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Blogging as a Developer

aspittel profile image Ali Spittel ・3 min read

I haven't posted in a while (though I've got some good stuff in the works), but I wrote this up for a talk I gave on blogging as a developer. I though these tips could be helpful for people here as well!

Why Blog?

  • Reinforce your knowledge on topics. The best way to really learn something in depth is to teach it to somebody else!
  • Demonstrate your knowledge. You can show to the world that you really know a topic inside and out!
  • Build a community and meet other people who have similar interests to your own.
  • Challenge yourself and keep yourself accountable.
  • Help people who are learning the topic you are blogging about!

How to Get Started?

  • Find a topic or a theme -- for example Vaidehi Joshi's BaseCS. It will be easier to come up with posts if you have a theme behind your blog, plus your blog will be more cohesive and followers will know what they are getting!
  • Find a platform -- or multiple! Many sites encourage cross-posting, so at least copy and paste your articles from one to another!
    • Medium is well read and has great design. Publications with lots of followers can pick up your pieces and increase your readership as well!
    • Dev.to will publicize your posts for you and has a great community already since it is completely geared towards developers.
    • Your own site! Use a CMS (like WordPress) or a static site generator (like Jekyll) to write your own blogging platform!
  • Pinpoint an audience - decide whether you want your posts to target complete beginners, casual developers, experts, etc. Write to that audience! There will be more beginners than experts in most cases, so that audience will be bigger!
  • Tone - be conversational and casual in your blog posts. Those posts tend to spark the most discussion and engage readers the most. Explain jargon and explain tricky topics in greater detail.
  • Use lots of code samples, links, pictures, and embeds in your posts. Break up the text!

Beating Writers Block

  • Having a topic for your blog should help.
  • Reach out to your social media networks and see what posts they want.
  • Keep a list of future articles when you think of them. Write them down!
  • Look at what questions people are asking on StackOverflow, Twitter, etc.

Gaining Readership

  • Social Media! Schedule posts to go out regularly about your blog post. Also, engage in conversation about your topic online and provide your post as an additional resource.
  • Tag the social media accounts of the technology you wrote about in your posts, they may publish the article to their accounts as well!
  • Monitor readership and your audience.
  • Post to othere people's blogs. Some accept guest posts or are an aggregation of other people's posts. For example, most Medium publications and CSSTricks!
  • Create an Email newsletter to update people on new posts.
  • Post regularly to keep people coming back.
  • Use the tagging system your blogging platform gives you. It will help push your blog towards people interested in your topic.
  • Write articles on cutting edge technology -- there will be less articles on that subject and a lot of they hype will already be there for you on that topic!
  • Have a footer at the bottom of each post with links to other similar articles you've written and a call to action for them to follow your blog.

Additional Resources

Posted on by:

aspittel profile

Ali Spittel

@aspittel

Passionate about education, Python, JavaScript, and code art.

Discussion

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Writing has made me so much more confident as a developer. People kind of think you have to be confident as a developer to get into writing but it definitely works in reverse. I mean I got so into it I started dev.to. It's amazing how necessary it is for our ecosystem, and therefor the world.

I'll note for folks reading this that dev.to is very friendly to crossposting, either from your own site or an existing Medium feed. It's your content, we are just partners in helping you find the community to enjoy it. Info on that is in settings.

 

The problem is people only ever want to engage on nontechnical topics (like this). I have 236 followers on this website and i've talked to like 3 of them. The engagement is super shallow and I want to engage on technical topics. I dont know why but Spectrum and Twitter have been far better for technical engagement than dev.to. If I were Ben I would be worried.

 

I agree with your assessment, but I think we're making some really solid strides in this regard. It may not be super clear yet. By the way Shawn I got your Twitter DM on this subject. It's all super well-received and sorry I never got back to you.

 

"People kind of think you have to be confident as a developer to get into writing but it definitely works in reverse."
It's like I used to always tell my fashion-challenged roommate before he started dressing well! (he was heading towards law school, it was my duty to get him looking a little more fly!)
He would pick up a cool piece of clothing on a shopping trip, and I would immediately identify it as the dopest piece that he got, while he would always have it pinned as the one he probably wants to return cause he felt like a poser wearing it. I told him that literally fake it till you make it! It's not universal, but it's pretty close. I said just wear the clothes and feel like a dork that everyone is laughing at for like 3 days and then for the rest of your life you'll be confident wearing that type of style or item.
example: i dressed very very autism spectrum-y when I was young. (there is a simple explanation for this. lol) I ordered a pair of skinny jeans on accident, SUPER SKINNY, and since I was broke as hell I decided to wear them anyway even though it felt like a pants-shaped rubberband.
I can't think of how many pairs of skinnys I've just worn through til they're raw.
Now apply that to everything! Besides idk nuclear engineering
edit: just realized, i could totally write a post based on this. lol.

