The Road From Nobody To Half A Somebody

In the world of software engineering, technical skills are important. However technical skills will only get you so far on their own. For many developers, what is holding them back is just not being known to very many people. You have skills that are highly desirable, but unless people can find you online how can people get in touch with you with business opportunities?

Now I know what you might be thinking now: “I already have a LinkedIn profile and some connections on there.” That’s great. You might also have an about.me or coderwall.com profile. All very good things to do. However, there is a lot more to making yourself widely known than having profile pages.

In this article we start by looking at many routes to become a minor celebrity within the technology community. These are all people who have done something a little different and extra from the usual, such as:

  • Become CEO of a major international software company
  • Create a popular programming language
  • Create a tech startup offering a service never seen before
  • Become one of the top rated users on StackOverflow
  • Become an international speaker / developer evangelist
  • Become known as the main contributor of a wildly successful open source software project
  • Become a famous book author
  • Become a famous blogger
  • Become a famous Twitter microblogger
  • None of these are mutually exclusive. Following one strategy may help your pursue another. For example, Scott Hanselman and Jeff Atwood are book authors, bloggers and micro-bloggers. All of these activities help to raise your profile.

    The first strategies are more difficult to achieve, broadly speaking, than the latter ones. This is the first of a three part guide to success with blogging and micro-blogging.

    Once you achieve popularity as a blogger and/or microblogger, you might find new doors are opening up for you and you are invited to a speaker engagement or offered a good book publishing deal. You should also find that your writing skills have considerably improved, so writing that book you’ve always wanted won’t be so hard anymore.

    This article is not just for fame seekers, it is just as much aimed at those of you with no interest in fame but want to learn some tips for networking and writing. Both of these are essential skills for a successful career in IT, and perhaps even more important than coding skills?

    Blogging

    If you don’t yet have a blog, my advice is to try out a free option that takes most of the hard work away from you. You definitely want to use a content management system, and you don’t want to pay for one.

    Blogging is quite different from web application development. Most bloggers don’t need to be messing around with JavaScript or CSS in order to get their blog looking nice. Of course you’re welcome to do so if you like but the focus of your time should be on writing interesting articles rather than on the underlying web technologies.

    There are many good blogging platforms that are either free to use or very affordably priced. I am not going to tell you which one to use. Just type “which blogging platform” into your favourite search engine and you will get dozen of sites with good advice to help you decide.

    You may decide to spend a bit of money after a little while to get your blog looking more professional.  However, whichever way you look at it, blogging is not an expensive hobby, and if you are successful you can make a decent income from it. It also doesn’t need to take up a lot of your time, but as with most things the more time you put into it the better the end result usually ends up being.

    There are two main categories of blog posts:

    1. How To – This tells your users how they can accomplish something. An example would be powershell tips
    2. Opinion – Also known as an “Op Ed” this gives readers your opinion and this post should persuade them to share your point of view. An example is Hanselman’s blog posts on JavaScript being Assembly

    For Pluralsight subscribers, Pinal Dave has produced two decent courses on building your blog:

    Building a successful blog
    Building a high traffic profitable blog

    Case Study – Jeff Atwood

    Jeff Atwood is the author of www.codinghorror.com. Jeff began the blog in 2004. Since 2007 Coding Horror has had over 68 million page views and 49 million visits.

    In January 2008 Jeff had never owned a company, nor participated in an important startup, nor authored a framework or standard, nor made a lot of money. He said:

    “There is absolutely no reason any of you should listen to me.”

    So how has he done it? I was pondering this question for a while, before I gave up second guessing in favour of contacting him to ask “what’s your secret?”

    And he pointed me in the direction of how to achieve ultimate blog success in one easy step which is a post he made back in 2007. The advice is every bit as relevant today as it was then, and will still be just as relevant in the year 2050. So if you’ve not already read it, go and do so now. I will be waiting for you in the adjacent browser tab until you’re ready to come back. 🙂

    Pick a Schedule

    Okay so now you are filled in on the big secret to blogging success, start thinking about your schedule. Don’t just say you’ll write a post every day. Think of all of your other commitments – work, family, friends, hobbies. Plan a schedule that you can actually stick to, and allow yourself enough slack to do your writing the next day if something urgent comes up. Since reading this advice I have decided to do a minimum of one post per week, published each weekend. My reasons for not doing more are it leaves me with more time to:

    • Think about my next post, hopefully resulting in a better quality article
    • Do programming and learn more about programming
    • Spend time with my family and friends

    Hopefully the ultimate blog success post will have given you a renewed sense of confidence.

    This is something echoed by Rob Conery and Scott Hanselman in their excellent free course Get Involved:
    “Don’t be afraid to fail”
    “Don’t sweat the first blog post any more than any other one”
    “Just start”

    Jeff also makes brief cameo, saying “It’s like dating. You’ll never get a date if you don’t leave the house” and quoting Raymond Chandler

    There are some other factors around the popularity of coding horror. This blog is about the human factors around coding. There are no code samples to pour over. Posts do not get very technical – you don’t necessarily need to be a programmer to understand or appreciate them. Jeff has a good understanding of humans and their behaviours, good and bad.

    A big part of Jeff’s appeal has been the everyman with many stories that not just any developer, but any tester, analyst or manager can identify with.

    Code Samples

    “Someone told me that each equation I included in the book would halve the sales. I therefore resolved not to have any equations at all. In the end, however, I did put in one equation, Einstein’s famous equation, E = mc² . I hope that this will not scare off half of my potential readers.” – Stephen Hawking

    Math equations scare off some readers, but these are taught in virtually every school so at least most of your audience will understand the simple ones. Code on the other hand, is written in hundreds of programming languages. No developer knows every single one, so even some great programmers will not immediately understand what you are writing about. And not many of them are going to learn a new language to understand your blog post. It’s much more likely that they’ll just find another blog to read.

    Having said this, I am not saying to never have any code in your blog. If you have a blog aimed at coding in one particular language, you can assume that most of your readers already have a good understanding of it and might appreciate the examples. Just be aware of whether you are writing for a niche market or the mass market and write for your audience.

    SEO

    Writing good articles is the most important thing, but your readers have to find your site. Most of this will either be through twitter or via a search engine.

    A great document for learning Search Engine Optimization is the Google SEO Starter Guide

    There are also two Pluralsight courses on SEO:

    SEO with ASP.NET

    SEO Fundamentals

    I really hope that you have enjoyed this guide. Please contact me with any feedback, good or bad, and any questions you might have. Please also consider following my zombie code kill blog where I will be following up with this introductory post with some in-depth information on blogging and twitter.

    Finally I would like to give a special thank you to Cory House, Rob Conery, Scott Hanselman and David Heinemeier Hansson. This article has been made possible thanks to you!

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