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Mitch Pronschinske
Mitch Pronschinske

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105 Ways to Clickbait a Dev or SRE

If you’re not very deep into the cultural landscape of software developers (or sysadmins, DevOps engineers, SREs, or anyone else who works with code for that matter…) you probably haven’t realized that the community has developed their own coded style for article and conference talk titles.

To be honest, this feels like an odd topic for a blog post. You don’t see a lot of interest in the quirky writing and title-picking tendencies of the coder world, but after following this industry for 11 years, I feel like a few newer entrants to the tech field could benefit from knowing how to entice interest from the rest of the community.

You can find a bunch of great generalized resources on how to write a good blog title — and I encourage you to read those — but there’s almost zero good advice out there right now on writing a great title for our niche audience.

That brings us to the question: who am I writing this for?

Maybe it’s people who are just starting out in the coding world and want to spark a little more interest in their blogs or talk submissions.

Maybe you work in developer relations, advocacy, or content marketing and want to create things that appeal to this demographic.

Or maybe you’re a veteran coder who will find this list entertaining — nodding along and enjoying the cleverness of our in-group (or perhaps you can tell me why people say “learn you a Haskell for great good” — I still don’t get it).

Maybe this will help you clickbait your way to the front page of HackerNews or have the most attended talk of that conference you’re submitting an abstract for.

Whatever your reasons for checking this out, I now present my definitive list of catchy title ideas for the world of programming. I’ll be using variables X and Y to denote a blank space in a title where any topic or adjective can go.

Why X?

These titles ask the question: “Why would I want to do or use this thing?” It just takes that question and makes it a lot more terse.

(Learn) X the Y Way

Learn Python the Hard Way was the book that got “the hard way” title trending. Why would you want to learn something the hard way? Well, the rationale is that it sticks in your memory better when you learn things without a lot of shortcuts and abstractions.

X The Right Way

This title is more gutsy, but it works because even though people realize that there’s no one “right” way to do everything, they want a solid, well-tested pattern so they don’t have to figure out their own.

X: The Y Guide

You can get really creative with this one. I like the titles that mention a target audience, such as: The (Beginner’s, Absolute Beginner’s, Freelancer’s, Busy Developer’s, Hacker’s, etc.) Guide.

X Considered Harmful

In programming, this title template started in 1968 with Edsger Dijkstra's letter: "Go To Statement Considered Harmful". Now it’s mainly used in alarmist essays or mildly alarmed essays that just want a clickbait title — but hey, that’s what you’re here for isn’t it :)

X Explained

X Demystified

Thought about getting “Technology Demystifier” on my last set of business cards.

X and Y: Better Together

This is sometimes (but not always) used to propose that two potentially competitive tools or ideas be used together rather than a one-or-the-other scenario. Think of all the initial enemies that work so well together, together like Goku and Vegeta, Rey and Kylo Ren, or pineapple and pizza! (Just kidding about that last one. I’m not a monster.)

The X Handbook (or Pocket Guide)

I miss the more comprehensive guides and the olden days of pocket-sized sysadmin reference guides. I say bring back more “handbooks” and “pocket guides”! Sure software books are out of date in 6 months these days, but instead we can make frequently updated web guides that look great on our phones can’t we?

X the Missing Manual

This one was actually a running series of books as well as a potential talk or blog title. It indicates coverage of a topic that hasn’t been documented as comprehensively or clearly as the author would like.

A Gentle Introduction to X

The alternative to “The Hard Way”.

[Insert pop-culture referencing title here]

Clever, humorous, culturally relevant titles always get my attention. Keep your references fresh, my friends.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to X

This might be the most popular of the pop-culture reference titles.

[Insert pun-ny title here]

The world needs more of these.

Everything You Need to Know about X, Things Every X Should Know

It’s a little arrogant to say you know what we need to know, but I guess it’s meant to mean something like ‘the basics that matter when you’re starting out with a new topic.’ Or maybe it will also include some pitfalls not easily found in the documentation.

X in a Nutshell

X in Plain English

Because sometimes these complex topics feel like they’re described in a foreign language. Of course, if you don’t speak English that well, this type of article might not interest you. Maybe you need something like “X in Plain French”.

X: Explain it like I’m 5

Because sometimes plain English isn’t enough. Sometimes things need to be explained in the simplest terms possible.

X in Y Minutes

Isn’t it great to know how long something will take ahead of time? Although if it’s anything like the estimated cooking times I see on recipes, it’ll probably take me twice as long.

X for Fun and Profit

Who says you can’t have fun and make a profit?

X: Friend or Foe?

Friend or foe… what about a frienemy?

X: The Good Parts

I think this was popularized by the famous book "JavaScript: The Good Parts". Now people get creative by putting any adjective before “Parts”.

X is Over/Broken/Bullshit

If you’re feeling edgy or wanna be controversial.

X: Stories from Trenches

Because code is war.

The Life of a X

Because code is life.

The Art of X

For those topics that are more of an art than a science.

Cheat Sheets, Checklists, or Quick References

Once you already know something but don’t want to have to remember every detail, that’s when you want a quick reference or checklist. Make one of those for a topic where one is badly needed and you’ll get plenty of views with a simple title like these.

Learn You a X for Great Good

I don’t know where this weird phrase comes from, but it’s truly a thing. If you know, tell me in the comments. Does it have something to do with the syntax of functional programming?

Go Forth and Write Catchy Titles!

Well I hope that wasn’t a total waste of your time. Now, as conference seasons approach and you have some time to work on talk submissions or blog posts, this list can give you some ideas for the title of your content or maybe even inspire the topic you choose to cover.

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