AMA: Starting a Blog

Rohan asks..

I am thinking of starting to blog. I am very much inspired by your thoughts. Hence planning.

So before starting over what are the thing you may want me to suggest?

My response…

I have pretty much already answered this in my very first response to these questions. I’d recommend you take a look at that if you haven’t already. 

I like the riverbed analogy and another analogy about letting things form over time is something I heard a while ago but can’t remember where: it was about installing a new park and having to decide where to put the concrete footpaths. 

Instead of making decisions about where the paths should be and thereby telling people where they want to walk, they instead started by installing no paths and letting people walk anywhere they want. Over time they found the grass wore down and grass-less paths began to appear. They then simply poured concrete to build these paths that people had designed themselves. 

You can’t make decisions about what people want from your blog.  Start writing about different problems you’ve solved, things you’ve seen and then use any feedback you get to mould your content over time. 

AMA: blogs to read

Anonymous asks…

What are your top five testing or technology blogs to read?

My response…

Where did all the blogs go? Seriously; I used to read hundreds of blogs that were regularly updated and now I struggle to list five. Maybe it’s Twitter, but there’s a serious testing blog drought.

  1. Katrina the Tester by Katrina Clokie – I’m always excited when I see there’s a new blog post by Katrina in my feed Reader as her posts are always interesting and high quality. It’s just a shame she doesn’t use the far superior WordPress.com platform instead of Blogger 😎
  2. Four Short Links by Nat Torkington – Every weekday Nat publishes a collection of four links with some short commentary that are interesting from a technology/software dev point of view. I love following these links and freeing myself from my filters.
  3. Google Testing Blog by Google  – There hasn’t been a lot of new content on here lately, but it serves as a good way to keep up to date with GTAC news such as there will be a GTAC this year after all.
  4. Rands in Repose by Michael Lopp – I discovered this site via Four Short Links back in 2014 when Nat linked to Michael’s fantastic ‘The QA Mindset‘ post.
  5. Signal v. Noise by Basecamp – Even though they moved to Medium and have silly m dot URLs, and they continue to hold ridiculously strong opinions, I still enjoy the posts that come from DHH, Jason Fried and Co.

What are your favourite testing or technology feeds?

AMA: How to be a better blogger

Since the AMAs are coming in very fast (but please keep them coming!): I’m going to start answering these one by one (following my own advice below).

Sunil Kapil writes…

“I really love your blog and read it regularly. I also liked your this year talk in GTAC about flaky tests.”

“I am also as Tool/Automation engineer and write blog time to time. I find it hard to figure out which topic should I cover and how to organize the content of my blog. would like to to know, if you have any tips about that.”

My response…

I’ve had quite a few people ask me about this topic. There’s a great Mark Twain quote that I love that applies well to blogging:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.”

So, following Twain’s advice, the secret to getting ahead with blogging is to start writing small blog posts frequently, and the secret to starting writing blog posts frequently is make them as small as you possibly can so that the barrier to publishing them is so low you’ll keep wanting to do it.

Rather than trying to organise the content of your blog up front, just start writing and let it flow. Imagine a riverbed gradually forming over time: a river doesn’t know where to flow before it’s started: at first the water just flows anywhere and everywhere, but over time a pattern or channel will emerge so you can follow that to shape your blog’s content. Be sure to use tags and categories so you can see what you’re writing about and what people are looking for.

The best topics I have found to start writing about are exact problems you’ve faced in your work and how you went about solving them, even if you haven’t fully solved them, because chances are there will be lots of people with those exact same problems at a point in time.

Once you start writing you may get questions and feedback, so make sure you use that to shape what you write about next, this will become your riverbed.

I also like the idea of strong opinions; weakly held. So find a topic (bonus points if it’s contentious) and write a particularly strong view on it, but be very open to feedback and changing your mind on it, even if it’s in the next blog post you write.

I’ve found the actual blogging platform doesn’t matter as much per say, but the thing that does matter is the channels which you use to spread your ideas. One reason I love WordPress.com so much (where I work and where this site is hosted: shameless plug) is every post of mine is automatically publicised to LinkedIn, my @watirmelon twitter account and to over 600 email subscribers. Use this power to spread the ideas of what you’re writing about.

I’ll conclude by paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln: the best thing about blogging is it comes one blog post at a time.

Ten thoughts on technical blogging

I was invited to Everyday Hero here in Brisbane to give a guest presentation on technical blogging. I found it was a good opportunity to reflect on six and a half years of writing this blog and creating ten thoughts/themes of what I consider makes a successful technical blog. I hope you enjoy the slides below – you can also download a PDF.