Tag: Engineering

How (some) good corporate engineering blogs are written

Interesting research from Dan Luu:

… it’s pretty common for my personal blog to get more traffic than the entire corp eng blog for a company with a nine to ten figure valuation and it’s not uncommon for my blog to get an order of magnitude more traffic.

I think this is odd because tech companies in that class often have hundreds to thousands of employees. They’re overwhelmingly likely to be better equipped to write a compelling blog than I am and companies get a lot more value from having a compelling blog than I do.

First, yes. There is a crapload of value in having a good blog (top of funnel traffic, showcasing culture for hiring, establishing industry leadership…) yet so few companies do it well even when they have more than enough resources to do so.

Dan doesn’t just speculate on this, he interviewed people at companies that have actually good engineering blogs: Heap, Segment, and Cloudflare. Then he listed their internal process for blogging. The first step in all three is the same: “Someone has an idea to write a post”. That makes sense, but I would think there is something deeper going on with good blogs: engineers that want to come up with ideas because it is encouraged and incentivized. And then after the ball is rolling, there is a positive feedback loop and as few blockers as possible.

Random observations from me:

  • We recently started using Appcues at CodePen, and it was on our radar at all because people at CodePen read their blog and liked it.
  • While Appcues largely blogs about stuff that is directly related to stuff their software can help with, Logrocket, a software product for tracking JavaScript errors, has a blog that isn’t terribly different than CSS-Tricks. It’s just about front-end everything and every single blog post has a section in it that is a pitch for the product. Looks like they’ve been doing it for about 3 years now, so my hunch is that it works extremely well.
  • All the browser vendors to a pretty good job of blogging overall, but at the same time, feel a bit disjointed. What blog(s) should I be reading for Mozilla/Firefox stuff? I don’t know really. Is it the official looking one? Or the “hacks” one? Or the planet one? Or nightly one? Or the one for releases? Google seems to have the same problem. There isn’t an obvious hub of writing.
  • Stripe has a strong engineering blog, but then take it to another level by producing a fancy publication (Increment) that is both online and in print.

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The Elements of UI Engineering

I really enjoyed this post by Dan Abramov. He defines his work as a UI engineer and I especially like what he writes about his learning experience:

My biggest learning breakthroughs weren’t about a particular technology. Rather, I learned the most when I struggled to solve a particular UI problem. Sometimes, I would later discover libraries or patterns that helped me. In other cases, I’d come up with my own solutions (both good and bad ones).

It’s this combination of understanding the problems, experimenting with the solutions, and applying different strategies that led to the most rewarding learning experiences in my life. This post focuses on just the problems.

He then breaks those problems down into a dozen different areas: consistency, responsiveness, latency, navigation, staleness, entropy, priority, accessibility, internationalization, delivery, resilience, and abstraction. This is a pretty good list of what a front-end developer has to be concerned about on a day-to-day basis, but I also feel like this is perhaps the best description of what I believe my own skills are besides being “the person who cares about component design and CSS.”

I also love what Dan has to say about accessibility:

Inaccessible websites are not a niche problem. For example, in UK disability affects 1 in 5 people. (Here’s a nice infographic.) I’ve felt this personally too. Though I’m only 26, I struggle to read websites with thin fonts and low contrast. I try to use the trackpad less often, and I dread the day I’ll have to navigate poorly implemented websites by keyboard. We need to make our apps not horrible to people with difficulties — and the good news is that there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit. It starts with education and tooling. But we also need to make it easy for product developers to do the right thing. What can we do to make accessibility a default rather than an afterthought?

This is a good reminder that front-end development is not a problem to be solved, except I reckon Dan’s post is more helpful and less snarky than my take on it.

Anywho, we all want accessible interfaces so that every browser can access our work making use of beautiful and consistent mobile interactions, instantaneous performance, and a design system teams can utilize to click-clack components together with little-to-no effort. But these things are only possible if others recognize that UI and front-end development are a worthy fields.

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