The cool kids keep Podcasts where RSS readers used to dwell. I may be old fashioned, and I’m definitely not that cool, but between documentation, sharing, and practice, I’m still clinging to the notion that there’s value in writing things down.
This blog has chased that value more through accident than any deliberate strategy, but that voyage of discovery–from personal notes, to a public reference, and lately as motivation for personal improvement–neatly reflects a few reasons to write, and out in the open.
So, rewind to the junkyard of boilerplate, learnings, and hacks where things began.
I’m a compulsive note-taker. As I wrestle with problems and explore new ideas, the solutions and learnings I come across tend to persist somewhere outside my own head. Most of my notes are analog, as a growing archive of composition notebooks can attest, but the digital sort are far easier to search and reference.
Of course, getting the full value means being able to access notes from anywhere. These days, syncing files across a network is much better-solved than it was back in 2005. The notes comprising the first incarnation of this blog lived in Wordpress mostly because it was easy to pick up and move, and it seemed as good a tool as any at the time.
Most of these notes faded into the background radiation of the Internet, but not without adding at least a little efficiency to my work. It’s like the Italians say: “invent it twice, shame on me.” A personal reference library is a good way to save on reinvention.
But it’s also a safe bet that any problem an Internet-attached mind turns up will attract the interest of at least a few others. I set up Urchin on a whim, and sure enough—there were enough keywords in my detritus to capture the attention of at least a few passers by.
I send more email than I probably should, but Jon Udell’s question is never far away:
If your choice is to invest keystrokes in an email to three people, or in a blog entry that could be read by those same three people plus more—maybe many more—why not choose the latter?
At some point I stopped pretending I was writing for an audience of one. The effort of bottling a technical solution for public consumption pales in comparison to finding it in the first place, and sharing is an easy way to amplify its benefit. Even when an answer isn’t the answer, optimized for the ages (as most of the time it won’t be), it may still challenge you, dear reader, to arrive at something better.
Of course, not every problem in software development needs a technical solution. Over time, my notes shook off their acute focus on technology for freewheeling observations on the entire development lifecycle. On the blog, how-to articles now come interspersed with missives and observations that reflect the evolution of my own career. Instead of simply building software, I’m increasingly interested in how it gets built—in processes and practices that help teams deliver and grow.
Which brings up another reason to keep up a blog.
In writing as in software, or in anything else, improvement follows from deliberate practice. Time set aside time to brainstorm, draft, and revise is an investment. I don’t self-identify as a writer (just as I don’t identify as a baker or illustrator, though I sometimes bake and draw), but I still find writing a useful tool to clarify thinking and deepen understanding. From that frame, the third benefit of blogging is utterly self-indulgent: it’s an an excuse both to practice writing and to cogitate on its subject. Maybe I’ll learn something along the way. At the very least, I’ll emerge a better writer.
Whether building a personal reference, giving back to the community, or simply writing for the heck of it, I’m still convinced in the value of keeping up a blog.
Have one? I’d love to read it. I’m still amazed by the folks that stop by each month from all corners of the globe, and by the questions, thoughts, and constructive feedback you offer, and I can’t shake the feeling that I gain at least as much as I can share. Thank you. For stopping by, for reading, for reaching out, and for making me better. I hope in some small way this blog has offered you the same.