Paul McGrath

Signal v. Noise

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash.

At a certain stage in your career, the signal-to-noise ratio changes for useful new information that you come across.

Recently there’s been an influx of new material coming so hot and fast that it’s like drinking from a firehose. A lot of it is low quality, and probably fueled by the suggestion that every developer should have their own blog.

While I think this suggestion can be useful for personal growth, the typical Medium article now focuses on framework comparisons like (React v. Vue v. Angular) and otherwise unremarkable nuances that aim to build the author’s brand, rather than deliver meaningful and useful content.

Selling Ourselves Short

This brand-building as market differentiator seems to be a core driving-factor behind the noise, and is something that is negatively affecting the developer ecosphere.

This is not just limited to blogging, as it is also affecting conference topics and material, leading to roughly three approaches:

  1. A researcher in a specific and relevant field, presenting findings that will be useful to the industry at large.

  2. An experienced developer presenting knowledge learned from data-driven trials in production.

  3. A developer with a very basic understanding of some entry-level material, who feels it would make a decent first presentation.

To be clear, I am not trying to be dismissive of those trying to get their feet wet and starting out on the conference circuit.

My main argument is that the drive to build a personal brand is leading otherwise unprepared or inexperienced folk to present content that is inherently valueless, in order to get noticed.

Competitive Signaling

So why are developers being forced to develop content-as-value-proposition in order to get ahead?

Market saturation is the most likely culprit, as Software Development has become a lucrative field with far lower barriers to entry than other similarly compensated roles.

More developers in the market means more competition, with more reasons to be disqualified from a hiring round if there are more impressive candidates available.

Having an active GitHub, blog, other side projects, and conference talks under your belt—along with being at least a senior engineer—have become the new unmentioned-but-heavily-implied résumé credentials.

Gaining a foothold as a junior developer becomes harder every year, and it is understandable that a certain amount of attention-seeking is necessary in order to establish oneself in an increasingly hostile playing field.

Finding a Balance

So how does someone do this in an environment that establishes walled-gardens with for-profit motives, based on substandard marketing fluff?

Ignore Your Brand for Now

Seriously. Branding based on weak content is just weak branding.

If your goal is to become a “thought-leader” or influencer, work on creating content that will do just that. Your brand will follow.

Take Back Your Content

Medium may provide a easy platform for self-marketing due to increased exposure, but it also implicitly encourages the type of click-bait content that increases readership.

Consider setting up a home-grown blog instead. Easily done with Google Pages, Gitlab Pages, Netlify, Ghost, Wordpress, or just about a hundred other similar blogging platforms currently available.

As Scott Hanselman says, it’s important to “Own Your Words”.

Write About What You’ve Learned

The best content by far is useful content, which means anything that took you a little while to figure out, that might assist others in future.

Share It With the Wider Community

While aggregators for independent content are not as plentiful, consider building your following through Twitter, and sharing links to your content when you write or produce something new.

There are also many people who use RSS, so include a syndicated feed if you have time.

Keep It Simple

Aim to share meaningful and useful lessons, regardless of expertise level, and the rest will follow.