I created @ThePracticalDev and dev.to, ask me anything!

Ask away, I'd love to share! ❀️

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DISCUSSION (112)

After reading so much content over the year (since dev.to was created), what, in your opinion, makes for a good technical blog post? What are the characteristics of strong technical writing? Are there any patterns or themes that you've seen emerge in the blog posts that you've enjoyed the most or learn a lot from?

Firstly, I think variety in styles and goals is ideal, so characteristics can vary, but here are a few thoughts:

  • Good posts let the author's personality come through. I love reading @_theycallmetoni posts like this one, which are far from generic. Sometimes in the technical part developers can forget how much us humans relate to one another in human ways. Let your personality shine through.
  • Good posts aren't usually trying to come up with wholly original ideas. It's fine if it works out that way, but if you try to come up with something nobody's ever said before, you run the risk of spewing esoteric bullshit. There's no shame in putting your own spin on a subject that's been touched on by others.
  • Good posts have the right title. This is where you express your value proposition to the reader. It's hard to do, but I see a lot of overly cryptic titles. (But yours are good 😁)
  • Good posts don't bury the lede all the way at the end.
  • Good posts get published! This is the hardest part for many people, but it's worth publishing your stuff, even if it's not perfect. On dev.to, we work hard to maintain an environment where you're not going to be ripped apart for not being perfect, so hopefully that helps.

I'm really not sure I expressed everything perfectly here, but that's what comes to mind. Thanks for the great question.

I see Dev.to mostly publishing technical posts (frameworks, concepts, techniques, etc.), but I've also seen a few of the "Programmer Life" type posts (burnout, mentoring, etc.).

Is there a particular mix of the two you're looking for? Do you want the submissions to be heavier on the technical or is it more dependent on what the community is offering?

I ask as a not entirely disinterested party - if it's the sort of thing you'd like to see, I'd like to submit a more tightly written summation of a blog series I recently started.

Think of the audience as programmers (as opposed to "tech" like startups and venture capitalists and that sort of thing) but otherwise posts do not really have to be technical at all as long as they might help someone. I wrote a post about fitness which really didn't have anything to do with code, but was directed at programmers and the things we deal with in our careers/life.

So I'd say the technical/non-tech isn't as important as knowing the audience. If you are an experienced programmer with a story to tell, it's definitely appropriate. Just use titles that express the value of the post.

What's one of the hardest lessons you learned prior to your success with TPD? Or even during... :)

Patience! Before starting this whole project, I let my own projects come and go too quickly. Before starting The Practical Dev, I told myself I'd have to pick something that I'd still be willing to commit to even if success took ten years.

I still haven't found "that" project yet :)

I'd look for something super low key and maintainable. Something that delivers actual value to, like, 10 people now and not theoretical value to 1,000,000 people in three years and with $15m in funding. Simple, maintainable projects with room enough to grow out to be complicated beasts.

For the record, this project has become a complicated beast, but it happened naturally.

Where/What do you hope to see dev.to && The Pratical Dev grow to be?

We want to be that resource that's by your side as you grow as a developer. All our careers are a sequence of crossing different chasms and it can be a scary place. Everyone deals with some insecurity about the paths they choose, and we hope to facilitate the "I have no idea what I'm doing" gap.

We've made it when I feel like people can seriously lean on the tool and we can feel like we're really there whenever you need us to be. Us as in the community or tool, or however you want to describe it.

From there I have some far out ideas about what could be done with a community of all the world's developers working together to solve hard problems. There are a lot of steps to take between now and right now we're five people working out of a single room, so I don't get too deep into those crazy dreams, yet.

Ben Halpern DEV.TO FOUNDER

Hey there, we see you aren't signed in. (Yes you, the reader. This is a fake comment.)

Please consider creating an account on dev.to. It literally takes a few seconds and we'd appreciate the support so much. ❀️

Plus, no fake comments when you're signed in. πŸ™ƒ

dev.to has been called the "Medium for Developers" by many people I know. Does that align with your vision or do you see dev.to as evolving to something more than a content platform?

