My first year of blogging

This is the story of how I started my blog, reached the HackerNews front page and spoke at a conference and how one childhood experience was in the way of it all.

One of my personal goals for 2020 was to release one side project. While contemplating ideas I stumbled upon an article which highlighted why you should start ideas out of your core domain. So I dismissed my half-baked SaaS ideas and went for a no-code idea instead: Start a blog. If you just came for the stats you can scroll to the bottom. If you’re in for the recap just read on.

Just ship it

My first article went online on January 29. Pretty early to meet one of my yearly goals I must admit. I can assure you I managed to miss many other low hanging fruits like running a sub 3 marathon. However, I did manage to release 22 more blog posts which makes up for that a bit.

The first “hit” I had was an article released for my employer, Runtastic about #noEstimates. It was recognised by some big names I look up to like Allen Holub. I was also invited to a podcast. This was all still in the first quarter of the year. The positive responses were fuel to the fire of my writing.

Five minutes of fame

My blog still averaged less than 10 daily visitors. I experimented with different kinds of articles, like my TILs of the week. Then I hit the next golden nugget. Anxiety in product development made it to the #1 spot on HackerNews for a full day. This generated about 40.000 page views which to this day is about 90% of my total page views in the year. But this was much more personal. I’m an avid HackerNews reader since my early days of university. That’s now almost 10 years ago. It feels like my first (and only) StackOverflow gold badge.

It also came with an even bigger lesson: Be less judgmental about your writing. I was not planning to publish the article at first because I thought it was too weak. It gets me wondering how many of my self-censored articles would’ve been perceived positively as well.

The speech

My next two articles about lean roadmaps had a wide reach since they were featured in some newsletters. After that my writing slowed down considerably because I was preparing for my first ever conference talk. At the Lean Agile Exchange I shared my team’s experience with #noEstimates. While it did not make me famous (not as famous as the HackerNews front page anyway) it really pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me hone some new skills. I’m definitely planning to look for another speaking opportunity next year, maybe about technical debt.

My lessons learned

It was a year of many firsts. Those brought a lot of learning opportunities for me.

A viscious learning cycle

You think you got your ideas straight until you write them down. While writing you find inconsistencies and holes in the story. This lead me to read more than I ever did. The more I read the more I wanted to write about ideas I had while reading. That’s why I can’t leave the most influental books for me unmentioned.

  • Reinventing Organisations – This book had the biggest impact on me because I found the Integral Theory applicable to all aspect of my life – work, parenting, thinking. Here’s one of my favourite quotes from the book:

Our underlying management paradigm today is based on trying to predict and control. And the challenge with that: it often gives us more illusion of control than real control.

  • No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention – A captivating read about Netflix’s polarising but very successful culture. Their thoughtful approach to giving and receiving feedback and how they value people over processes was interesting.
  • Thinking in Systems: A Primer – While this was really not more than a basic introduction to systems thinking I enjoyed the more opinionated second half of the book. Here’s a quote to give you a taste:

“It requires freedom and experimentation, and a certain amount of disorder. These conditions that encourage self-organization often can be scary for individuals and threatening to power structures. As a consequence, education systems may restrict the creative powers of children instead of stimulating those powers. Economic policies may lean toward supporting established, powerful enterprises rather than upstart, new ones. And many governments prefer their people not to be too self-organizing.”

Finding your voice

It’s incredibly hard to find your own voice. I think I still haven’t found it. I would like to write like MangoPDF but am afraid of sounding like an idiot or losing non-native audiences. With my current rate I can’t afford to lose any visitors really.

Ultimately the most important thing for me is to get the idea across, not to be perceived as witty. I still feel vulnerable publishing and promoting my own writing and I am somewhat held back by exposing my full self. How do you find a balance between writing what is interesting to others and what you want to say?

The joy of writing

I rediscovered something I didn’t even remember I lost. I love writing. As a child I spent hours in my room writing fiction even though there was a Nintendo competing for my attention. However, being laughed at while presenting my work made that 9 year old simply stop writing. It only came back to me once I did pick up writing again how much I enjoyed the act in itself. Every word I publish still fights this criticism. It also gave me a profound reminder of how sensitive I want to be with my children’s creativity.

The raw data

If you’re just curious how this blog did, here are my numbers:

  • I published in total 22 articles
  • I generated just above 43.000 pageviews. 90% of that were from HackerNews with Anxiety in product development.
  • The average time on page is just short of 4 minutes. I love that fact because it means people actually read my stuff.
  • I had 8.000 search impressions with 136 clicks with an average search position of 22. My best performing SEO article is: How to measure technical debt.

An outlook for 2021

I definitely want to continue to write. The plan is to use some of that as the basis for a conference talk. At the same time I want to continue doing the Experiential Agile podcast with Mel. I will start a new role as Engineering Manager early next year which could either fuel my writing with new ideas and problems but it could also take time and energy away from my writing. We will see.