Blogging for DBAs
To go with today’s presentation on the DB2’s Got Talent competition, I wanted to write about blogging and getting involved in the DB2 community. Blogging has brought me great benefits, and just about everyone could contribute to the DB2 community by writing about their own experiences.
For me, the benefits of engaging in the DB2 community and blogging have been enormous. With regular blogging, I’ve earned myself a promotion at work, I wrote an article that developerWorks published, I have done two full hour-long episodes of the DB2Night show, and I’ll be presenting at my first conference at the IDUG North American Technical Conference in Orlando in April. And that’s all in about a year and a half of consistent weekly blogging.
Blogging and engaging more fully in the DB2 community is helping me work toward my current career goal of being a DB2 Guru. But it’s not just that kind of thing that I do it for. By being engaged, I’m better at my job. At least weekly, I learn something I didn’t know before that makes me a better DBA. I also get the opportunity to help others which I enjoy on a very deep level. I still get a thrill with each and every comment on my blog. Somehow I haven’t really gotten used to the idea that people out there are reading what I write and that it matters to them.
Challenges of Blogging
“But I’m not an expert yet!”
For a long time, I waited to present or write because I thought I had to have topics that were just amazing and ground breaking. But then I realized that whatever my topic, it might not be a revelation to me, but could be to my readers/listeners. For me, that was the biggest hurdle to getting started.
Sometimes one of the most useful kinds of blogs is one that someone writes while they’re learning a new topic and they document the things they learn and the mistakes they make. The truth is that you don’t have to be a Guru to write blog entries or make presentations that others can benefit from.
Time is a major constraint. I’m not going to lie. I spend at least 5 hours a week blogging, and that is not part of the 40 hours a week I do for my employer. I watch less TV than I used to. I read less for pleasure than I used to. I hardly ever sew any more. I have a wonderfully supportive husband who enables me to blog. Starbucks is a lifesaver to have somewhere to get away and just focus on blogging.
Think about what you do with your spare time. Lunch breaks can work if you really can step away from work. Some employers may let you work on a work-related blog during work hours.
You also don’t have to commit to blogging as heavily as I have. You can get started with monthly or “when I can” type update frequency, and then move into more frequent posting when you’re ready to. I got nowhere near weekly posts for the first year or two that I was blogging, and I then committed to weekly blog entries when I was ready. I didn’t have many readers until I got my post frequency up, but I still had some.
Probably the most frequent question I get is something along the lines of “How do you come up with something new to write about every week?”
Most weeks, it’s not really that hard. Frequently what I write about reflects my week – some blog entries come straight out of what I did that week. I also keep a running list of ideas, since my inspiration seems to come in spurts – usually when I have a great idea for a blog post, I have not one, but three of them.
There are times when I sit down at the computer and the week has already started and I can’t think of anything to write about, and my ideas file is tapped out. There are a couple of techniques I use then:
- Search terms people used to find my blog WordPress tells me what search terms were used to find my blog. A lot of times, I can tell that people were looking for something else, and I can blog on that.
- Google Keyword Tool This is a tool from Google that is meant to research wordds you might want to pay for advertisements on. But it also has a nice list of search terms – you can start with something simple like ‘DB2’ and get a number of related terms.
- Regular Series One of the real reasons I’ve introduced continuing series like Parameter Wednesday and DB2 Basics is because they give me a ready-made source for topics
- Silliness When I had a serious case of writer’s block this January, I did some “DB2 Haikus” – not anything that I actually think anyone else likes or cares about, but they really did spur my creativity and make it easier for me to get working on more interesting content
- Readers’ Comments and Colleague Suggestions Some readers send me suggestions on things they’d like to see details or more information on, and some Colleagues send me ideas on things they think need to be covered – this can be a great source of inspiration, though I’m not sure they always get what they asked for exactly.
- Guest Bloggers Especially as I get more readership, I have more people interested in having a ready-made audience for their own writing. This can help me fill gaps, and I learn a lot from it, though I sometimes spend as much actual time editing as I would have spent writing my own stuff.
Somebody (smarter than me) Already Wrote About This
When I get this as a question, it’s often tied with the inspiration one above – “how do you come up with something new each week that others haven’t written about?” The truth is that I don’t. I write on a lot of topics that others have covered in depth. A lot of times, I even link to other articles or blogs on the topic.
When you’re researching something do you want to find one and only one source of information on it? Of course you don’t, you want to find multiple perspectives. Each person who writes on a topic has a different point of view and often focuses on different aspects or details. I’ve even had a draft post on a topic waiting to be published and had another DB2 blogger write on the same topic. I simply hold off for a while and link to their content as well before I publish it.
To be honest, there are only so many highly technical DB2 bloggers out there with a high update frequency. Many seem to post every two weeks or every month.
Other Ways to Contribute
I’m talking about blogging here because it is what I know. It is surely not the only way to be a part of the DB2 community and reap the benefits from involvement. Off the top of my head, there is also participation in forums, podcasting, presenting at conferences, writing articles for developerWorks or DB2Mag (whatever they’re calling it these days), tweeting. Any of these will have some of the same benefits as blogging.
Personally, I have no fear of public speaking, and love to present. I realize that I’m not the norm here – I’ve heard that more people are afraid of public speaking than are afraid of going to the dentist. I’d take an hour of impromptu presenting with no prep time over a visit to the dentist any day.
You have to look to your own strengths and weaknesses and what you enjoy to consider how you can fit in, contribute, and benefit from the DB2 community.
Bad Reasons to Blog
You want something easy to do.
You want to make some money on the side (you’re not likely to make much).
You want to talk about how awesome you are.
You want to talk about how awesome your company or your company’s product is.
The Nuts and Bolts
But how do you get started? I started with a free blog at www.wordpress.com. When I was ready to commit to weekly blogging, I moved to a self-hosted solution with a cheap hosting provider, and that’s been great. It was easy to move from free wordpress.com to self-hosted stuff. I make about enough from google ads to pay my hosting fees. But there’s no need to start out at that level – wordpress.com is really pretty awesome – you can even have your own domain name for a small fee.
If you’re going to start blogging, there’s a short book that is an absolute must read. Technical Blogging by Antonio Cangiano. It is simply excellent for helping you ask the right questions and figure out what you’re doing.
Content is King and consistency is queen is now my mantra. “Content is King” for me means that if I write great stuff that people need, the rest of it will come(I hear the voice from “Field of Dreams” whispering “If you build it, they will come”). Content is the priority over design or anything else. Second only to content is consistency. If I’m going to write weekly, then I need to do that consistently. If it’s only monthly, then that’s fine, but it, too, should be consistent so that readers know what to expect.
The DB2 Community is a vibrant one, and many of the “Big” names in it are the sorts who believe that helping others is one of the more important things in life. You don’t see the majority of DB2 DBAs hoarding knowledge or going for glory. This makes being involved in the DB2 community that much more rewarding and fun.