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.

It’s all about breaking things (down)

A lot of testers see their job as breaking things. I like to see my job as breaking things down. In my opinion, the only way to avoid breaking down is to break things down.

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

Software is designed to solve problems. The best way to solve problems is to break them down.

Agile software development is all about breaking things down:

  • A problem is too big so let’s break it down into a project
  • A project is too big so let’s break it down into iterations
  • An iteration is too big so let’s break it down into user stories
  • A user story is too big so let’s break it down into acceptance criteria
  • An acceptance criterion is too big so let’s break it down into some tests
  • Let’s write a failing test and make it pass

This technique came in particularly handy when writing my Einstein Minesweeper Robot.

So, if you come across a problem that seems too difficult to solve: break it down.