I’m happy to coach through write about network architecture too. Learning in public helps everyone 👏 https://t.co/ckMdHUnwt4
— Matt Broberg (@mbbroberg) April 23, 2021
The tradition of technology blogging is built on the idea of learning in public, something Matt’s encouraging with Red Hat’s Enable Architect blog linked in his tweet above. We encourage it at Packet Pushers, too. We think everyone has at least one blog post in them worth sharing with the community. Let us know, and we’ll set you up with an author account.
Starting a blog, especially for the technically savvy, is not overly difficult, though. Maybe Matt and I are hoping to make it even easier to share by offering our platforms, but I don’t think the time it takes to stand up a blog is necessarily the barrier.
I think the biggest barrier is the “in public” part. Architects and engineers tend to be introverts who are at times unsure of themselves. We don’t want to be learning in public. We want to be left alone to figure it out. When we’ve figured it out, maybe then will we share, once we’re supremely confident that we’ve got it 110% right. We just don’t need the headache of criticism, controversy, and the “but actually” pedants.
I’ve made a career out of learning in public and have found that the benefits outweigh the negatives. In addition, inconsiderate people can be handled.
Benefits Of Learning In Public
You know how you search the internet because you’re trying to solve a problem? What if no one ever wrote about the problem you’re trying to solve? You’d have no answers. Maybe you’d phone a friend. You’d hit a chat group, hoping against hope that someone else has seen what you’re facing. As a last resort, you’d call technical support, since those folks rarely seem to have answers while adding overhead to the problem solving process.
A benefit of sharing something you’ve learned is that you’re helping someone else learn. You’re not a certified instructor in the topic? Who cares? In a former life, I supported both an IT training company and higher ed compsci program helping to configure lab environments for classes. I got to know several instructors. Some were excellent with a teaching style built on real world experience. Some had little idea of what they were teaching beyond the textbooks, simply working through slides. Certified instructors & technology professors are people like the rest of us. Don’t get hung up on credentials. Did you learn something at Hard Knocks University? That’s all the credential you require. Share what you learned. Be the search result that solves someone else’s headache.
Explaining your solution to a problem also helps solidify the solution in your own mind. Working through the issue step by step reveals subtleties you didn’t notice before, or assumptions that might have been correct but are worth proving definitively. This means that you’ll understand your solution to a problem even better once you’re done explaining it to someone else.
Recording your learning session helps future you. If you are facing a problem today, there’s a good chance you’ll face that problem again in the future. Technology solutions are sometimes arcane, leveraging tools you rarely use or processes you don’t follow that often. Documenting what you learned and sharing it publicly means search engines will index your content. Many tech bloggers find their own articles when searching for an answer to a current problem. If you’re willing to learn in public, you might just be helping yourself. Sure, you could stash that information in a private wiki and get a similar result, but why not share it with the world?
Dealing With Critics
When you put yourself out in public, you run the risk of being criticized. For INTJ personalities, a common type among IT engineers, criticism isn’t something we always do well with. How do you mitigate the risk of criticism, then? I’ve adopted two major tactics in my time as a public learner.
Accept valid criticism aka get over yourself. Sometimes when you’re learning in public, you’re just…wrong. Incorrect. You screwed up. You might be corrected by someone who knows better. That’s exactly what you want, even though you’re embarrassed. Vet the criticism for accuracy. If necessary, update your content, thanking the person that corrected you. That is, publicly acknowledge your edit. You don’t have to be dramatic–just factual. Move on with your life.
Preemptively ignore idiots. Some people don’t offer valid criticism. They get wound up about something probably not even the point of your content. Others will criticize you about something you address later in a post, making it clear they didn’t finish your content. Ignore them. Idiots aren’t worth your time, but their words will worm their way into your brain and hang around.
Over the years, I’ve clamped down on how people can interact with me. I do not use commenting systems on my blog anymore due to idiots (and spammers). I mute Twitter idiots. For those folks that really want my attention, there are other ways to get a hold of me that are not hard to find. Making it just a tiny bit challenging to get in touch with me filters out most idiots.
Put Yourself Out There
Learning in public is part of what makes the internet more than an advertising platform. If you dislike much of what the internet has become, create content that makes it a better place.
For years, the Packet Pushers (you probably know me from one of our technology podcasts) has had a community blog for those folks who have something to share, but don’t want to maintain a blog of their own. This is designed for independent writers with no vendor affiliation who are willing to learn in public for the benefit of others. If that’s interesting to you, let us know via our contact form.