Step 0 has been to provide a lot of the value that people find with Medium, but I've always thought of this as a starting point of what it can be. Medium is constrained by its need to be all things to all publishers. I really think serving developers specifically allows us to be a "progressively enhanced" version of Medium.

I'm not the kind of person to try hard to correct people because it's not my platform, it's theirs. If they have a different thought about it, I take that description seriously and go back to the drawing board with the intel.

So that's a good way to describe it but it's not how I/we think of it because we're thinking towards the future where we've built on top of our core primitives to provide more value than just Medium for devs.

Agree wholeheartedly. I think the "Medium" analogy is primarily in the sense that this encourages well-crafted long form narratives (vs. short tweets or social network posts). And in that sense it provides a basis for starting.

The biggest value/difference I have seen though is that dev.to seems driven more by conversation (2-way community interactions and collaboration) than publication (1-way content sharing). It fosters a better sense of "belonging" and a lot of credit for that goes to way all of you at TPD/dev.to have embraced experimentation and feedback. Thank you all.

The biggest value proposition we can offer over Medium is that we really care about the experience for developers, and we have ideology specifically focused on improving the developer community. Any positive effects that Medium provides in this since are purely coincidental.

Medium has raised $132M and was founded by a publishing platform celebrity, so I won't be so bold as to say we're just better, but we have a lot of leverage in our capacity to go vertical and focus on this community.

As an aside, before I moved to the states to try this wacky tech-venturing thing I'm doing, I was working on a Medium-esque platform and consulting some investors to see if I should pursue this. This was before Medium had launched, but I was given the advice to not bother competing since they'd crush me. This was probably okay advice at the time, but I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about that, and I feel like I have my own private rivalry with Medium. I'm not one to care much about the "competition", but I go back to that conversation a lot for motivation.

And you have real markdown, not that weird crapthing medium does πŸ’—

When are we getting to see an official dev.to Spotify playlist? :-) Would love to see devs share their best coding, debugging and documentation task playlists :-)

What do you look for in a software engineer? What do you see as some of the crucial languages for well rounded developers to know?

I think a well-rounded developer should appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of different languages, but I wouldn't need or expect them to know all of them. I really think displaying well-rounded fascination is valuable, but you can develop an expertise.

I think the tee shaped skillset is a great model:

I also think it doesn't matter which area you choose to go deep in, because in going deep in anything you're going to incidentally learn a lot about other things. If you allow yourself to seriously go deep on a subject with purpose and a healthy amount of obsession, you are going to learn a lot about a lot of things. And the things you don't know, you'll have a lot more confidence in your capacity to develop an expertise that you could jump into that stuff later.

What is your philosophy on ads? I notice that Google Analytics is the only thing my ad blocker flags on this site. (I'm one of those people on whom ads are utterly wasted.)

How is dev.to funded since its apparently not ads? (And thank you for that.)

Revenue plans: Value add features: Job listings (as a tag users can follow when they are looking), courses, paid pitches by infra providers, and anywhere were we can provide strong value delivered to just those who want to hear about it. Some form of high quality ad has its place in this mindset as well. But I am extremely skeptical of anything that makes us money without simultaneously providing a lot of value to the users.

Right now we're being frugal with some funding for our current operations. We'll be launching the first rev-generating feature soon (hiring tag) and we're also scoping out some seed funding. We thought about approaching revenue earlier on but it was really hard to keep our eyes on the prize in terms of being skeptical of non-value-add revenue.

So basically we do have what we think is a solid business model but we're going to run on some seed capital while we patiently make good on it.

Here's the mental model for the value of the platform.

  • Intellectual exchanges
  • Emotional exchanges
  • Economic exchanges <- This is where we'll make money

As you consider ads, please be wary of 3rd party ad platforms. You never really know who is going to be advertising through these. They can be used as an attack vector to spread malware.

In general, I appreciate your thoughtful approach. Thank you!

Way ahead of you on that. We're not going to be serving third party ads at all unless it's clearly the right choice, for the reasons you're describing and the general user experience. We want a fast website that delivers actual value.

We will potentially use other tracking pixels in addition to Google Analytics, where appropriate for analytics and cross-platform stuff. But the plan is to be reasonable about it. Users come first.

