Reasons for Developers to Have a Blog

One thing I’d definitely recommend to any new developers is to have your own blog. It’s also a view I’ve seen shared by a lot of experienced developers. But why?

How I Started

I’ve had this WordPress blog up and running since summer 2008. I know. A long time. I had a small static website for about 5 years before that. For me it came out of necessity. I was doing freelance web design so needed somewhere to promote my services and showcase what I could do. I started writing articles as a way of creating fresh content in order to climb the search engine results listings. This certainly did not have an instant impact but over a long time I think it did make a difference.

When I started writing articles I knew that nobody would be reading them. I’m a realist and accepted that from day one. I was writing for myself. I still see it this way. It’s for me and if it helps someone else, that’s a bonus.

Knowledge Base

When I learn something interesting that I think is worth holding onto I write about it. It’s a good way of helping to commit it to memory as well as creating an easy to find reference point to come back to.

With anything of a technical nature, putting it into your own words and using your own mental models really helps you to fully understand it. It’s a bit like the idea of learning by teaching. If you’ve ever done a presentation you’ll know that the preparation you do really helps strengthen your own knowledge of the subject.

Your Journey

A bit like keeping a diary having your own blog will let you see where you were a year ago, 5 years ago, ten years ago, or more. It’s like a record of your own journey within the technology and the industry.

Show and Tell

However, in my opinion, these are not the best reasons for having a blog. I think that the best reason is having something to show for your time. By putting in some time to write, little and often, over time you build up a nice collection of your thoughts, ideas and opinions. You have evidence of what you’re into and what you spend time thinking about.

Put yourself in an interview situation, going for your dream developer job. You can show your blog and right there you have strong evidence that you are passionate about the subject and that you willingly invest time and effort in it. That has to count for a lot. It shows more commitment and serious intent than social media activity.

Writing Tips

You don’t have to be good at writing. Even the best writers improve over time. Keep going and you’ll find your way.

Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t written for a while. Just do it as and when you want to. Don’t force it and write about something you’re not that bothered about just to get content.

Similarly, don’t feel it has to be long form and 1000 words every time. It’s fine to just share an idea in a few sentences.

Self Hosting

Another recommendation with writing a blog is to host your own site so that you retain 100% ownership of your content. There are numerous tech blogging platforms (e.g. medium, dev.to) but owning your own content and having any traffic surges benefiting you rather than the platform is definitely worth it long term.

If you do use a third party platform check out the export options. Can you get all your content out and move it elsewhere? It’s good to be free to do what you want with your work.

WordPress

There are lots of blogging platforms and software options out there. Personally I’ve always found WordPress is the best fit for my needs. The fact that it has native apps means that if I’m out and about and suddenly have a great idea for a post I can capture a quick draft there and then.

It’s also very easy to export and import your data, meaning you can shift content from an old blog to a new one, combine or separate blogs, and move between hosted (.com) and self-hosted (.org) versions.

The control over the design and ability to switch themes easily means you can keep your site fresh without having to worry about rewriting the content – there’s a perfect separation between content and presentation.

Blogging Nostalgia

I started blogging on WordPress back in the summer of 2008. I managed to keep it going through until January 2011, which is quite an achievement in itself. Then, for whatever reason (laziness) it just kind of fizzled out. This was all on my previous site, chris-smith-web.com. I was struggling for a domain name. Can you tell? Don’t bother visiting – it just redirects back here these days.

I started up again on this site, chrissmith.xyz, in late 2014 and am still going in January 2017. Go me!

When 2 Become 1

You’ve guessed where this is going. I recently had the idea of closing down the old site and importing all the blog posts into this site. Everything in the one place, less maintenance. Easy win. And surprisingly easy to do. Good job, WordPress! When I publish this post it will be my 89th in all. Zoiks! Let’s try to hit the ton.

