Thursday, August 27, 2015

How Many Words Do You Have Left In You?

This may seem like a borderline macabre post, but it was prompted by my recent deep dive into the CodeNewbie podcast. Episode #17 featured Scott Hanselman (a great episode about engaging with new programmers or anyone in tech) and one of the comments that he made was the idea that we all have a limited amount of keystrokes left in each of us.

Scott breaks it down like this. Think of how old you are now. Now consider a conservative life span. For me, to date, the direct line of males in my family have lived to 82 at the latest, though my Dad is looking great at 75 and shows no signs of slowing down yet, so that's a plus :). I'll take a mid figure and say 78. that means I have about thirty years of words left in me. Divide that by the number of hours I work in a given day, and then divide that by the minutes in those hours, and then divide that by the number of words I type, and there you have it.

The point to this is that we have a lot of things we can do, but often we end up doing things that are repetitive and can possibly be of benefit to others if we do them the right way. In other words, instead of answering emails with the same questions, writing blog posts and pointing people to them might prove to be of more benefit.

I was reminded of this a week or so ago as I realized that on any given week, a big portion of my traffic comes from the series of posts I wrote four years ago when I embarked on "Learn Ruby the Hard Way". My rationale was that I was already looking at this stuff, and experimenting with it. I wanted to take notes and see if I could explain what worked and what didn't. If it didn't, was it a problem with the material, or was it a problem with me? More times than not, I'd discover it was a problem with me, or my understanding of the material. By talking out the ideas in the blog posts, and rereading them back to myself, often I was able to uncover problems just by talking out the problem, as though someone else was there to listen. Four years later, those experiments, frustrations and discoveries are still bearing fruit.

To me this highlights the importance of us documenting our journeys. It's tempting to say that a blog post is just a blog post, and that in the grand scheme of things, doesn't amount to very much. I think the opposite. To borrow again from Scott, by putting a URL to our words, we have the potential of seeing our words outlive us. Granted, the specifics of our posts may ultimately prove to be outdated, but the general process of learning, discovery, and our individual journeys along the way have timeless truths that may well prove to be valuable to other travelers. In the ideals of Will Allen Dromgoole, "I'm building a bridge for them" or at least I hope to.

The tl;dr version of this is "find ways of sharing your discoveries, and do what you can to limit the repetition of what you say". If you truly say it once, say it in a chat or an email. If you find yourself referencing it more that that, blog it. You never know what piece of advice you may have hidden in a chat transcript or an email thread that may help hundreds or thousands of others.
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