I saw you added a Billing tab to the Edit Profile tab. Do you have any idea of how much the premium features will cost? I definitely want to pay, I just am still looking for work right now. I find a lot of value in what you are doing here, and the job tag is important to me.

When will these features be rolling out? Any ETA?

Thanks for building this.

Whats the single, most important technical advice you would give to yourself if you managed to travel back in time right before starting dev.to?

I can be pretty hard-headed when it comes to people giving me direct advice I didn't ask for, so there's a chance I'd ignore my own advice 😁

But if I were to...

A lot of my hypothesis along the way have been pretty good. While we've made a lot of detours along the way, no one thing strategically was bad enough to take us way off pace. I have some hypothetical separate directions which might have been way better than the current path, but no way to know if they'd be better.

But here's the one thing I'd do:

Open source the app from the beginning.

This is something that didn't even occur to me early on, but it's something I could have done. We're gradually working to open the app, but it would have been way easier to do that from the beginning.

lol, I wanted to give this comment one like but it always counted down, now it shows -12?! xD

What are your dev tools of choice? What does your desk look like?

I don't use a lot of personal dev tools. I have my editor, VS Code, and that's about it on personal tools really. I use and like git standup and as a team we rely on some collab tools and monitoring tools.

dev.to stack

I want to find more good tools, but my brain can't handle too many different things, so I'm a very slow adopter of tools. Usually I have to see someone using something for a while before trying it myself, just because I won't have the patience to learn the ins and outs on my own unless it's critical.

As for my desktop:

You've managed to build up quite a community without even (seemingly) trying! As a community builder, that's fascinating to me :) Do you view it as a "if you build it, they will come" analogy? Or have you been doing things behind the scenes to cultivate this community? Also... if you haven't been doing anything yet, do you plan to in the future?

Oh there is definitely a lot of trying involved. But I've done enough failing in this space that I act very deliberately and have very low expectations about people's interest in the things I make. Like, I've built things where I had to beg my friends and family to use.

So definitely no "if we build it, they will come" mantra, but more of a "If we obsess over the details, remain patient, offer clear value and respect peoples' time, they will come eventually" attitude.

Sounds about right haha :) Do you have a group of folks that you're gathering feedback from (aka the Slack group?) or are you just observing how people are using the site?

It's a combination of things. It's always a matter of "we could be doing more" but right now we're working with UX students to audit our site as a part of their program in school and we are super excited to see what they come back to us with.

🌭🌭def answer
🌭🌭🌭🌭"Neither; hotdogs"
🌭🌭end

Technically, hotdog flavored whitespace should use a Zero Width Joiner i.e. U+1F32D U+200D U+3000.

πŸŒ­β€γ€€

Hi Ben, dev.to has a massive community (127K on twitter!) - congrats.

How did you generate the initial following and start to build a network? What was the seed that got it all growing and what has been your most successful growth tactic to date?

My main key was to allow the project to take forever to grow. I said I'd be okay if it took 10 years and worked on it very gradually. I observed what worked and what did not and put myself into it.

Huge growth moments were the jokes and working hard to be myself. I'm a real weirdo and before I got into software, I thought I wanted to get into sitcom writing. I knew I had an interesting on a lot of things in this industry, so I didn't hold back!

These days, since I love writing code, I've been putting most of my effort into writing features that can augment the voices of the rest of the community, especially underrepresented groups.

What do you want for your birthday?

On my birthday a couple days ago, I told folks they could share this post as a present. If they want to do it as a belated gift, it's super welcome.

Otherwise if you want to pledge to be an awesome member of the community by giving lots of ❀️ to people's posts they worked so hard on and giving loving comments. Those things are free and it means so much to those who put themselves out there with ideas.

How are you finding work-life balance with all the things that you do? And how do you stay grounded in a tech ecosystem that has highs and lows on a daily basis?

I try to continually set expectations with those around me so they know burnout is a real thing, and that because I work so hard most of the time, sometimes I'm going to be out of commission altogether. And try to offer the same respect to them.

We try to proactively avoid "butt-in-seat syndrome" where you might be sitting in your chair not being productive, but unwilling to leave and go home because nobody else has. Everyone is expected to work hard, but be honest when they just need to go home and be humans.

