On the 22nd of July, 2018 (apparently) I published my first blog post. I had long had various little ideas that I would want to share. But I just didn’t get around to it. It’s often difficult to start things. Now it has been just over a year and this is my 24th post.
Blogging as a hobby
The notes here are around blogging as a hobby. Akin to how lots of organisations now have public blogs as a method of enriching themselves though there is no direct revenue generation. I feel maintaining a blog for a living is a different kettle of fish, though indeed there will be a good deal of overlap.
The last 30 days:
The same period last year:
So thankfully there’s some clear progress!
For some earlier posts I posted links in some related subreddits but otherwise I haven’t done any marketing. The growth has been steady and organic via Medium’s SEO and internal propagation mechanisms. Lately, some of my posts have been picked up by Medium’s editorial team.
You can see some interesting patterns. ‘Reads’ are around half of ‘Views’. The weekend means significantly less activity. Peak is usually Monday or Tuesday and there is usually a gradual drop over the week with lowest on Thursday or Friday.
Additionally, my post performance follows a pareto distribution with most posts averaging in the same range and some posts performing significantly better.
I work full-time as a DevOps / Platform Engineer which is a sub-area of software engineering and delivery. For context I’m 24, from England and I live in London. I have a Computer Science degree and 3 and a half years work experience in IT.
I write a technical blog topically related to my profession. This just means that all of the benefits described in the post overlap and contribute somewhat to my career development. Which is good for obvious reasons. I can gain blog ideas from the technology I work with and the issues I face on a day to day basis or look into other topics where I’m not otherwise getting the opportunity.
But of course, the fact that you are already dedicating a lot of your time to your job may be the exact reason you want to focus on another subject in your free time. You may hate your job or simply be interested in other things. All good reasons to choose to write about something else.
It’s sensible for your blog to have a theme (or themes) so that you can build credibility in the area and a bit of an audience. Then you can always branch out a bit. But I think it’s good to have a logical base. As mentioned, I write about Software engineering and delivery which is really broad with lots of specialisms and variance. But i’m also interested in writing about other stuff in the future.
It doesn’t matter if the subject is niche. In fact that’s a good thing as there is less competition and more room for growth. The Internet is a big place. The only requirement should be that you have genuine and ideally long-lasting interest in the subject. There is an obvious opportunity cost when writing a blog as a hobby. You could be dedicating more time to other activities. More recreation / relaxation / health / fitness / whatever else.
If you aren’t passionate about the subject then don’t bother; use your time in a manner which makes sense for you.
Guides, cheat-sheets, overviews, opinions, analysis, comparisons, projects, retrospectives. Mix it up. Anything from quick-tips to thoughtful essays.
Writing and communication
With conscious effort, reflection and time you tend to get better at things. Through writing your ability to write improves (duh). You get a better feel for it and can work with greater efficiency. Matching audience and content becomes more natural and you exercise better judgement in tuning width, depth, assumptions, emphasis and length. In an essential way, you also increase your capacity to communicate more broadly. The inputs for composing a good analysis, outline or argument are the same ingredients required for scripting various presentations and demonstrations. Storytelling, problem introduction and resolution, empathy, humor, concision, clarity, structure, balance, enthusiasm, optimism. The ability to communicate well is really valuable and content composition is half the battle.
Teaching / Contributing
There is some intrinsic benefit to providing content or teaching others. You are using your faculties to produce something of utility for others. You are contributing something of value to society in some small way. I am an avid consumer of the types of content I create. I enjoy keeping up to date with trends and ideas through opinion and thought-pieces. And in terms of working in technology blogs and help forums (i.e Stack Overflow) are invaluable to being productive and overcoming problems.
It’s cliche but you do learn a lot by teaching. Translating ideas to the external world forces you to distill things to be simpler and clearer and highlights gaps in your own knowledge. You can also learn quite explicitly with a blog. You can ‘learn in public’ and create educational content as you go. Cheat-sheets, overviews and examples to help others learn the same stuff. This pattern provides strong motivation to learn new things as you can turn what you learn into some tangible quantity. Expect educational content on Linux SysAdmin, Kubernetes, AWS and Python in the future as these are some of my key learning areas.
It’s perfectly acceptable to want to keep your work and interests private. But it’s also normal to want to share with others. Many activities produce a public or semi-public output by default. But lots of work is done in private. An artist or artisans output can be portfolioed quite easily but a tradesperson could use a blog to photograph and detail jobs they are proud of where otherwise it would remain unknown. It’s common practice for indie game developers to maintain a DevBlog for community building and organic marketing. In enterprise IT work is very often undertaken on private systems. And even if you are working on an outwardly famous project, your exact contribution isn’t clear. By doing things in public you — to some degree — garner more visibility and validity within the community you are operating. If the stuff you are doing isn’t visible to those who might be interested then a blog is great for helping with this. If your work is already visible then a blog can still help complement and extend the work. In IT, personal projects and especially open-source contributions are also highly regarded.
Lastly in my little list is the fact that blogs offer an outlet for creativity. An effective pass-time where you are using your imagination to generate something out of nothing. This is especially cool for someone like me who is not artistic in the traditional sense.
Some generic tips
You obviously want your content to be appealing and to get it in front of people who might enjoy it. If you search there are good resources for this sort of information. It’s an area I also want to improve in too. Here are some starting points…
- Back up to your own domain - If you’re using a blogging platform (like I am) then it would be good to backup your blog to your own domain and hosting. This is more work but you never know what will happen in the future so this is good risk-mitigation.
- Understand SEO - Ensure you do whatever is in your power in terms of Search Engine Optimisation.
- Consider basic marketing - Social media, newsletters etc.
- Establish a consistent look and feel - Try to set and follow some style guidelines for each post.
- Understand what is popular - Do some basic research to find out which types of blog posts seem to perform well. Then it’s perfectly fine to reject it if it doesn’t suit what you want to achieve but useful to know in the first place.
Tips from experience
Give the people what they want
Where possible try to enrich your content. Using things like photographs, screenshots, diagrams etc. People tend to prefer Engineering blogs with example architectures and actual code.
Lots of ideas?
I find it’s best to focus on planning, writing and editing one post at a time. When ideas for different topics come then just list them down and return to the task at hand. If you really feel inspired then it’s okay to pause your current work while you explore the new idea. But generally, one by one works best. When I am trying to work on too many things in parallel I can feel quite scatter brained and dis-organised which makes it hard to progress.
Some things are inherently complex and as such require more time to explain appropriately. That’s fine. There is room for content of all different lengths. Just ensure you stay on-topic and that each section contributes to the main point in some way. If you find yourself writing a lot in a sub-topic in an article and are struggling to make it fit then consider re-structuring. Move the topic to a separate piece where it can be covered properly without meandering in the original piece.
If you are bothered by the quality of some of your older work then I believe the best thing to do is leave it and move on. See it as a great sign of progress that your latest stuff is much better. If you presented facts which were wildly inaccurate then issue a correction. If you have simply come to think that you were wrong and now disagree with your previous self then write a rebuttal. Arguing with yourself is much more fun than arguing with others.
Always remember to give credit!
• were inspired by someone else’s article / post / project,
• are just repeating someone else’s idea,
• found someone’s answer on a forum post useful,
• are using artwork created by another (assuming permission to do so),
…then credit them!
Do so by linking or referencing inline or at the end of your post depending what seems to fit better.
And remember to like / vote / clap others work when you do like it.
Thanks for reading about the positive experience I’ve had in writing stuff on the internet so far. Maintaining a blog as a hobby has been a positive decision for me and I hope that I can encourage others with this post.