Blogging - How to get the ball rolling and my experience

by Chris Meardon

I got half way through my training at the Data School with only having written 1 blog. In the next half I wrote 30. What changed? Why did I do it? When did I fit it in?

I remember feeling like I couldn’t get started on blogging and I didn’t know what I could possible write about. There is certainly something to say about the wealth of content that already exists on the internet and the data school blogs itself and it is easy to feel like you have nothing to add, but you do. You have things to say that people will find interesting.

My first blog was based on a collection of notes that I had been building with Tableau tips and I experimented by creating it within Tableau itself. This was quite challenging to do but I enjoyed it and appreciated the design choice that I got as opposed to the styling on here. At the time of writing this it is still my most popular blog and you can find it by clicking the image below.

I still like this blog, but it probably wasn’t a great one to encourage me to continue as it was quite labour intensive. A week later I write a micro-blog about how to resolve a niche mouse issue with our work laptops. Nothing special but I wrote it quickly so that I could inform my colleagues in one go.

So first of all, what triggered my change to write more? Well, I know that I am not great at receiving criticism and I really take it to heart. When at the pub for a post-event social with The Information Lab colleages, Andy Kriebel asked me why I haven’t blogged yet. I said something like “I’ve got too many things to do and in the time that I could write a blog I could make a dashboard and put it up on Tableau public”. I think Andy shrugged a little and didn’t say much more. I clearly did not convince myself however, because from this point I dived straight into blogging. Head first.

Then this is where the blogging really starts. Day 68 in the data school and I begin a blog series walking through how to build a demonstration dashboard. I tried to use the best of my knowledge in data visualisation to inform discussion and advice on dashboarding while using a specific example as a demonstration. I post 8 blogs in this series in 9 days and really kick off the blogging. It’s not like these were short blogs either. I spent whole days writing some of them on weekends and when I had free time. I made a big start and I enjoyed that face that I had just quadrupled my blog count in such a short space of time.

I don’t recommend writing this many blogs in such a short space of time but it was a good way to break down my barrier of not blogging. I found inspiration from the training as this dashboard was heavily based on one that Andy created with us as an exercise. It was packed full of how and whys and was perfect to explain a variety of topics. I think this is when I realised that a fantastic way to blog is to write about what we have learnt in training and to write short drafts as soon as I come up with an idea.

From this point on, when I heard something remotely interesting regarding analytics, tableau or alteryx, I wrote a draft blog about it. “draft” may be a little strong here as often it was just a title and one sentence outline. Something like:

It’s not even got a finished title. But I quickly noted this down while in a training session thinking it would be a useful blog to write for others. I have roughly noted down some ideas on what to talk about and this is enough so that I can come back to it at a later date to complete it. I often also take a screenshot of what I’m talking about so that I remind myself at a later date. I think this is a good way to get topics to blogs about if you are in the DS and feel stuck on what to write about.

If you don’t see the point in blogs, then you must be one of the few people that have never had a tableau or alteryx issue. Particularly before I joined the DS, whenever I had an issue, I googled it. A DS blog was more that likely to be the top result and I’d learn from what they wrote. Very useful. Have all the questions been answered? No! Many have, and there are fantastic blogs already written, but the software changes and new problems arise. You also have new perspective which may be just what someone needs. And even if no one reads it, blogging can be a great way to reinforce what you have learnt. It can be as valuable as hands on experience doing what you are writing about.

Why did I do it? Yeah I’m not sure. Part of me was probably trying to look for approval from the coaches. Then I got competitive. Then I felt good at it. Then it became habitual.

When did I fit it in? This part has caused me issue with my time in the DS. After writing my blog series on one dashboard I gave a teaching session and it went horribly. I partly blamed spending so much of my time writing the blogs instead of preparing for the session and decided to take a step back from it to focus on what was more important. More generally, this event caused me to try and take a bit of a step back from the DS as it wasn’t making me happy and I started strictly abiding by my contractual hours. Writing a blog is hard to fit into the busy schedule of the DS, but it is possible. There is some free time where you can either write super short blogs or you can work on building a more substantial blog over many days. But really, I think if you want to get into writing the blogs then you have to do it outside of the hours. The blogging became something I enjoyed so I allowed myself to do this one weekends. So to answer the question. I mostlly outlined blogs while in training and then mostly wrote them at weekends.

There’s so much to do at the DS that in my opinion it is silly to put too much pressure on yourself to write these things. I think blogging can be really beneficial to yourself and others, and because of this it is worth giving a go, but there’s plenty else to occupy your time that you may find more beneficial.

Give it a go and see what happens. Write about things you’ve learnt that are interesting and you think are beneficial to others. People think like you do and your thoughts can be really useful to others so they are worth putting out there.

I hope this blog can help those who are looking to increase their blogging. If you have any thoughts on the matter and want to have a chat. Catch me on twitter @chris_vizes. I’d love to hear from you.

Cheers
(❁´◡`❁)

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