A few months ago I sat down to write a quick email. It was in response to a co-worker who asked for some tips on how to break into software development. After writing a few paragraphs I realized I could tweak my response a bit and convert it into a blog post. This idea isn’t original. Jeff Atwood preaches such behavior in “How to Stop Sucking and Be Awesome Instead“.
So I spent 30 minutes cleaning the post up, added and an image, and submitted the link to Reddit and Hacker News: Programming Your Brain: The Art of Learning in Three Steps.
What happened next shocked me. The post hit the front page of Hacker News and Reddit Programming, which drew over 17,000 reads in less than a day, easily eclipsing my previous one day record. I was excited by the response, so I tweeted about the traffic on day two and thanked Jeff (@codinghorror) for his inspiration.
— Cory House (@housecor) December 16, 2013
This set off phase two of the fun. Jeff retweeted this to his 115k+ followers, creating a new wave of traffic that nearly exceeded the previous day’s numbers and pushed traffic to well over 30,000 readers in just two days, and over 50,000 by the end of the week. For Scott Hanselman or Martin Fowler, that’s likely beans. But me? Uh, let’s just say I was pretty happy.
The amount of traffic from this quick, simple post has greatly eclipsed what I thought were my best posts – even those I researched and tweaked for weeks. Just check out the contrast in traffic stats:
Top 10 Posts on bitnative.com
|1||Programming Your Brain: The Art of Learning in Three Steps||67,401 <-WOAH.|
|2||Kill the Zombies in Your Code||13,683|
|3||How RESTful is Your API?||8,047|
|4||Writing Code? Know Your Boundaries||6,745|
|5||Hey Developer, Are You Focusing on the Right Thing?||6,192|
|6||AngularJS: The De Facto Standard for SPA Development?||6,177|
|7||User Interface Framework Showdown||5,123|
|8||Writing in a Dynamic Language? Naming Matters More.||4,926|
|9||Who Dictates Software Quality? Client or Coder?||4,932|
|10||Where Should an Architect Begin?||2,691|
Three Quick Lessons Learned
- You never know what will resonate.
I’ve written many posts that I felt were far better than this. I spent many days researching and writing “How RESTful is Your API?” and countless hours editing. It was a popular post, but its numbers aren’t even close. Just like Seth Godin, my most popular blog posts aren’t my best. Rarely is the most popular the best. Don’t be discouraged. Just keep writing.
- Watch for diminishing returns.
Looking back, I could’ve spent much more time fleshing out the ideas in the post, adding other examples, and including links to other resources. But it might have had little if any impact, or worse, could’ve kept me from publishing at all. I’ve missed many opportunities through the years by being a perfectionist. I’m going to set this off because this point is key:
Perfectionism radically reduces output and in many cases actually increases risk. Perfectionism devotes more resources than is warranted, thus squeezing out other opportunities.
A year ago I’d have never published this post. Why? Because I’d have spent several days tweaking and editing until it was “perfect”. I’d have lost interest before I felt it was good enough to hit the publish button. What a failure. After reading Rework I recognize, you have to strike when you’re inspired because inspiration is perishable. If something sounds fun or cool, do it now before your passion fades. Yes developers, this means you should do that project, conference talk, or blog post when it initially comes to mind, while you’re still really excited about it. Put your inspiration to work by quickly shipping something out into the world.
- If you want to stand on the shoulders of giants, make them look good and they’ll help spread your message. Tweet this
Jeff didn’t retweet me as a personal favor. I made him look good by validating an important lesson he shared with the world via a simple anecdote. Why wouldn’t he retweet it? Everyone wants to feel validated and share success. When you have a message that builds upon someone’s work, include them in your promotion and they’ll gladly help share your story with the world.