 

how do you crosspost from medium?

 

100% this. I am always commenting that I had a close friend of mine's confidence in putting stuff out there.

 

This is something I'm interested in. How do you guys find time to write? Do you write in the morning, or the evening after work? I feel like I can't do more code related stuff after work because I'm exhausted. In the morning I go to the gym (5x week) so I don't have that time. I don't like going to the gym in the evening because of a) gym is packed and I can't do my exercise properly and b) there's always something that can come up in the evenings so I end up skipping it. It's kind of hard to find a balance here.. at least in my case. Your thoughts?

 

I just make it part of my routine. I also write a lot on weekends when I usually can devote a whole morning to it! I normally get home from evening plans around 8/9 and then spend a few hours working on blogging or code projects! I also usually work Sunday evenings and Saturday mornings!

 

My plan is to write a post every 10-15 days. I have noticed that if I work half an hour daily regarding writing, it is pretty convenient in terms of time. I have heard other people are writing while standing at queues or while commuting. Or as Ali mentioned, you can devote Saturday mornings, being refreshed to complete half your article or so.

 

Ah I wanted to ask the same question, haha. I find this super insightful, but whenever I work for an employer I find it really hard to keep on blogging. As a freelancer I make some time for it myself, and might work a few hours less on my projects. But now I'm employed again the amount of blogging quickly fades. Just like you I go to the gym in the morning, although when I wake up reheally early I might get 30m of writing in..which for me is like 1/15th of my average blogpost 😅

 

There are different kind of posts you can write. It doesn't need to be elaborate research project each time, but if you are able to articulate message in few sentences you can write a post like this within an hour or so.

 

As Ali mention in her post, you can take a note of problem and their solution that you face while working and make a blog post in weakened. Which is really helpful to others who are facing same problem and sometimes yourself.

 

May I ask, is it recommended to publish each post in different platforms?

I started blogging when I discovered dev.to and I can the points in "why blog" but haven't done anything with regards of gaining readership.

When ever I thought of re-publishing the articles I write here to medium or into a personal blog I never do it because it feels I don't know ...

Do you re-publish the same content in different platforms?

 

I post to my own platform, I am copying it to medium and then almost automatically it gets posted here too. For me, it is just a matter of control. But it is just me. :)

I have to admit, dev.to is a very warm dev home and I really enjoy the vibe of the community here.

 

I don't think it's totally necessary. Many folks write specifically with the mindset that it'll go on dev.to but we do try to make the process as easy as possible for folks that do. Out of principle I think many like the idea of publishing to their own platform even if they are also publishing elsewhere.

 

Also worth noting that dev.to allows you to use a canonical URL so search engines know it's the same post and index it accordingly (good for your SEO).

 

I have different content here than on my own site; my own site has more specific how-to type stuff so I use dev.to to separate the "culture", "career", etc. type of material.

Also, inspired by an earlier dev.to post which I can't find now, I don't care about SEO and don't have a "hit counter" on my own page, so this is not a worry!

 

It feels... spammy? Sneaky? Like some terrible violation of DRY (don't-repeat-yourself)? :) I know that feeling. I still fight it.

I try to think about it this way:

  • is the post helpful? (yes)
  • given the set of people in the world who it would help, did all of them read it when I posted it on [Reddit|HN|my blog|dev.to]? (probably not)
  • if I repost it somewhere else, might it get in front of new people and help them? (probably)
  • and what happens if someone has already seen it elsewhere? (they'll probably just ignore it)
  • think of times you've seen an article in 3 different places. Did that make you unhappy? Did it lend credibility to the article?

I publish my posts on my own blog first, and then I sometimes republish them on dev.to or Medium, and I send them to my email list, and I often share them somewhere too (Reddit/Twitter/FB/etc). If you believe it's helpful, there's not much sense in keeping it quiet :)

 

Which subreddits do you post to? I've always been super intimidated by posting there!

I usually just post to r/reactjs because most of my posts are on React and related stuff.

It IS intimidating. It still is for me, but it was much scarier in the beginning. On top of that, some subreddits are just not very friendly. r/programming and r/javascript come to mind... I tend to avoid those :)

I think the key, and what helped me, was to become active in the community before posting anything. It helped build up my own confidence, and also build up some reputation.

I'd reply to comments, answer questions (without linking out to my own stuff right out the gate), and after a little while, work in links to my posts when it was relevant. I try to write a helpful reply, and if I've got a related post, end the comment with "If you want more detail, I've written about this [here]". And once you've got some trust built up it's much less intimidating to post your own links to the subreddit, and they're more likely to be accepting.