Have recently joined the dev.to community and it's great! I just wanted to ask how you've gone about building such a community? What have your biggest challenges been in this process?

For whatever reason, this is the sort of thing I've been building or taking part in my whole life. Online communities have been such a big part of my life but I think there's a lot missing from the current space. So I felt like I had a lot of insight and motivation, the rest was drumming up interest on the Internet.

A community is essentially a multi-sided marketplace with supply and demand economics and serious chicken and egg problems. So key was to start with an offering that didn't rely on the network effect and only lean on that once the overall demand was high enough. Things started out as only the @thepracticaldev Twitter account, and a lot of work in bringing value until it was time to move more in the community direction. We're still petal-to-the-metal on growing to avoid the tide of irrelevancy. There is no space for being complacent.

I did, and thanks!

I really like 70s computer aesthetic

So the design is sort of an homage to that. Sometimes we get busy just doing stuff, and don't have time and energy to stick to the the original vision for some stuff. @jess does a great job of keeping track of the vision in subtle ways we can lose track of when we're busy.

Do you plan to a release a "dev.to" font pack?

I have a weird relationship with food/drink in that I never really settle on brands I like. I'm always like "I'll have whatever's good". It's an easy way to be, but I wish I could come to become more of a connoisseur about something.

The motivations of the site became more concrete over time. Early on it really was "I want to make something I'd be happy to work on even if it took ten years". As certain things worked, it became clear I could solve problems more fundamental to my own life as a developer and the problems the community faces as a whole. I wouldn't say we've even scratched the service on providing a true solution, but that's certainly what motivates me every day.

How can we as the users make what you do easier?

Lots of β€οΈπŸ™Œ etc. on posts and comments and leave lots of good questions/comments on posts! People usually have more to say and good, positive, encouragement really brings the best out of them.

Would you want us to get you anything as a belated birthday present? :D

😁 No that's plenty!

While the ends have justified the means, from a reinvent the wheel perspective, why did you create dev.to and not use another pre-existing platform - Medium, Reddit, StackOverflow, etc?

I've always like to riff off existing patterns. I never think of it as reinventing the wheel. There's room for different approaches.

I have lost track of the source, but there was an interview with an entrepreneur who had the advice along the lines of "A good way to innovate is to first catch up with the existing thing and then build on top of it" instead of having to come up with something radically different from the start. I'm not ashamed to take the things I like from the other successful approaches and use them to build my own platform with the goal of augmenting the developer community to be more collaborative, inclusive, and awesome.

Definitely agree. Was interested in your take and glad to hear your approach on dev.to.

If you were to start dev.to from scratch again, how would you do it differently?

My first experience with programming was my friend Mike Wright making a website on Geocities for his band when we were in junior high. I didn't have a useful computer at the time so I came to his house to work on websites, like, every day.

After that, it was a windy path in and out of computering before I got into it for good after graduating college with a marketing degree.

Why did you feel the need to create this platform? A side project which has gotten out of hand?

It's sort of like a best-case-scenario for a side project. Everything was pretty deliberate when the choice was made, but I wouldn't say it was all seen in advance.

This is a silly way to ask a serious question.

What is your why in life? Why do you do what you do?

I'm not sure if I can distill it into one thing, but here are some of my why's:

  • My mom, single mother of five, is still working 10+ hrs/day and she's almost 70. I desperately want to help her live comfortably. This is a hell of a way to drive me as an entrepreneur.
  • In the past few years I've become pretty damn "woke" about some social issues I never paid as much attention to in the past. I'm very motivated by my capacity to use my skills and privilege to help in any way I can.
  • I love making things and capacity to obsess has always been my secret weapon in life. Always at the expense of a sliver of my sanity, but I was raised Buddhist, and meditation has always helped take the edge off. I'd hate to know my brain without that in my upbringing.

That along the lines of what you were asking?

Classic DEV Post from Sep 15

Alcohol and developer culture

A candid discussion on alcohol in the developer community. Is your company culture slowly murdering your employees?

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Ben Halpern
A Canadian living in New York, having a lot of fun cultivating this community! Creator and webmaster of dev.to.
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