Why I write

I never wondered about this topic, but going through some old newsletters I signed up for and never followed through, I found a really great email course on blog writing. It’s called 10 days to a better blog and it’s all there, in one Discourse post. But do as I’m trying to do, and try to follow it day after day (or another provisional amount of time). I’ve already written a post about blogging, but something still bugs me, because I really can’t pinpoint the real reason I’m writing all of this. I think the kick came from Scott Hanselman’s blog in the form of one post I can’t find right now. The gist of it was, if you want to learn, you have to teach. And the best way to teach was to write it down for someone else. Sometimes the posts spurted out of being irritated by coworkers asking me how to do something for the nth time, sometimes they were the stuff I just learned and wanted to share. Maybe I even wanted to become popular, earn money from ads, and live an easy life from it, there were some phases that I would probably want to forget, but you learn as you live and go along.
The reason I’m writing now, is to help someone who is a few steps behind me in this whole life/developer/designer/philosopher story and is maybe searching for something my experience can give them. I plan to continue on writing about everything I face in my business and somewhat private life. I’ll be making some changes, and want to share them with the world.
This, of course, doesn’t mean I’ll stop with the technical posts, the ones being most helpful to people coming from Googles, Bings and DuckDuckGos. So brace yourselves for those too.

 

Caution! Reading will change your life (for the better)

I tend to read a lot, averaging at least one book per week. Remembering back, I think the reading started when I was a kid, during the war, being in a shelter (or the basement) was a regular thing. And for a 9-10 year old kid, books were the best thing to forget everything. My mother worked next to the library, and she brought me an average of 3 books each week. They were mostly child books, ranging from Erich Kästner to Karl May and his Winnetou. There were a lot of books by Croatian authors too, but I can’t remember them all now. After that school kicked in, then Real Life™ and somehow I stopped reading so much. At least stopped reading books. I was always following technical newsletters and blogs, but forgot that I should be reading real books along the way.Reading a book will change your life, even if you only read one book, end to end. Each one you add to the mental pile, your mind expands in that direction, and you are a wiser person. I’m not only talking about technical books here, on the contrary, I’ve found non-technical books to be more mind expanding than technical ones.I recently realized that, even I’ve been on this spree for the last 3 years, the greatest benefit of reading fiction, is using your imagination. No movie will ever give you an experience of reading a book. I don’t prefer audiobooks either because it’s too hard to pause and visualize the moment, the scene. The book that got me back in was Game of Thrones, and I’m a little bit sad that I watched the series before because my imagination was somewhat flawed by scenes from the series. From then on, I’ve read biographies, technical books, fiction, nonfiction, psychology, design, basically anything that was recommended by a credible enough source. Each one pushed me a little bit further forward.I’ve achieved more on a personal and business level in the last 3 years than I have in all of the previous years combined, and I believe that reading that much had to do a lot with it. Although we own a TV set, I rarely watch it (you have to watch Top Gear when you see it’s on). The best thing you can invest in is knowledge, keep reading, even if the book you read tends to be really bad, you can leave it half way, but don’t give up on reading. There are great books out there, and things you have never dreamed of can come true because you have to be able to imagine your end goal before you get to reach it.

Unused tools (and skills) get rusty and fall apart

I was having an interesting twitter conversation a few days ago. The tweet that started it all claims that most male programmers don’t have beautiful, or even readable handwritings. And in my experience this is true. But I think there is a reason that runs deeper than a given social group having bad handwriting. I also haven’t met a physician that has a readable handwriting either.

In the case of physicians, if you have maybe read Thank You For Arguing, you will realise that it is their code grooming in effect, or their insider language, used to effectively differentiate themselves from others.

Although some programmers can be vain, I don’t think code grooming is the case here, because there is a deeper problem emerging that we were probably the first ones to experience. Handwriting has become obsolete, marked for removal in the next major version, we are following semantic versioning, right? But without joking, If I just take a look at myself, I
almost stopped writing by hand more than 10 years ago. Apart from the few months when I went to finish my bachelor’s degree, I haven’t used it since. I do write some things down on paper, and lately I’ve been using paper and pencil more and more, to sketch, and write down meeting notes. But that doesn’t solve the problem, the real problem. I have a (tough learned) skill, that I’m not using, not on a daily basis, but sometimes a whole month or more could go
by, without me picking up the pen and writing something down. And without use, that, in the past really valuable skill, is fading away. You will never completely forget the skill, but your confidence to use it will fade away with the idle time.