It varies by subreddit too. Some are less friendly, some really hate links to your own stuff... but some are very accepting of it. Figuring out that vibe is another good reason to hang out and interact wherever you think you could help. And not just for Reddit of course :)

 

I personally do, but I think its totally fine to just post here as well! I post to Medium and my personal blog as well

 

Don't do what I did and think it is a great idea to develop your own blogging platform. Seriously I spend so much time on it I have no time left to write the blog posts.

 

Oh, interesting! I wrote one using GatsbyJS and I love it! It's relatively recent though, so maybe it'll be hard to maintain

 

I wrote mine years ago in C#/ASP.Net using a custom data layer and SQL Server, then I moved it to use Entity Framework, then I moved it to ASP.Net MVC, then I moved it to Azure, then I moved it to AWS, then I added better image support, then I added commenting, then I developed my own Captcha, then I added the Word Press API to make it Open Live Writer compatible, then I added the Blogger ATOM API, then I added jQuery, then I thought the web admin interface needed an over hall, then I wrote a web wysiwyg HTML editor, then I redesigned the look and feel using CSS, then I thought LESS would be good, then I made it Angular, then I thought SASS would be good, then I added a CDN, then I changed to React, and then I had kids.

Seriously the project is never ending.

Haha too funny, I have it so I can just write markdown in my text editor and then run a script that transpiles it to HTML and then deploys it!

 

At two different times I rolled my own blog platform but only made it through 2-5 posts before the maintenance killed me. I suffered from wanting to build something so bad that I tried to do everything from scratch.

Recently, though, I set up my own site just using the Gatsby blog starter and its been a lot easier; I can actually spend my effort writing and cross posting.

Mine's Gatsby too! I'm obsessed with it!

 

Along the same lines, just do some theme shopping and find a serviceable theme that does what you mostly want to do.

I have revised and re-written Wordpress themes and plugins so often that my blog turned into a 5 year journey.

 

Thank you for pointing this out. I once had a WordPress blog but I'd spend the best part of my time searching for plugins and ways to improve the blog and neglect the most important thing which is to actually write the article. The reason I decided to just focus on Medium amd dev.to where everything is done for you and you just focus on writing your articles.

 

That's something I've been thinking about, and decided to go with WordPress for many obvious reasons, but mostly — it's your own platform

 

This is great. Blogging is great. I highly recommend blogging :)

But seriously: it has (good!) unintended consequences.

You start to feel more confident, because the act of writing blogs/tutorials will fill in the missing gaps in your knowledge.

People will start treating you like you know what you're talking about! Don't discount this. It feeds your confidence and causes a nice positive feedback loop, and also can lead to real opportunities (paid guest posts, jobs, consulting, etc). This is sort of unexpected and sort of counterintuitive. It's easy to look at the Twitter-famous devs and wonder how they got that way. Chances are, they got that way by consistently putting stuff out there that people found valuable. Could be open source software, but often it's combined with a significant amount of writing helpful stuff.

I'm a big fan of having your own platform. Facebook, Twitter, Medium... they're great for getting the word out, but they own the traffic and the readers. I suggest posting to your own site first, and syndicating content ("importing it") to Medium, dev.to, etc.

The other huge benefit to owning the platform is you can build up an email list, and stay in touch with your readers. When you get an email from someone saying how much your post helped them, got them unstuck after days of struggling, made a concept clear in their mind... that's an awesome feeling. It's huge for motivation, too.

I love the meta-advice from this article: that you can reuse content in multiple forms :) Turn your talk into a blog post. Turn a popular blog post into a talk. Or a podcast, or a video (series, even). Or a tweet thread. Sky's the limit!

 

That Twitter idea is awesome! Thanks!! I definitely have done the conference talk re-config though!

 

I'll add this: when in doubt, post it. I framed out a post in like February of 2016 about my perspective on Snapchat's prospects and where I thought their roadmap would take them. I think on like 5 of 7 points I was dead on, and I just never posted it because I was concerned about being right. It obviously wasn't an educational post, but it ran counter to much of the zeitgeist at the time, and I just wish I had put it out there.

 

Thank you so much Ali. I just started my first blog and it was super fun and rewarding. While considering where to publish my blog, I found dev.to to be the most welcoming community to first-time bloggers. The community is amazing!

My current goal is to write a blog once a month.

 

This is a nice wrap-up!

I've been thinking about creating a blog for quite a time now, but was always unsure because there already are sooooo many good blogs, resources and other publications about x. This - plus never feeling expert enough at something - has kept me from starting, even though I love documenting & writing, and have lots of post ideas. 😅

I've never thought about the benefits I too have from starting a blog / writing about specific topics though. So yeah your post kinda convinced me to go and really start a blog now.