When I Were a Lad

I’ve found it fascinating looking back at some of the things I wrote about in the early days. Cue harp music and wobbly faces. It goes to show how fast things move. Here are some of the topics I covered:

Web 2.0 – what version are we on now? (Aug 2008)

In the past websites were a one-way read only process, an online brochure which people visited to get information. Now, with the whole concept of Web 2.0, it’s all a two-way interactive process with customers or fans playing an active part in a website.

Gold.


Chrome, when it was Google Chrome and still in BETA (Sep 2008)

Having another browser on the scene, and with a big name like Google behind it you know it’s going to have a lot of users, means more testing and increases my chances of having to recode.

Hmm. Didn’t imagine it would be quite so good.


Link exchanges, when that was a thing (Sep 2008)

Don’t listen to anyone, not even me.

Excellent advice.


Responsive design, kind of, whatever, I’m claiming it (Sep 2008)

The majority of users in the UK use a Windows PC with Internet Explorer 7 and a screen resolution of 1024×768 pixels.

Ouch.


Although a lot has changed there’s actually a lot of good stuff in there that still holds true. I’m quite impressed. Now I just need to get some other people to read it.

Boosting Web Performance

One of the areas of front end development I’ve really got into in the last year or so is performance. It’s always been there in the background (along with SEO and accessibility) but it seems to have a lot more focus in the web community lately.

For a while I’ve been looking at different ways to speed up various sites I work on. This site has given me a perfect guinea pig for trying out some different techniques. Let’s give it a boost! Oooosh!

Static

My first idea for making this site super fast to load was to make all of the pages static. I started off by just making a few pages but soon realised that as things grew and I wanted to make design changes it just wasn’t scalable. It was fast though. If I was building a simple site with only a handful of pages this is the way to go.

Jekyll

To try to get the best of both worlds, static for speed and CMS for convenience, I moved on to using Jekyll, a static site generator. After jumping through a lot of hoops I got it set up. It works really well and if you’re planning to update a site from a single machine I’d say this is the perfect solution.

WordPress

For various reasons I moved back to good old uncle WordPress. It’s so easy to update from anywhere, which means I actually do it, plus I feel that it’s become so big in the web industry (almost its own industry) that I can’t really afford not to know my way around it.

So, my new challenge is to make my WordPress site fast. There are various well renowned caching plugins, e.g. W3 Total Cache, which would effectively turn my PHP into static pages. Unfortunately, these don’t seem to work with my multisite setup so I’ve tried something different.

Cloudflare

I’ve routed my site through Cloudflare. It’s a website fronting service which aims to improve performance and security. They host your site on various servers around the world so you get the benefits of a CDN – fast delivery to far flung parts of the world. They concatenate and minify static files for you – one less job. They also handle security threats and high spikes in traffic so your site doesn’t go down. As if that wasn’t enough, they also serve your files over https – cheaper than SSL hosting and great for SEO.

So far so great. Definitely worth a look on top of whatever other optimisations you’re doing. :)

My New Website

After years of working on all sorts of websites I thought I’d create my own personal site. I’ve created quite a few sites for myself before but they have always been about my web design and development work or (failed) entrepreneurial attemps to generate a bit of money. This is different. I’m not looking to gain any money, work or reputation, just giving myself a platform to publish, well, whatever the hell I feel like.

I’m not sure what will go on it yet, maybe a bit of a blog, maybe some articles, photos, video, music. Or I might just fill pages with adverts and animated GIFs. Seems to work for some people.

The Design

I thought I’d just share some of the thinking and technical approach behind the design. As a web designer/developer I don’t want the site to be just about its content, I see it as a bit of a playground for trying out new design ideas.

To begin with I’ve focused on keeping the design as clean, clear and simple as possible. It’s fully responsive so works on devices of all shapes and sizes. I’ve also kept the technology involved to a minimum serving up static HTML files for maximum speed.

Going forwards I’m sure I’ll play around with different design ideas so not all pages will look the same. We’ll see what happens.

Anyway, enough. Hope you enjoy. Now go and do something more useful.