Should programmers blog?
I get this question a lot, probably because I’m both a blogger and a programmer. And because of those two things, you can probably guess my answer. But my reasoning goes beyond my own experience, and I’m going to go into detail about the points that might explain why.
But First, Let’s Answer the Question. Should Programmers Blog?
Yes. As a programmer, starting and maintaining a blog will be a significant boost to your career and to your personal development. It may get you out of your comfort zone and require some extra effort, but it is unquestionably worth doing.
Let’s unpack this a little and get into specifics. I’ll admit that writing, and blogging, in particular, is not what a lot of folks think of when they think of a STEM career. But here are some explanations as to why it’s a natural fit.
1. Blogging About Programming Makes You a Better Programmer
Let’s start with an easy one. This might sound strange, but blogging actually makes you a better programmer.
How does that work?
Well, first of all, nothing forces you to develop a deep understanding of something like having to explain it. If you’re new to programming and rushing to get something out the door, you might find yourself programming by coincidence, which amounts to getting something working without really understanding why.
But if you’re blogging about a topic, that simply won’t cut it. Putting something out there in public and explaining it forces a level of rigor that prompts you to do more research and develop a deeper understanding.
And this only becomes truer as your blogging profile grows. Readers will comment, critiquing your points, asking questions, and starting discussions with you. All of this forces you to do even more research, both prompted by these discussions and for future posts.
The blog will drive you to higher levels of understanding in your field, which is never a bad thing. Being a better programmer is, of course, a boon for your career.
2. Programming Jobs Are About More Than Programming. Communication is Important
Let’s now leave aside the idea of programming skill and look at another thing that is good for careers. I’m talking about communication skills.
I know, I know. “Communication skills” often induces an eye-roll, both for being generic and cliche. But seriously. Communication skills.
Early in your programming career, it’s easy to see an entire career of sitting quietly in front of a text editor, building your code and interacting with no one. You’ll quickly need to collaborate in all sorts of ways.
There’ll be pair programming and code reviews where you have to trade ideas and debate with your peers. You’ll have to present ideas to project managers and your company’s leadership. As your career progresses to senior software developer and architect, you’ll need to communicate your vision to developers. And, if you ever have management aspirations, you’ll definitely need to be well-versed in power points, emails, word documents, and the like.
The blog helps sharpen your saw for all of these considerations. It’ll help you build arguments and prepare for debates. Writing how-to posts will make you better able to teach your peers. And the blog will teach you to present highly technical concepts to less technical people.
All of this is highly valuable as you navigate your career.
3. You’ll Grow Your Network and Meet Interesting People in a Low-Pressure Way
The last two points differed, but both focused on making you better at your current job. Let’s switch gears now and look at the career you’ll have beyond your current or first job.
And you will have multiple jobs. Programmers stay in their jobs an average of two years or so.
As you blog, you’ll start to accumulate readers and followers. Fellow programmers will stop by and engage with you. This can lead to interesting discussions in the comments or on social media. But beyond that, it can lead to the start of professional relationships.
This might seem wishy-washy or intangible, but this tends to grow. Yesterday’s Twitter discussions become today’s collaborations on some open source thing, and those become tomorrow’s job opportunities.
Generally speaking, your work life will benefit from having a wide circle of colleagues, acquaintances, and friends. If you only ever collaborate with people at your day job, it becomes much harder to cultivate this.
4. Having a Blog Will Help You Land Better Jobs
The last point touched on this next one a bit. Having a large network is good for its own sake, but it’s obviously good for helping you land new jobs. People in your growing circle might invite you to the inside track in their company’s interview process.
That’s a big leg up, and it will happen over the long haul as you blog. But it’s not the only way that your blog helps.
What do you think is more powerful during a phone interview when the interviewer asks you about Java: pointing at your own resume with its claims of a few years of experience, or pointing at a blog where you have a few years of experience explaining detailed Java concepts?
Yeah, you’re right. It’s the latter.
Your blog can serve as a better version of your resume and a more accessible version of a project portfolio. Send a link with job applications, refer to it during phone interviews, and bring it up on a monitor during interviews. It’s a powerful interview process aid.
So, in the end, your blog helps you find job opportunities through your network and then makes you more likely to get those jobs when compared to other candidates.
5. It Will Give You Career Options Beyond Just 9-5 Jobs
Let’s take a look at one more advantage to blogging. This one not only transcends your current job but all jobs. Your blog can help you have a nice option for a side hustle or a full-time, independent consulting career.
If that sounds far-fetched, I assure you it isn’t. This is literally the blueprint for my career, starting with full-time software jobs and eventually leading to independent consulting and the building of businesses.
Was my blog the only factor? Of course not.
But was it a huge factor? Absolutely.
As you build a network and a following, an interesting thing starts to happen. You become an expert in topics and people regard you as an expert in those topics. People start to stumble across your blog and say to themselves, “we should bring that person in to help us with technology X.” And then they start to call you, offering you money to help them.
You might pass on this sort of thing at first or just do it here and there as a moonlighting project. But the more you blog, the more this starts to happen.
Even if you’re perfectly happy at a 9-5 job, these opportunities will come along. And having the option is certainly nice.
How to Start a Programming Blog
So convinced now, are you? If I ask you, “should programmers blog,” you would happily say yes? Good deal—you should go for it!
So how then do you start your programming blog? Well, that could make an entire post in and of itself. But I can also tell you in just a few words.
Go to WordPress.com and click “get started.”
“Wait, that’s it,” you’re wondering? Yep, that’s it.
Look, there are all sorts of options and decisions you could agonize over. WordPress or blogger.com? Should you host the site or use a service? Static site generator or CMS? I’m getting a headache just thinking about it and I earn a living around blogging.
And that’s the point.
All of those decisions are just forms of procrastination. You can always migrate your blog later or revisit decisions like that. What you can’t do is go back in time and have started your blog six months or six years ago.
So don’t overthink it. Just get started.
What Are Some of the Best Programming Blogs to Use as Examples?
I’ll close by offering some examples for you to follow. These are folks with a long history of writing about software, some of whom even have blog posts talking about how their blogs have contributed to their success.
So as you embark on your journey, look here for inspiration and further examples.
- Coding Horror, by Jeff Atwood. He’s not very active anymore, but he’s been blogging for a long, long time.
- Scott Hanselman has an active blog, with lots of followers. He works for Microsoft and always has interesting stuff to stay.
- Swizec Teller, aka “geek with a hat,” writes a blog that teaches software developers a variety of techs and topics.
This post was written by Erik Dietrich. Erik is a veteran of the software world and has occupied just about every position in it: developer, architect, manager, CIO, and, eventually, independent management and strategy consultant. This breadth of experience has allowed him to speak to all industry personas and to write several books and countless blog posts on dozens of sites.