Thank you! I'll def. save your post to come back from time to time. 🙂

 

Yay! This is awesome! I think writing posts when you are just learning something can almost be more helpful for people because it reinforces your knowledge and you also are probably not going to go too far over the heads of your readers. You can relate more easily to other people learning that tool!

 

Great tips! I need to sort out that last point on my personal blog, related posts might get more articles in front of people.

I've got one more point for you for why to blog though. I'm always checking old posts I wrote to remind me of things I know. I write for future Phil and it normally helps me out, if it helps anyone else then that's a bonus.

 

I love this article. I keep trying to think of the best way to jump in and write a substantial article that is technical in nature, but I think most would be too full of weird math stuff that I'm excited about to attract an audience or to give me a larger profile for my job search. But the article is a great confidence booster and guide.

 

I think I got all right besides the community part.

I have hunderets of followers on dev.to and Twitter, but I have the feeling there isn't much interaction happening.

The only thing that gets me going is the fact that I love software development and like to learn new things, but most of the time I have the feeling nobody really cares about what and if I write.

Even when I write comments on other peoples posts they often just post replies that feel like generic acknowledgments to me. "Thanks for your opinion blabla", like, they know they have to answer so it looks like something is happening on their posts and they are responsive, but they don't really care about what other people think.

On the other hand, I'm not the social type, maybe this shines through online and people don't bother, hehe.

 

Very nice post! They're gonna come in very handy once I start up my own blog.. Would love to see more of your tips! :)

 

Thanks for posting this. These tips are everything I need for an extra push I officially started blogging.

 

Yay! that is awesome to hear!

 

This is good, but it's describing blogging as something with a metric for success, and I don't think blogging needs that.
If your purpose with blogging is anything other than to write about stuff you're passionate about, then you should probably start by defining your goal.
Is it to get the largest number of followers you can? Then you can start by looking for the low-hanging fruit - if the medium you've chosen doesn't already have a food fight about vim Vs Emacs, start one!
Is it to improve your chances of getting a particular job? Then you could do better if you research the role and find something to write about which relates to both the company and yourself.

 

super helpful post thank you.

I am a react/rails dev with 3 years now, and I am just starting to write blog posts and articles , i've found dev.to to be a great outlet , i'm experiencing all of the things you've listed above , especially the reinforcing of new concepts.

I usually like to write about problems and issues i run into , and are at first really difficult for me to understand, i feel like those are the most important ones to write about. not only does it reinforce my own knowledge of the issue, but also i can hopefully maybe reach someone who is struggling with a similar issue and help them solve it!

thanks so much

 

I've published a small handful of blog posts on Medium so far this year - it was definitely easy to get set up and just jot down thoughts until enough came together to make a cohesive post in itself.

I didn't intend to "start a blog" at all, I wouldn't consider myself a blogger.

  • My first proper post came about because I merely had some thoughts on what someone else said. I was originally going to Tweet a reply, but what I had to say was hard to explain without examples and a bit of an explanation, so it ended up being long enough to make it an entire post.
  • My second proper post (explaining bitmasks) was something I was simply curious about myself, and all I wanted to do was note down some points because it's a subject not often talked about in PHP-land
  • I have a few more posts I've made in the meantime, but generally, these are just miscellaneous thoughts or links to libraries I've made, and posting about it on a blog, even if just a few words, makes it feel like it's "out there" that little bit more

Writing has definitely had an effect on me as a developer over the past few months. I'm finding it pushes me in different directions and researching more into a couple of topics than I otherwise would have.

It helps me to solidify ideas and back up my opinions on them instead of just letting them fester half-unfinished in the back of my mind.

 

Somehow the gained readership anti-proportional to the amount of time I put into an article.

 

That's how I feel about this article :( my top reacted to and read article took me like 1/20th of the time of a normal one!

 

Should one blog under own name (personal brand) or came up with a specific name for a blog? Which approach is better and why?

 

That's actually a really fascinating question. My blog is the Zen of Programming, but on here and Medium I post as Ali Spittel. Most of the huge programming blogs have their own names and branding, which is why I did as well. But, if you are blogging to get a job or for career purposes (which I'm not) it may be better to blog exclusively as yourself in order to get the full recognition? I'm not totally sure here to be honest -- I actually just tweeted this in order to keep the discussion going.

 

I just posted an article last night on my blog. I'd definitely re post it here. Great article <3

 

Do it! The community is awesome!

 

Helpful tips all in one place as I start my own blog adventures. Did a Wordpress workshop a few weeks ago..

 

Which platform would you say is better for posting daily? I was considering Medium or Dev.to, but they seemed much better for larger posts that aren't as frequent as daily.

 

Great question! Not totally sure on that one since I haven't tried that before. My bet would be Medium, though.

 

Now, I record casually,I like this way.But i'm afraid that it's too casual to be scrappy!