For the last 18 years, I’ve been writing content on the internet. When I write it out like that, it feels unbelievable. My first articles can now vote (though I wouldn’t trust them to based on how poorly they’re written). In that time, I’ve written on several different websites and platforms, used various different technologies and written about vastly different topics. I’ve had articles that have gone absolutely viral and those that have been read by nobody. Here’s a quick look back over the years.
Product Reviews (2005-2008)Product Reviews (2005-2008)
During University I started writing product reviews for a few different Canadian tech sites. I don’t remember all of the details now and some of the emails are probably stored on my old University email but I remember I’d receive a product in the mail, write a short review (generally 500-1000 words) and get paid $20. As a broke student at the time, this felt like an amazing deal. Not only did I get to keep the products (interesting battery packs, external hard drives, random gadgets and even a camera!) I also got some lunch money. Most importantly, looking back now, it gave me the experience and desire to write, something that I probably wouldn’t have picked up on my own otherwise.
devjargon(); (2008-2009)devjargon(); (2008-2009)
In 2008, I started a tech blog with my best friend. We wrote about the things that interested us at the time, programming and tech reviews. I was still in University at the time but Alex had started working and also wrote about what it was like to work with teams. We were…prolific, sometimes writing 3-5 articles in a week. In the first four months from May 2008 to August 2008, I wrote 27 posts including some gems like from The Art of Commenting Code and Headphones: A Developers Best Friend. I look back on these old posts now and cringe but at the time, they were driving in thousands of visits a month.
I no longer have access to the analytics but I found some old chats between Alex and me that mentioned receiving 2000 visits in July 2010, a whole year after we stopped writing. More than anything, I remember the vibrant blogging community during this time. You could create lasting relationships with the people commenting on your website and build extensive back-links by commenting on others. Applications like Digg and Stumbleupon drove real traffic in the tens of thousands. It felt easier to get traction.
procrastinatingdev.com (2011-2013)procrastinatingdev.com (2011-2013)
I took a break from writing for a couple years as I finished up University and started my first job as a developer at G Adventures, but slowly and surely I got the itch to write again. It started off slowly with a couple small posts similar to the ones I’d write on devjargon like Write Code as if People Will Read It and Properly Handling Failures.
At the time I was learning Python and Django for my job and I started summarizing the different updates into real-world examples. The idea was that if I could take all of the updates and show someone how they’d need to change their applications or how they could utilize the new features people would be interested in reading this. That’s when my first article hit the front page of Hacker News and immediately took down the site. I was out for dinner for a potential job when I received the email that my website was down. I checked it out and confirmed that the hosting provider had run out of memory. I quickly excused myself and ssh’d into the server where I was able to add a caching plugin for WordPress and get the site up and running. It wasn’t until after the dinner that I finally realized I had hit the front page of Hacker News.
I wrote twelve posts during this time, mostly centered around Django. In 2013 I was promoted into management and writing fell by the wayside again.
Medium.com (2016-2020)Medium.com (2016-2020)
One of the biggest mistakes I made in my blogging career was moving to Medium.com and removing my content from my own website. At the time, it felt like the right move, Medium provided an amazing writing experience and community. Some articles definitely benefited from that community and I’ve made a whole $25 from their partner program over the last 6 years but I cannibalized my traffic to my own domains and ultimately lost a lot of traffic in the long run.
During this time I also created https://tech.gadventures.com and wrote my two most successful posts about speeding up postgres restores. At G Adventures, I built a culture of writing about our challenges as we built up the technology for the world’s largest adventure travel company. At the start, people didn’t think we were building anything cool and it was an uphill battle to get people to write. Over time, and 26 posts later, the blog was recognized and mentioned by people interviewing at the company, it helped get people jobs elsewhere and it highlighted the amazing culture and tech we built.
mckerlie.com (2022-future)mckerlie.com (2022-future)
Last year I decided to get back to writing again for a couple of reasons. I wanted to talk more about engineering management and leadership and I realized that I needed to market myself if I wanted to ensure job stability. I had this domain for several years but up until this point it had stayed empty. I quickly whipped up this site using Hugo because I wanted to focus on writing, not on managing a WordPress instance and started writing.
For idea generation, I took questions that came up in management slack channels and things I was working on at work and turned them into articles. I also started writing more meta posts about migrating from Hugo to Astro since this was content that I always enjoyed reading. I’ve also settled into a (relatively) sustainable writing pattern that I expect to last so if you’re interested in learning more about engineering leadership, random technical projects and thoughts and you have a feed reader feel free to subscribe!
Numbers, Achievements and Final ThoughtsNumbers, Achievements and Final Thoughts
Since I’ve moved platforms, websites and analytics providers over the last 18 years it’s a little difficult to get the full picture of how many visits I’ve had to my posts so I’ll try to summarize things as best as I can.
Speeding up Postgres Restores (and Part 2) are by far my most read posts. They’ve been on the front page of multiple 1 million+ person subreddits, hit Hacker News and been on Postgres Weekly a couple times. As far as I can tell, they’ve been read over 500,000 combined.
Using Python to generate over 10,000 unique 8-bit lightsabers is my next most popular blog post with almost 100,000 views. Again, this is mainly generated from being on Reddit multiple times and various Python newsletters. I wrote this article while searching for a role in 2020 and I attribute a small part of why I landed at Sentry because of this article and the refreshing I did of my technical skills during it.
Using Configurable User Models in Django 1.5 was the first article I wrote that hit the front page of Hacker News and that alone brought in over 10,000 views. Even though this article is over 10 years old it still brings in a steady stream of visitors every month.
Over the last 18 years, I’ve been able to reach hundreds of thousands of people, learn new concepts and refresh my skills. Writing has also helped me hone my craft as a leader, helping dozens of engineers grow and launch many different projects. If you’re interested in writing but don’t know how feel free to reach out!