As a network engineer, systems administrator, or just a general IT guy (or girl), you probably don’t think of yourself as a “brand”. You probably just think of yourself as an average person who happens to have a fairly marketable skill.
Each of us, however, are our own unique “brand” and blogging can help you increase and fine-tune your skills. In this article, I’ll tell you why you should be blogging and give you some great ideas for getting started.
Are You Studying for a Certification?
If, like many of the folks who read Evil Routers, you’re preparing for a certification exam, you can kill two birds with one stone. You can use your blog to help teach others (like I’ve started doing with Free CCNA Labs) while solidifying your own knowledge at the same time.
As an example, back when I was studying for the CCNP certification, I wrote a lot of “how to” type articles covering things like EIGRP authentication and AS path prepending.
I’d write up the configurations by hand in a text editor, slowly work through the configuration steps, then verify everything was working properly. Once I had done that, I made detailed notes and wiped the configs. Then, I’d start over from scratch and do the whole thing again while writing up my blog posts. When I make videos, I often work through the configuration at least three times.
I’m a firm believer that you learn better by “doing” and this method required me to work through each configuration at least twice — sometimes more, if I screwed up along the way. Repetition is key.
After working through the configurations a few times, you’ll find that you easily remember the commands and necessary steps. At the same time, you’ll be coming up with great content for your blog that will help others out as well.
If you’re studying for the CCIE, you’re probably devoting most of your free time to those studies. In that case, you probably don’t think you have the spare time to keep up with a blog. On the contrary, however, writing my blog articles was one of the best ways I spent my time when studying. Try it for a month and see.
You’ll Research Better, More Often
When writing an article for your blog, you’ll be inclined to spend extra time researching the topic. It’s bad enough when somebody else makes you look bad, but nobody wants to make themselves looks like an idiot.
While doing your research, you’ll often discover new options or features that you weren’t aware of before. If you’re like me, you’re probably on a never-ending quest to learn as much as you can, so make a note of those new things. You can come back to them later and write blog posts about them.
Connect With Others
When you start your networking blog, you’ll quickly find others who are “in the same boat” and writing related articles. Blogging is a great way to connect with others who share the same interests.
If you’re studying for the CCIE, for example, you’ll quickly discover many other folks who are writing about the exam, how they are preparing, and what they’re having trouble with. You can learn from each other.
When I started Evil Routers, my goal was to simply have a place I could put my “notes” in order to refer back to later. It quickly grew and I started meeting more and more people who were in the same situation as me (studying for certifications). I “met” (virtually) many others who are much smarter than me and was able to learn from them — and bug them when I had problems!
Last fall, I was lucky enough to be invited to HP Tech Day and Net Field Day and got to meet many of them in person. I’ve even (somehow) managed to get invited back to Net Field Day 2 (which is happening next week, by the way). I’ll probably be the “least smartest” in the room, but that’s fine with me — I’ll have plenty to learn and some awesome people to learn it from!
None of that would have happened if I hadn’t simply decided one day, “Hey, I think I’ll start a blog!”.
Blogging Keeps You Sharp
Like I mentioned earlier, I seem to be on a never-ending quest to learn more. I could sit in front of a computer reading technical documents and RFCs 24 hours a day if I didn’t have to stop to eat, sleep, and, well, you know, every once in a while.
If you’re in the IT field, I don’t have to tell you that technology is constantly changing and evolving. There’s no way you’ll ever know everything, of course, but if you want to stay sharp, you’ll need to constantly be learning new things.
Blogging is a great way to do this. As new technologies are developed and new products announced, you’ll want to learn about them. By doing your own research and writing about it, you’ll not only be helping yourself but others as well (see above). You’ll also establish yourself as someone knowledgeable about the topic.
Alright, You’ve Convinced Me. How Do I Get Started?
Have I convinced you yet that you should be blogging? Great!
Fortunately, the barriers to entry are quite low. In less than an hour, you can have your own blog up and running and have already written your first post. I’ll show you how.
The first thing you’ll need to do is find a host for your blog. Although you can set up a free WordPress blog, your web address will be something.wordpress.com. Because you’re going to be an awesome blogger, you’ll eventually want your own domain name (you’re developing your brand, remember?).
Or, you can do it the right way from the start. I recommend signing up with either Bluehost or Hostgator, both of which support “one-click” installs of WordPress to get you up and running in just a few minutes (if you don’t already have your own domain name, you can take care of that when signing up).
Neither are free, but they’ll only set you back a few dollars a month and they give you enormous flexibility when it comes to the design and layout of your blog. You can choose any of the thousands of WordPress themes that you want in order to customize it and use any plug-ins that you like to extend the functionality.
Your First Posts
When you’re just starting out, your first blog post should describe exactly who you are and why you are starting a blog: to document your certification progress, to rant about how much Cisco sucks, or to simply get all the women (chicks dig bloggers, you know).
This sets the focus for your blog and gives you a starting point for your future blog content. In addition, it also gives your blog a bit of a personal touch.
After you get a few posts written, you’ll probably find that hardly no one is reading them. With millions of blogs on the Internet, how do you draw readers to yours?
One great way to get new readers to your blog is to offer to write a guest post on another blog. If you’re into networking, for example, you can submit a guest post to be published on the Packet Pushers website. This will help bring your writings to a new audience.
The key to “guest blogging” is to find blogs with a similar target audience, identify the primary interests of that audience, and make sure your blog fits in.
Now that you’ve gotten a few readers, how do you keep them coming back?
Asking questions and sparking discussion is one excellent way. Another is by raising controversial issues. You’ll get alternative opinions and viewpoints from others and this will also help people identify what you “stand for”.
In addition, be sure to make sure of social media such as Twitter. This allows your followers to keep up with your new articles and also gives you a medium for discussion and networking with other key people in the IT field.
Get To It!
Blogging lets people know who you are, what you do, and what you stand for. It’s also an excellent way to meet new people in your field. It’s easy and cheap to get started and you can blog as often or as little as you like.
Next Monday, I’ll tell you about one method to help ensure you meet your certification goals and how your blog can help you do it.