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I've been blogging for close to four years now. I started blogging because I wanted to pick up a new skill (writing) and challenge myself to do something new. Because I blog about what is both my work and hobby - software development and more specifically, cloud/platform engineering - it's relatively simple to come up with new subjects and I also grow my knowledge as I write these posts.
In fact: I believe that writing blog posts can be super valuable for pretty much everyone. Of course you will potentially help, inform or inspire others with your content. But you definitely also benefit personally from writing blog posts in many different ways.
With this post I'm therefore hoping to at least inform you about why you should pick up writing blog posts. With some luck I'll also inspire you to do so. So here are some reasons to pick up writing blog posts. And a few tips to get you started as well.
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Do you ever realize how much use you make of “free” content? A lot has been written about the fascinating phenomenon that people use their free time to write open source software for no extrinsic rewards such as money. The same goes for articles, blog posts and answers on Stack Overflow. People apparently are intrinsicly motivated to do these things. For me personally, I feel a sense of achievement when I'm able to contribute a piece of knowledge to this community. I benefit so much from all the free content that is out there that it feels good to give something back.
It therefore might make sense for you to pick up blogging as well, right? In fact, there are many more reasons why writing blog posts will help you. Let's dive into some of those reasons.
Don't forget about yourself
Build your CV
Your CV is probably somewhere between one and a few pages long. It's hard to include every piece of potentially relevant experience in these pages. This is where your blog can help. Put a link to your website at the top of your CV to make it easy for potential employers to learn more about your knowledge. Even when they only skim through the titles of your posts, the naming of tools and phrases already gives them additional information about the knowledge and experience that you possess.
In fact, your blog indirectly says a few extra things about you. First, it shows that you have the discipline to take the time to structurally and understandably write down a solution to a (complex) problem. Or that you take to the time to voice your opinion on a subject in a clear and concise way.
Second, a blog shows that you have communication skills. Communication is one of the most valuable skills any human being can have, in your personal life but definitely also in your professional life. You communicate with your colleagues every day - through voice, but also through writing. Don't underestimate the importance of this skill. Many people have problems with clearly explaining something to someone else even though they are experts themselves.
Writing could be a more important skill in your field of expertise than you think. Which brings me to the next reason to start blogging.
Practice your writing skills
I'm a software developer. I write quite a bit of code every day. But I also write text. I write documentation regarding the code I write. Or I write down design decisions that I or my team made regarding a specific solution. In fact: I've too often been in situations where no one could recall why a specific decision was made in the past. At some point I started noticing that I started writing down such things more often. I noticed that writing documentation wasn't bothering me anymore; I was even enjoying it.
People like to do what they can do easily. Because I was getting more experience with writing because of my blog posts, writing in general became much easier for me. I started to enjoy it because I liked providing structure and value to my colleagues and to my future self. And when I started writing these things down, I also started to understand the content I was writing even better (more on that in a bit). Learning to write isn't any different from learning any other skill. You'll get better at it and as you do, you'll start enjoying it more.
Challenge your own knowledge
Do you always really, fully, understand a solution to a problem? Are you always able to explain something in an understable way to someone else? Are you always aware of the alternative solutions that you could have picked, and why those were less suitable for your situation?
I'm not saying you should always be an expert on anything that you do. A certain pragmatism to simply get things done is certainly an important trait. But taking that extra step once in a while will definitely teach you an additional thing or two. And writing blog posts is a simple way to challenge yourself and see how far your knowledge on the subject really goes.
Let me give an example. It happens ever so often that while I'm trying to explain something in a blog post, I notice that I have a hard time putting it down in clear and consise words. Typically this is because I apparently don't fully understand what I'm trying to write down. In these situations, I dive a bit further into the topic to fill the gaps in my understanding. And this is great! I'm actually learning new things while I'm writing down something that I thought I already knew.
Or another example. Sometimes while I'm blogging about a specific solution to a problem, another potential solution comes to mind. Or I remember that I had (momentarily) considered another solution before but decided to go with this one. And I ask myself: am I able to clearly explain why the chosen solution is better than the other one? Why is it the better fit for my context? And in what other context could that other solution be better? I dive into that and if it is relevant for the blog post I also include it - the least you can do is mention it with perhaps a link to documentation or another blog post for more information. Again, I'm learning new things because I'm challenging myself on my knowledge.
Get out of your comfort zone
There are so many good reasons why it's good to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone once in a while. It's a way to learn, to push yourself to do new things, to gain new experiences and to make yourself more resilient to the many unexpected things that will come your way during your life. Getting out of your comfort zone doesn't have to mean to jump out of an airplane (with a parachute of course, mind you) or to do something else that scares you to death. It can also mean picking up a new (useful) skill, such as writing.
In fact, picking up writing can only be the first step in getting out of your comfort zone. Once you start to feel comfortable about your skills to properly explain something in text, you can even start to consider other means to share your knowledge. For example, why not start putting that text in presentation slides and start to work on your presentation skills? Or if you'd rather stick to writing, why not write a really really long blog post and get someone to publish it on paper? (Yes, I'm talking about a book).
Don't put too much pressure on yourself though: one thing at a time. If you start blogging and there is no urge to start doing else, that's great as well.
Finally, some tips to get you started if you're (hopefully!) now seriously considering picking up blogging.
- Don't beat yourself up. Don't tell yourself that you must blog every week or every month. It's very easy to demotivate yourself or to tell yourself that you “failed” because you haven't blogged for weeks/months. Remember that you're doing this for fun. It's a hobby. So do it whenever you like. It doesn't matter if your output is three blogs per week or one per three months. Whenever there is inspiration and time, embrace the moment.
- Keep it simple. Your blog posts don't need to be 2000 word dissertations. If you are able to clearly and concisely write a post in a few hundred words there is no point in adding more words just for the sake of content. I often consider shorter posts to be great content if they tell me clearly how to solve a specific issue without a lot of additional context that I don't need.
- Write what you can't find. How often did you need more than five minutes to find the solution to a seemingly simple problem? How many documentation pages, Stack Overflow posts and blog posts did you have to combine to figure it out? Whenever this happens, you have a potential blog post in the making. You can help the next person spending only a single minute by combining the resources you found into an easy to follow story (and concise, if the subject allows it). Feel free to link to the original sources that you found where your readers can find more information. And remember to challenge yourself: you can for example dive a little deeper into the subject and include situations in which this solution does and doesn't make sense.
- Include error messages. How often do you copy & paste error messages into Google? How happy are you when you find the answer to your problem in the top answer on the first Stack Overflow hit or on the paragraph right below the error message in that blog post? Whenever your post includes (potential) error messages as part of the path of getting to the solution, include them with a clear solution right below it.