industry Solutions Engineering), works side-by-side with customers to help them tackle their toughest technical problems both in the cloud and on the edge.

The blog could really do with a subtitle or about page explaining this.


Best tech-blog I have found so far:

https://acko.net/

(3D graphics, webdev, tech-philosophy, (and not mine!)). If you know tech-blogs of comparable quality, I am eager to hear from you.


It's a tangent, but reading this linked article from 2014: https://blog.cloudflare.com/the-relative-cost-of-bandwidth-a...

Am I reading correctly that egress in Europe costs $8 Mbps/month which is $0.0004/GB, while GCP charges you $0.12/GB?!

And this was in 2014, and the article states the price they show is "higher than actual pricing"


Yep, egress pricing is the method AWS locks their users in. This has been mentioned by other users here over the years. Put "aws egress" into https://www.searchhacker.news/ and enjoy the folklore.


Is the Segment example supposed to be good?

“Also socialize among eng team, get get feedback from 15-20 people.”

That’s after 3 revisions, an eng manager and cofounder review, and a dedicated editor.


That seems really excessive. Another set of informed eyes? Sure. But if you told me that was the process somewhere, I'd tell you I had better things to do.


(2020)



Cloudflare is still under a thousand employees? That’s impressively small considering their impact.


This post is from 2020. As of Oct 2023, they had over 3,300 employees according to this press release[0].

> Cloudflare has more than 3,300 team members globally

In Mar 2020, they had 1,200 employees[1]

[0] https://www.cloudflare.com/pt-br/press-releases/2023/cloudfl...

[1] https://blog.cloudflare.com/how-cloudflare-keeps-employees-p...


They grew by 2,000 employees in 3 years? WOW.


Thanks, I missed that part.


Blogs aren’t just content, and there’s no correlation between the resources available and the quality. They’re popular (both to read and to write!) because they’re a venue for authentic human voices. Like adding “reddit” to a google query they’re a way of cutting through all the bullshit. Corporate blogs that allow themselves to do the same are exceedingly rare. I suspect those that have decent tech content but convey an authentic sense of their engineering culture are probably more interesting than those with strictly deeper technical content.


What a way to humblebrag.


Still very hard to do, also he is right about the blog he mentioned.


Good process won’t guarantee good content. Bad process won’t prevent great content.

What’s more important in my view is a compelling story to tell in a way that is not corporate speak, but instead something that enlightens or surprises the audience.


The culture to think about blog entries in general is probably encouraged with a good and lean process. Some companies do not value such contribution.


I think author overestimates value of blogging for a company. While also underestimating problem running a corporate blog.

Not every employee wants to run the blog and if there is no one dedicated to it, most likely it will end up corpo-spam.

If you are an unknown company, you should have a good blog. Especially having great engineering content will help hiring. It might make you stand out or find you at all.

If you are established like cloudflare it doesn’t matter as much. I think they get loads of good CV’s anyway.




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