Martin Verbic @marteensart
Medical student

What A Year Of Coding and Blogging Has Taught Me?

After a year of blogging and coding I realised how much I learned in the process. This article focuses on what exactly this has been. I like to think it's not just another article on the web, but rather a valuable reflection for anyone who has ever considered blogging.


What A Year Of Coding and Blogging Has Taught Me?

About a year ago this blog started to slowly take off. I could've just write on Medium or use a generic website theme. But I wanted it to be mine from start to finish. It's largely been a bottom-up learning process - learning, figuring out and doing everything from start to finish. Some would say this to be a loss of time, but I believe just the opposite - that it's a fantastic and rewarding experience in many different ways.

A Brief History In My Blogging

I always liked the idea of having a blog. It all started when I went travelling to the USA in 2015. Before leaving, I decided to set up a simple Wordpress.com website and document what would be going on every day - and that's what I did. For 12 days straight, I wrote one post per day explaining what I've been up to across the Atlantic. I loved it, even though that involved writing posts on my phone. After that, I was really into it and determined to continue, but this enthusiasm quickly died away. Especially since I started to deal with the troubles Wordpress presented. Chapter closed, at least that's what I thought.

About a year ago, now a medical student, this idea was once again planted in my head by a book called "Show Your Work" by Austin Kleon. This time, however, if I was going to start, I wanted it to be proper. I decided to finally learn to code, a skill I've been subconsciously avoiding without a specific reason. That's when I picked up a book on HTML and CSS and started experimenting until I had the blog up and running. And the rest, as they say, is history...I was hooked.

That's only one part of the story. But what truly holds value for me is what I learned and also applied in practice. This is something I lacked ever since I can remember...learning, not applying and then forgetting a fair amount. This is what I love most about all of this. Making my blog from scratch and following through with my ideas. Bottom-up learning in action.

But what are the skills I learned in this process?

Coding

As I mentioned, a lot of what my visitors have seen on this site has been self-made from the ground up. It served as a kind of playground for applying what I had in mind in terms of design and functionality.

When I started, I barely knew any HTML and CSS. Then I went on to look at some other programming languages such as JavaScript, PHP and React. I didn't know some even existed. It was an entirely new field for me. But it was the challenge and thrill of building my website that did it.

I believe what I gained will show itself across a longer time-span, but what I'm very well aware is how differently I think about websites and ideas. I'm not just interested in what a website is about or how it looks, I also want to know how it's made...and I often check the ones I like. It has also changed the way I think about ideas and problems. In the past, my mindset has been "...it would be awesome to find a website that did this and that...". But now I realised I can think differently. I can build something I think would be useful and I believe this is one of the most valuable takeaways I could've learned.

It's not even just coding, it's the whole process. You can code on a computer all you like only for yourself. I also wanted to publish my website online. Another area in which I was a complete rookie. At first, I was clueless. I remember googling the most basic things about publishing websites. Now, it's just another thing.

Funny enough, I soon found out it was just too much excess coding for every single article I wrote. To put into perspective, that meant I had to write articles in HTML...the design was taken care of in the background, but every paragraph, title, footer, navigation menu and image had to be inserted with code. And then imagine what that meant when I wanted to add something to my navigation menu...

I quickly realised this meant too much work. Not only did it consume a lot of time, but I was also too focused on code, and not enough on the writing part. Plus, my code, of course, wasn't perfect so my SEO (discoverability on the web) and user experience were not that great.

Eventually, I started thinking about developing a theme for a Content Management System (CMS) - a Microsoft Word with the ability to hit publish. I knew my experience with Wordpress and I knew I didn't want to go down that road again. That's when I came across Ghost. It's simple, fast and new. I only had to learn to somehow connect my website to it. Of course, I realised it wouldn't be so simple and had to satisfy myself with their generic website design. It was my summer project to learn theme development for Ghost. The result is in front of you.

Writing

I never considered myself much of a writer. But I think I always had a knack for explaining things I understood. My writing, however, probably needed some polishing. And I believe it still does.

I realised is that writing is a very useful skill that I think I'll benefit a lot from in the long run. Just as coding.

It was at first very hard for me to express what I thought in written form. The other challenge was to do that in such a way that I can stand 100% behind everything I wrote. I'm sure I haven't always lived up to these two, but that's just a part of the process.

There are two skills I improved or benefits I see writing provided me with.

One is self-reflection and self-documentation of what I do. When I'll read my articles in a few years, I'll be able to see how I thought and what I did. Not for others, but for myself. Even though I sometimes deviated from this goal, this will always be the number one thing I'll consider valuable - regardless of how many views and visitors I receive. At this point, after only about a year, this is all that matters.

Secondly, I got a taste of what content promotion and marketing looks and feels like. It doesn't serve a point to think people will just come and read my articles. Using click baits and other nonsense was the other extreme I never wanted to choose. A true and valuable inspiration was Farnam Street, a blog about thinking and learning that doesn't use much marketing "tricks" and click baits to capture their readers. Their content, though, is on point.

It's about finding a balance between marketing, content and design and I'm still searching for it.

Underlying skills

I've covered coding and writing in a pretty broad sense, but there has to be some underlying skills and principles I learned doing all of this. Something perhaps rather distant to these two.

The first one is the starting mindset. I've long considered myself one of those people that will not upload a website if their logo isn't perfect or their website design isn't "clean" enough. Or maybe their idea is just not yet fully worked out. The "do it before it's finished" is the single greatest mindset I adopted during my experiments in blogging and coding. That's why you saw to see so many changes to what I write about and how my website looks like. Heck, even the content of my newsletter has been changing except for the past 17 issues - on which I'm quite proud (you can subscribe here, by the way). Not to mention its name. Picasso allegedly said that we shouldn't be scared of perfection, because we'll never reach it. Exactly, but the quality of work significantly increases with its quantity. Starting a blog becomes easy when we become OK with bad code and bad articles - the first 100 of them will be crap either way.

The second one is also connected to thinking a bit differently. It's about shifting to the mindset that there are people out there who will read what I write. Although anyone can start writing or producing any sort of content these days, each of us has their perspective. This is how the content of each one becomes valuable and worthy of publishing. Together with the starting mindset, this is the reason I found the courage and will to produce content, in the form of code and words.


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