Why I'm Writing A Blog, and Why You Should Too

Earlier this week I was in a motorcycle accident. I was lucky enough to survive; this is one of those accidents where if the circumstances were only slightly different, you wouldn’t come out cleanly. Thankfully that’s not the case, and here I am writing to you today.

I’ve been mulling over starting a blog for a little while now, and there are a great number of benefits which I’d highly recommend and which many, many people have gone over before. It turns out that a near death experience is the kind of thing that pushes you over the edge for the “maybe I’ll try that out someday” field of ventures in life.

But fundamentally, why do it at all?

It Keeps You Honest

Writing a blog keeps you honest. Why? It’s because your thoughts are public and they are regularly shown. You can’t throw empty words through the internet before someone calls you out on your crap. Let me regale you a tale:

I work as a software developer in a construction company. Actually, the only software developer in that construction company. Being a student as well (I’m currently studying a double Bachelor’s at the reserved and aloof Monash University), I started with absolutely zero experience in the field. making sweeping decisions for what kind of technology this company’s going to be using to improve its processes was (and probably still is) beyond me. Think:

  • Which tech stack do I choose?

  • How do I reliably distribute, provide support for, and maintain production code with multiple users across different departments?

  • What architectural decisions am I going to make, or rather, what assumptions am I going to divine about our business and our employees’ workflows to keep the software providing business value on the regular, without painting myself into a corner for the inevitable moment when management asks, “cool, but now we want to do X as well”?

There’s a lot going on there for someone as green as myself to handle. Thankfully when you’re in a position like this, you read plenty about it, and constantly make sure to reflect on it. Part of that reflection led me to realise that I was working with a (frankly) counterintuitive tech stack.

See, the company operated via GSuite. That in and of itself I have no qualms with as an employee. GSuite is a paid service Google offers to business customers, with tangible benefits. Contrast this with Google’s primary business model, and you’ll see it’s refreshing just how straightforward it is.

Since the company operated via GSuite, all our employees’ processes also happened to be caught in Google’s web: Google Sheets, Google Forms, GMail, and Google Docs.

I was tasked with automating parts of these processes. Luckily, Google offers a quota-based cloud scripting solution for handling things like this. It’s called Google Apps Script. Now, there are some great things you can do with GAS. It effectively functions as a Javascript module that’s loaded some Google APIs already – which is great for handling Sheets, Forms, Mail, and Docs.

You can use Google’s Stackdriver service to log detailed messages about your code. This alone I guarantee will save your ass when Fred (not a real name!) from sales comes calling about how your “magic” spreadsheet, which is supposed to save him 3 hours in an 8 hour day, has fried his toaster and is holding his work hostage.

You can set up time-based triggers for your code to regularly fetch and cache important data, and then serve that data in a templated form to employees, so they’re not doing the busywork retrieving and formatting information.

You can deploy, via a CLI tool called clasp, Javascript code to Google’s servers, so you don’t have to use their web-based IDE for editing this stuff.

There are a bunch of problems with Google’s tooling here though, which need their own workarounds and solutions (or alternatives), but more on that in a later post.

So naturally after six months at this I thought I was hot shit. I thought I was so slick, I’d develop an online persona as an “expert” in Google Apps Script. I would market myself to small and medium businesses in a similar situation, as a freelancer. It’s so simple, you can practically smell the money! Step one? Start a blog with nifty tips for optimising your spreadsheet workflows.

I was actually crafty enough to consider the posts on that blog as complementary goods to freelance development in the realm of Apps Script. See, the blog would have posts describing concepts like composing macros in busywork sheets, which are relatively simple but introduce nice patterns into spreadsheets. You’d have a few small macros describing basic tasks, like applying conditional formatting to a row, or deleting a particular range, and then you’d compose them into larger macros to perform sheet-wide operations, like a spreadsheet orchestra playing out before you. If this gets too hairy for you, don’t worry! You can hire a professional Google Apps Script developer to come and unwire the mess for you.

That was the business case.

The problem, of course, was that it simply wasn’t honest. How can you keep up that degree of insincerity? I was teaching people things, arguably, but for the purpose of leading them into inefficient patterns and hiring out a code fixer to come and clean up their mess. A mess I encouraged. Talk about a conflict of interest. The whole ordeal screamed unprofessional. Never mind the lack of market research, or customer discovery, I did. How did I even know that such a blog would take off? I didn’t. I just wanted to make a buck from my troubles at work.

So naturally I burned out. I went back to work and carried on, thoughts of sly business ventures behind me for many moons.

Fast forward to this week: I’m on crutches for the better part my time, unable to walk unassisted, and I’ve got some time to reflect. I went to research blogging again. Stopping and considering my crash, and thinking about the benefits people keep seeming to bring up about blogging, it finally clicked:

A good blog is an honest blog. Like a safe motorcyclist, you’re constantly searching for balance and you’re keenly aware of your own weaknesses. You know that you’re not the toughest out there, and you’re certainly congruent with all the possible ways you can screw up.

Failure keeps you honest in a way that’s nothing short of painful, but ultimately cathartic and proactive.

So this blog is going to be about learning, not marketing myself as an expert. It’s going to be about mistakes made and lessons learnt - and regularly applied! - instead of shrill and shallow self promotion.

I can only share my experience and the experiences of those around me. Experiences as a student struggling to find good work, as a fledgling software developer struggling to make sense of work and practice their craft, and presumably, since I ride, as a risk taker.

If you’ve got similar views that fit this bill, and stories to share as such, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email. I’d love to have your writing on the blog.

As it stands though I’ll be writing regularly every fortnight, and you can read it here. You should write regularly too. It’ll do you some good.

1225 Words

2019-02-01 00:00 +0000