One more skill that I can think about is using a language. I have learned two foreign languages during my education (not counting Latin). And because of weird stream of events, my knowledge of German was better for the 4 years I learned it in elementary school. We had a really great teacher, and she made us talk in German, at least those 2 hours in school each week. Our English teacher, let’s just say she wasn’t as good. Everything changed in high school,
and the tables have turned. The situation with teachers wasn’t really bright way back then, so we got an unqualified German teacher, and over those four years, I’ve lost most of the knowledge. Not using it 14 years after I finished high school, I can still understand most of it, but can’t communicate to save my life. Our English teacher on the other hand, was a posh old lady, who knew how to teach. And I’ll be thankful to her for the rest of my life, because not
only did she try (and succeed) teaching us English, but she also tried (and somewhat succeeded) teaching us good manners, which is also a skill hardly gained, and easily lost. My father picked up a Russian hitchhiker this summer, while he was doing some work. And as he has learned Russian in school (we were behind the iron curtain then), he knew at least the basics. Not much, but could understand the guy, and luckily our languages are similar enough, so the Russian guy could understand him back in his pigeon Russian. I asked him how he felt speaking Russian for the first time in almost 40 years, and the answer was, I was afraid I would say something wrong, and offend the man, while I tried to help him.

It’s the same fear that I have when filling out some forms, and have to write anything down by hand. I delegated most of it till now, just because my vanity doesn’t allow me to show that I’m becoming more illiterate with each passing day. That is the reason I added learning Calligraphy to my bucket list. I just can’t allow that skill to fade away so easily. Also, as irony in life dictates, I’m in the great position to relearn German, and to even use it daily, so I’m going to grab that opportunity too. As you can never know too much, except for this guy here, you should commit to lifelong learning. And try to use all of your skills, as much as you can, you never know when you will pick up someone needing a ride, but he only speaks the language you learned in school 40 years ago.

Also, go and read Merlin’s Blog, you might find interesting and useful things there.

Taking out the trash (So you can have new, shiny stuff)

Are you like me, and have a couple ideas (blog posts, products, applications)
lingering in your head? Are you also like me, and do nothing whatsoever about
them? Well, apparently there is an easy solution to that. Get them out of your head,
and sell them. What I mean by this, write the blog posts down, create your
product, or an application (MVP will suffice) and publish them, get rid of
them, and give them to the world.

I have listened to a Ruby Rogues episode on Creativity and
Technology a couple of days ago, and I caught one really interesting thing while
they spoke about writing in particular, but it can be applied to any idea you
have in your head. It’s really easy, the bare act of writing the thing you are
holding in your head, makes it go away. David Allen talks about the same thing
in Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity. And
the same thing applies when you clean up your home from the stuff that has been
there for much too long. You make room for new stuff. And if you are on a
constant improvement path, the new stuff will surely be better and shinier
than the stuff you threw out.

It’s a really simple process, and you will vastly improve your skills if you
start taking things out of your head and putting them into the world. Let’s
say, for example, that you have the coolest idea in your head. Not that you
think it’s the coolest, but something for the world to see. Let’s say that
your idea is an idea for the iPhone. And you tend to keep it to yourself,
while never acting on it. What will happen? Someone will come to the same
idea, maybe not as good, but will act on it, publish it, gather feedback,
improve on it and you lose. What if I told you that the first big idea you
have in your head isn’t really that good? And there are better ones to come.
But you have to clear out your mind so it can accept new things.

I’ve been on and off with my writing for a while, and the same thing happens
to me. I started writing things down, and better ideas came to mind. I even
made one of the applications I had in my head, and saw it as not really usable.
To the trash with it. Also, with a clear mind, you can afford to explore new
things, like Rhetoric, or design, or whatever interests you at the moment.
Most of us can be creative, if we choose to be. And you can’t write your first
book to be as good as one of Seth Godin’s books. But you
have to start writing, to get the junk out of your head, so you can come to
the really valuable stuff that lies underneath all of the garbage.

I’m going to steal a quote from the Ruby Rogues show to end
this post: Terry Pratchett once famously said, “There’s no such thing as
writer’s block, only lazy writers.”

Gaining more Authority by becoming an author

I’ve recently read the book Authority by Nathan Barry, and I wanted to share what I have learned from it. The book is basically a course on how to self-publish your content, and how to properly launch it to get the biggest financial gain out of it.

