Why I Write a Blog No One Reads

Let’s be honest: this isn’t a well-read blog.

About two months ago, Google Analytics reported 45 sessions in a day and it was cause for an investigation. For all I knew, I was the victim of a lackluster DDoS attack.

When I started this blog, I’m ashamed to admit that I did hope for skyrocketing fame. I thought a tutorial on how to recreate a video game character using border-radius would be the shot heard ‘round the blogosphere. I thought I would be the next CSS Tricks.

It would just take a little time.

But it’s been four years now and not much has changed. No one has stopped me in the street to tell me how my tutorial on setting up a local IIS website changed their life. No one has named their baby after my post on creating balloons with the canvas element. I’m still one of a million blogs floating in obscurity.

So then why bother? Why bother writing if no one’s going to read it anyway?

Because writing has been instrumental to my career as a developer.

Let me explain.

The Habit of Writing

I was an obsessive note taker in college: I took notes on the readings for every course, took notes on every lecture slide, took notes on every offhand comment from the professor.

Then, right before a test, I would reorganize the notes, writing them over again, condensing them down and organizing them. It was a painful, laborious process and I had a constant, nagging feeling that the whole exercise was an inefficient, roundabout way of consuming the material.

But something about meticulously collecting and organizing those pieces of information, forcing myself to truly understand the purpose of each piece, was invaluable in processing all of that text.

While in college, I worked as a Peer Advisor in the Financial Aid Office, answering questions from students and parents about the stressful headache of financing higher education. Here was an another onslaught of things to know: we were given information during trainings, through word-of-mouth, in hand-outs, while on-the-job, and so on. So I took notes, notes, notes.

And then, out of a habit, I compiled the notes into curated references. Reference documents that I could peek at between phone calls with parents.

Writing as Learning

When I started as a developer with UCSB Student Information Systems and Technology, the organization was going through changes (both organizational and technical) and there wasn’t a lot written down. No standards or guidelines or best practices. What was written down was very old and getting older.

As a young programmer, I was learning how to develop in this particular environment and learning how to develop in general. With no documentation to turn to, I lived in a constant state of fear: how do I know if this is right? How do I know my JavaScript is efficient? How do I know if this data access layer is structured like the other data access layers? What if I’m leaving open gaping security holes?

Around this time, a buddy of mine set up a wiki for the developers in the organization.

And so I wrote.

I slogged through every C# standards document I could find, took notes, compiled the notes, and then condensed them down. And then I did the same for SQL. And the same for JavaScript. And CSS. And HTML.

It was an activity that looked, on the face, like I was benevolently contributing to the organization: look at me taking all of this time to trudge through dry material and condense it down for you. But it was ultimately a selfish act: writing each of these wiki articles gave me an excuse to dive deep and really learn each topic.

And this goes the same for these blog posts. As I’ve discovered, you don’t realize how little you know about something until you’re forced to sit down and explain it to someone else. As soon as you have to explicate your thoughts, all of the vague, unfinished, ethereal threads that tie together your implicit understanding become starkly apparent.

Writing as Collaboration

Not only did writing force me to dive deep into each of these particular topics, but it also started a conversation with my fellow developers: when I put the finishing touches on each of these standards documents, I would go out and ask for feedback. This started a dialogue that went above and beyond arguments over the var keyword: my fellow co-workers started sharing their own experiences, gotchas they ran into, things they wish they had known, mistakes they had made.

We came into the room to talk about a specific set of standards, but this almost always ballooned into a broader discussion about technology in general. About our work as developers in general. When we started writing things down, it provided a jumping-off point for further discussion.

Writing as Skill

Finally, whether we enjoy writing or not: we have to write. E-mails. Thank-you cards. Tweets. Code comments. Whatever. These days, we’re engulfed in the written word. At some point, you’re going to have to articulate yourself.

So why not practice? Why not hone that skill? Why not share what you’ve learned in this life so far?

I’d love to read it.

(And apologies to the wonderful, beautiful people who do read this blog for the link bait title! Thank you for your support!)