About 3,5 years ago, I started this blog. Why have I done this and has it brought to me what I expected it to be. In this blog, I will look back at the past 3,5 years and share my experiences. It will also containe some tips and tricks when you want to start blogging yourself. Enjoy!

1. The Beginning

Since the start of my career, I have always been interested in learning new things. About 15 years ago, I learnt myself programming in Java and wanted to find a job as a Java software developer. It was difficult, because I almost always got rejected because of lack of experience. In those days, I started my first website where I would write about the books I read, the small applications I wrote, etc. This has definitely helped me getting my first Java job. For numerous reasons, I quit maintaining my website although I did keep on reading books, exploring new technologies, etc.

It occured to me, that in conversations with colleagues, I often could tell that I already did something with a certain piece of technology. However, it also often happened that I did not know anymore how I did something because I did not write it down. Also, sometimes I could recall how things needed to be done, but then I needed to write it down in an email, which costed me extra time and only the one colleague I mailed it to, had the benefit of it. At such a moment, 3,5 years ago, I thought about my first tech website, about sharing knowledge to more than 1 person, about writing down things I learnt in order to remember better how I accomplished things, and so on. That was the moment this blog was born!

2. The Why

In everything you do, it is important to know why you are doing it (Remember the Golden Circle of Simon Sinek). So, I first thought about what I wanted to accomplish with my blog. The most important thing for me was to learn new things. I was already doing that of course, but it was not very steady. I spent effort during some weekends and then I would stop again for some weeks. Sometimes spending a lot of time finding out where I left off the last time. A blog and a promise to myself for posting every x weeks, should solve that problem. Another motivation is that I like to share knowledge. If I spend time writing something down, I will in the first place remember what I have done and secondly, someone else can also take benefit of it. To conclude, I have three major reasons which will keep me motivated for writing a blog:

  • Learn new things;
  • Have a more steady commitment;
  • Share knowledge.

I do not think that a motivator should be to earn money with your blog. It would merely be a side effect, but it should not be one of your main drivers. However, you can find a lot of articles on the internet about this topic. There are other motivators which can be of significant importance, but which I consider also as nice-to-have side effects:

  • Appreciation: I do not merely mean Likes but rather personal comments. People who thank you for writing a blog or find it useful. This is a great motivator.
  • Number of visitors: an increasing number of visitors to your website is also motivating. However, I do not know how to judge this because it changes rapidly or slowly without knowing the cause of it.
  • Visibility: it certainly increases your visibility outside of your company. I am sure that opportunities will pass by more easily.

3. The How

Let us assume that you got motivated yourself for writing a blog. How do you get started? I can explain how I started and my advice is: just start. Below some tips and tricks how to get started.

3.1 Where to Post

You need a website where you can post your blog. The best option is to have your own website and your own domain name. When you post to your own website, your blogs will always be your content and you do not need to give away the ownership of what you have written. An own domain name will be better for search results and it will be easier to move your website to another provider when necessary. I did not want to spend a lot of time for maintaining the website and I chose to publish at WordPress. I started with the Free Plan but I shifted some time ago to the Personal Plan. It costs a small amount of money and in return you can disable advertisements and you receive customer support, which, in my experience, has been good up till now. I started also with acquiring a domain name, but switched to another registrar later on. I did not know that my personal information was published publicly at the first registrar I used. This resulted in an increasing amount of spam to my mail account. So, take a registrar where your personal details can be kept anonymous for the main public (the so called whois information).

If you do not want to maintain your own website, then you can choose websites where you can post your blogs. I can recommend DZone and dev.to. Medium is also a popular website for blogs, but your content cannot be published again outside of Medium. So for me, this is a no-go. I also publish at DZone and dev.to, but I will explain this in one of the next sections.

3.2 How to Attrack Visitors

We definitely want visitors to our website. We do want our blogs to be read by as many people as possible. Once you created your website, it must be found one way or the other, otherwise you will not have very much visitors. I must admit that this is not my strongest skill. However, I have gained some experience with it the past years.

The most easiest way is to share it via social media. Whenever you have a new blog, post it at LinkedIn, Twitter, … whatever medium you want. Do not expect a large increase in visitors when you have posted something, but it will increase your visibility and people will get to know your website.

Most of the visitors to my blog are originated by Google’s search results. Thus, it is important that your articles get ranked high in Google’s search results. You need therefore clicks, other websites linking to yours, etc. Links from other websites is one of the reasons I also publish at DZone and dev.to. But ensure that you set the canonical URL to your website. For both blog platforms, you have the possibility to set the canonical URL. You will find opinions that you should not publish at other locations because they will take away traffic from your website. I have done an experiment by not publishing anymore at other websites and after a few months, traffic to my website drastically decreased. After starting publishing again, it increased again and it all had to do with Google’s search results. Besides that, you will reach other people that learn to know your website.

Search for newsletters which are created by others and ask to include a link to your blog.

There are probably many other things you can do, but as said before, I am not an expert in website marketing.

3.3 Writing Style

Which writing style should you use? I have experimented with several writing styles and I am still searching and trying to improve it. When it is a tutorial like one, I try to use the second person (you) in the blog. When it is more an opinion, I try to make it more personal and will use the first person (I) in the blog. A good starting point for writing technical documentation, blogs can be found at this GitHub page. The style guides can give you some tips. You can take a look at the style guides, read a part of it now and then and improve your writing skills ongoing.

4. The What

So, what are you going to write about? Do not think too much about it whether you have something valuable or useful to write about, just write and share it. I have noticed that in a lot of blogs, assumptions are made about the knowledge of the reader. That should be ok when it is an in-depth blog, but for getting started guides, it is often disappointing when someone writes some vague text what you should do without a step-by-step guide. E.g. someone writes to startup a Docker container without writing down the command which you should use.

I try to create a mixed content of what I already know and what I would like to learn. Investigating and experimenting with something new costs a significant amount of time and sometimes things just do not work from the first time. Besides that, I want to decide myself of what I am going to write about, otherwise I will not stay motivated. I write in my spare time, so it must not become a task to do it, it must be fun.

At the start, you probably can come up with quite some topics to write about. But at a certain moment, inspiration can become a problem. I follow people at Twitter, read other blogs, websites, watch tech talks, attend conferences, etc. Whenever I read something interesting, I write it down in a todo list. Sometimes it is sufficient information to write a blog right away, most often it is the starting point for reading more about the topic first before I can write about it. I generally have no problem finding a topic, my todo list contains currently about 40 topics. The list is alive, topics get on the list, sometimes topics get off the list without writing a blog about it.

5. Some More Tips

In this last section, I will list some tips which I want to share but did not really fit in one of the previous sections:

  • Publish at a fixed interval. One that suits you. I originally started with a one week interval and noticed that this was too optimistic. I quickly changed it to a two week fixed interval.
  • Take some time off. I take two breaks each year. One break in July and August and one break from mid December up to mid January. It allows me to do some other things and to work in advance. I try to have two finished blogs into the pipeline.
  • Decide how much time you want to spend to your blog. I do not keep time when writing a blog, but I think it takes me 8 to 16 hours for writing a blog, dependent on the topic.

6. Conclusion

In this blog, I wanted to share my experiences about maintaining a blog. I do hope it will help someone to get started or that someone gets inspired by it.