The author does over all of the topics needed to write, market, and self-publish your material. And the book struck me hard, because I am looking into branching to product business myself. And I’ve always enjoyed good writing, mostly consuming it, and very rarely producing.

He got me to start writing after a long time, and that is the first time in my life, that I sincerely enjoy writing, after battling with it way back through school. Authority will teach you that by sharing your knowledge, you can and will become and authority in your field, someone who people look up to for answers on a given topic, even if they never had heard of you a month before. This will hopefully get you better clients, and better paying ones. I will soon be writing about another book soon, one that will help you get out of the rut of being a commodity, and start earning what you are really worth. You will also be producing more value for your clients, but that is the bonus effect for you and your clients.

The book teaches you how to achieve authority by writing books, but you can also achieve the same effect if you do other aspects of teaching people, or being a member of and open source community. There are many ways, and almost every one of them includes teaching and giving some of the stuff for free. And also, teaching something will make you learn it even better, and you will surely become an expert in that field. So if you want to learn something to the core, teach it to other people, some of them will be below your level, some of them will not, and those that are not will surely be there to help you when you make mistakes, and push you even further. In the future, you could even teach your idol something new, wouldn’t that be cool?

The social proof behind this book lies in so many stories of authors gaining public recognition, and consulting jobs, because let’s face it, we are in the tech industry. Take for example Obie Fernandez who wrote the book The Rails Way that skyrocketed his consultancy Hashrocket into getting plenty consulting gigs, at very high prices, and one of many reasons for that was that a founder wrote the book on Rails.

Another example is Thoughtbot, a consulting shop that has become a mecca of providing free teaching for developers, which they spun into paid courses too, but the content they provide for free is overwhelming, and it brings them bunch of consulting gigs, through word of mouth alone.

Probably the ones that are the biggest authority, at least for me, are the people behind Basecamp, who share everything they do, and gave us some of the best tools to create web applications for free, and everything else they publish on Signal v. Noise is great content, not only for developers, but for small business owners, who do not need venture capital to succeed in business.

P.S. This is the first post i have written using org2blog for Emacs and I am enjoying it. If you are into learning something new, you can try picking up Emacs, i have written about my pains learning it in the post Learning Emacs.

Blogging, or the lack of it

As you can notice, I’ve been blogging very sporadically over the years. And I’m trying my best to amend that. There have been times of super productivity, and times of writing nothing for a couple of months. One of the reasons for it is the perceived lack of time to do, but probably the main reason is the lack of will or fear to write. I have read a great book by Sacha Chua called A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging which has kicked me in the butt, and forced me to think more about sharing the work I do, and produce more digital content. You should definitely read it, especially if you work in the tech industry like I do.

My outtakes from the book are, that you should write every day, and don’t be afraid that you will sound stupid, or come in a wrong way, while you are starting out, because even Seth Godin was a beginner writer way way back, before he published his first materials. And I can bet that he struggled with blocks, and everything you, and I, are struggling with when starting to write. But the act of writing more and more, and sharing everything you know with the world, will not only make you a better writer, you will also learn a lot quicker by writing things down, and could get the public recognition for the work you do.

The big question is, what to write about, and Sacha’s book answers it completely. You write about anything and everything, just sit down and write about what you are learning, reading, or going through in your day to day work. Write things down for yourself, on how to set up the deployment for x, or how to retouch a certain type of photo, other people may find it helpful. If you can help just one person struggling on the Internet, trying to find the solution to X, you have done a great job. And when you have to do the same task, sometime in the future, you will have your own reference to look into, and avoid the process of finding a solution again and again. You can also interview someone you work with, they surely have a lot to share with the world, as everyone does. And maybe you will get them into creating a blog, and writing themselves.

Try to have friends or family read your drafts, and point to any mistakes if and when you make some, and you do the same thing for them, because the effort spent writing and reading other people’s material will only make you a better developer/designer and definitely a better person.

Commit to write every day, you do not have to publish it, but just go and write. There is a great post from Nathan Barry, the self published author of Authority, and other well received books, in which he describes how a commitment to write 1000 words a day, each day made him quite a lot of money, and skyrocketed his audience.

You do not have to be so drastic and write 1000 words a day, start slowly and then progress. Try to write at least 200 words, about anything, some of it will be worth publishing, some of it will be crap, some of it will be gold. However, that is what life and work are all about, even if you were some mythical creature, being able to produce only great stuff all the time, that doesn’t work in the long run, at least not for me.