Blogging as a Software Engineer: Lessons Learned From 90+ Articles

Blogging as a Software Engineer: Lessons Learned From 90+ Articles
Photo by Andrew Neel / Unsplash

Writing has single-handedly been the most important skill I’ve ever learned.

But at the beginning, I didn’t think much of it. I just wanted to share my knowledge and simply write. That was 3 years ago, I remember I had barely 1 year of professional experience.

It was difficult in the beginning, but the more I wrote, the more I fell into this crazy positive feedback loop.

The Heavenly Feedback Loop

The heavenly feedback loop goes like this:

  1. I learn something new.
  2. I create an article around it, which solidifies my learning.
  3. I get some form of external validation from people benefiting from my article.
  4. I get motivated to study more.

This loop alone, made me grow 100x than I would’ve without it. At the beginning I didn’t notice it as much but three years down the line, I see the clear difference between myself and colleagues of similar experience.

I would say this is the biggest benefit I got from writing, it motivated me to pursue my curiosity in a consistent manner.

Writing helps me organize my thoughts

After writing for a while, I began to think differently.

It’s hard to explain but I believe I organise my thoughts a lot better. I seem to have developed an unconscious mental map of knowledge that helps me learn things even faster.

Writing is pretty useful in companies

A written document scales well.

I realized when working in big companies is that a big part of the job is convincing other people that your ideas are good.

One way to do that is to talk to people, do presentations, book meetings, etc... The issue with this approach is that it takes a lot of time and there’s a lot of repetition.

Having a well-written document can scale very well in these scenarios. It can be edited on the fly, shared with others, and other people can comment on it.

Writing is a door opener

One of the reasons why I was approached by my current company (Volvo Cars) is that my engineering manager read my blog and liked it.

Keep in mind, that at that time I barely had 3 years of experience and as far as I can see in Volvo, everyone has at least 10.

Volvo isn’t the only case study, a lot of other companies have approached me because they liked my “enthusiasm”. I would also like to say that I’ve met many cool people because of writing.

You can see your progress

It’s weird when I look back at my old articles, especially the first ones. It’s a bit nostalgic, to say the least.

As a person, I always wanted fast results. But that never worked out.

I always thought my progress was slow but when I look at it from a broader perspective, I see that it was 100x faster than the average.

Writing online is like having a public journal. The more you have published, the bigger your library, and with that you can go back and see how much you’ve progressed.

Practical Tips

I want this article to be about both my experience and the lessons I learned along the way. So that’s why I’m going to be sharing with you some tips I would give myself if I started all over.

Don’t start a blog

The biggest mistake of my writing career was that I moved from a platform to my own site (exclusively).

My initial thinking was that I could control my own site and the content. But that school of thought is so 2008.

We are in 2023, people don’t like going to other sites. The only traffic I seem to have gotten was from Google where I have to compete with companies that spend a lot of money on SEO.

I’m not an SEO expert, I’m just a writer.

If you want to start a blog in 2023, use a platform.

Every platform has its pros and cons, I’d suggest picking one and sticking to it. But if you want to maximize your engagement I would highly recommend X (Twitter) combined with Medium or Substack.

X for short-form content such as tweets and threads. Medium or Substack for longer form content.

PS. You can still have a personal blog site, but I would suggest to cross-post to different platforms.

You don’t need to be an expert

I sometimes write for FreeCodeCamp and have access to their analytical tool. You would expect their most popular articles to be from world-class experts at something.

It’s simple tutorials about Excel or Javascript.

I have this huge stigma about being an “expert” first and then start creating content. This has always been the number one thing that people said to me in the beginning.

“Hey Tamer, why are you writing about this subject, it has been written about a 1000 times”

I have two responses against that.

You’re never an expert

The moment you decide that you’re an expert and know it all is the moment you decide to be ignorant.

There’s always more to learn and there’s nothing wrong about sharing things from your perspective.

Just because someone else made a JavaScript tutorial, doesn’t me I can’t. I can add my own twist to it or maybe my style of writing suits a special group of people.

People learn best from people a few steps ahead of them

If you look online and see technical articles from truly world-class experts, you’ll see a lot of jargon.

