Blogging and OSS — Food for Thought

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I’ve been toying with the idea of releasing short-form “thoughts”, in addition to the usual longer-form articles in the blog. The goal is to publish one of these every weekday. I’d love to know what you think. You may send your questions to thoughts@ponyfoo.com. I’ll try to answer them over email and I may publish them here, with your approval. I’m also going to be writing thoughts about the current state of front-end development, and maybe commenting on other people’s articles. You can use the form to the right (near the bottom in mobile) to subscribe via email.

A reader from Manila wrote:

I hope you’re doing well. I’ve been following your progress for quite some time and would like to pick your brain about something, if you don’t mind.

I’ve noticed over the last year or so you’ve really had, for lack of a better phrase, a meteoric rise within the community. You’re publishing articles like crazy, releasing high quality libraries left and right and of course have a great book out. A little over a year or two ago, you were relatively quiet it seems.

I’m currently trying to become more involved in the community at large and to actually start a group here in Manila. Basically, I’m just wondering if you had any tips, or lessons learned, whatever. :)

Here’s what I had to say.

If it seems like I’m being insanely productive it’s mostly due to the “crowd in a beach” effect, where you think there’s way more people on the beach than there actually are, only because of your perspective. Time is a funny thing too, things I write and things I create stay on the Internet (or, in print) for a long time. This translates into people believing you’re much more productive than you really are, pounding on the keyboard and producing new material every single day, many times a day. It just takes dedication, and it’s a slow progression. I wrote most of Dragula 3 months ago, but it started hitting off around a week ago. I spent over a year writing JavaScript Application Design, and all most people saw was the finished, polished product. Similarly, I wrote most of ponyfoo 3 years ago, and a year later I rewrote some of it, but all people see is 3000 commits for a custom blogging platform!

That being out of the way, and getting back to your question, I think the correct way to get involved with the local community is to just dive right into it. Lurk around meetup.com. Get involved, attend meetups. No NodeSchool or Beer.js chapter in town? Start one yourself! In terms of lessons, I guess I can compile a list of tips and tricks, but bear in mind these worked for me and your experience might be different.

Start a blog (but only if you like writing)

Most people tell you to start a blog, but they don’t mention the fact that it’s pointless if you don’t actually enjoy writing. It’s true that you’ll learn and improve over time, but it won’t do you any good if it feels like a chore! There’s better things you can do with your time if you don’t like to write: contribute to an open-source project you like, or create some of your own. If you do like to write, then do! Creative writing is hard because you’ll need to come up with things to write about, but you can often just get away with writing about what you’re doing in your day job. It’ll give you extra perspective into what you’re routinely doing, it’ll help you communicate better, and give you mild exposure.

The best tip I’ve read about writing is that you should just write something, anything, and then iterate over and over until you have something you’re comfortable with.

Join the open-source movement

Open-source is huge when it comes to front-end development, and an excellent way of getting your code out there. Keep in mind that you should write documentation for your modules, as other people will be using them. Over time, open-source work will help you become a better coder in closed-source projects as well, as you’ll find yourself inadvertently being more consistent at keeping secrets (API keys, etc) off your codebase, documenting functionality in your code, and even collaborating with a variety of people. If you match that with modular design in both your applications and the work you open-source, you won’t be able to understand how you ever worked before you started doing open-source.

Have any questions or thoughts you’d like me to write about? Send an email to thoughts@ponyfoo.com. Remember to subscribe if you got this far!

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