The barrier of understanding is just too damn high and it’s because these people have lost the touch of being new.

They don’t know that you and I are idiots, so they’ll assume you know X, Y, and Z. But if you write from a “noob” perspective, then you know the problems that you faced that were difficult.

That’s the reason why the most popular articles on the internet are from people who are slightly above you.

Idea Generation Strategy

You have 100,000$ worth of value in your brain. You just need to write it down.

In my opinion, there are two ways to generate ideas.

  1. See what you learned or accomplished in the past and write about that.
  2. Set a learning goal and write while learning about the subject.

One looks at the past, while the other at the future.

I tend to see popular articles of the first kind, especially from people who have an extensive number of years of experience.

But I don’t have that.

That’s why I always opted for the second option. I would decide on something I wanted to learn, it could be Docker, OOP, Kubernetes, SRE, etc…

Then while I was learning about the subject, I wrote.

PS. This article is from the second strategy, they are much easier to write due to not having to do any research. I have more experience now and lots of things to share.

Get your intentions straight

Do you write for yourself or for other people?

A similar question would be, do you want to eventually monetize your writing? Because if you do want to make money out of this, then you have to be a lot more strategic.

At that point, it’s not about what you want to write about but what do people want to read. I’m not saying you should do one or the other, it’s a spectrum.

So if you choose to write for yourself, then you have no right to complain about metrics.

Create a content system

If you’re serious about this, then you would want to have a consistent schedule. I like to publish once a week (usually on Mondays) and I can’t just write one article at a time because that is very inefficient.

So, I’ve made a content generation system.

This is very personal but what I do is:

  • Generate ideas for the next 5–10 articles.
  • Pick 3–4 of them and outline them.
  • Start writing, if you get stuck on one then switch to the other.

This way, you can write many articles at once. It really speeds up the process and helps you get some time off if you need it.

Use Tools

I’m not advocating using AI to write your whole article but there are a few useful tools to keep in your belt.

  • Grammarly — This one is a #1 priority, the free version is enough.
  • Canva — If you want to create your own images then Canva is a great option.
  • Ghost — This is where I host my blog and do my actual writing because I’m so used to their shortcuts.

These are the tools I use right now but that might not always be the case in the future.

Apply for Publications

Publications are essentially organizations that authors can write for. Their advantage is that they already have well-established audiences, so you can grow faster.

The other hidden benefit of writing for a publication is that your article has to be reviewed and edited. Usually, the people who review and edit are people who have done this for a long time and are pretty good at writing themselves.

This is an easy way to improve your writing — Have it be reviewed by other people.

Use Your Unfair Advantages

Every developer needs an origin story. You might be a lawyer turned engineer or a self-taught university dropout.

These unfair advantages give you an edge over other people. They can’t simply copy your experience. You might think that you don’t have an origin story or you aren’t an interesting person.

The solution is to just be one.

To be an interesting person, do interesting things.

Anyways, how does this all come back to writing?

Origin stories are a pretty popular genre to write about. You could relate to someone on a very personal level and that person isn’t just your reader anymore but your fan.

Strive for Improvement

I can’t stress this enough. I see lots of writers who have been writing for quite some time but their actual writing skills haven’t improved.

Yes, you became a better developer but please, learn how to write. I’m no exception to this, my first article was ALL IN CAPS LETTERS. Because I thought it would motivate the reader to read “harder”.

The way I would recommend is to read more and take some writing courses, specifically the ones about online writing. We aren’t writing in the traditional fashion here.

The one book I recommend is called “The Art and Business of Online Writing”. This book is a gold gem and props to Nicholas Cole for breaking the code behind online writing.

PS. Looking back at it, I was a hardcore David Goggins fan.

Write Everyday

I can’t stress this enough. In the beginning, writing will be difficult. That’s why I suggest writing as little as 100 words or less.

It’s like a muscle, you won’t bench 100kg on your first day. But you can bench the empty bar. Coming back to writing, start slowly and you will find that it gets easier.

The same can be said otherwise. If you stop writing for a week and come back you’ll feel a bit rusty.

The more you write, the faster and better you will get.

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