Learning whilst writing, and relearn later

Martin Fowler recently made a comment that he writes books so that he can learn about a subject.

That resonated well with me, as whilst I don’t write books I do write technical howto documents on my website and my blog. And it is true I mostly do write these documents as I am learning the topic myself.

The main reason I write and share these documents is still to help others. Hopefully someone else will be able to stand on my shoulders and have an easier time learning the same thing. I certainly use a mixture of other’s docs as I learn stuff and hopefully I reference them appropriately in my docs.

Focus and relearn

But I write howtos also to help myself. By documenting each step I keep focus on learning it properly. It also encourages me to achieve certain meaningful levels before I bounce on to the next shiny thing.

An additional unintentional benefit to me is that in e.g. 6 months, 2 years or even just a few weeks later when I need to use/learn the same technology, I have ready made revision notes for me to get up to speed instantly.

Accidental expert

People mistakenly/naïvely think I am expert on the domain of each howto I write.

On some topics covered in a few older docs I may be an experienced fountain of knowledge…, but with most I only scratched the surface. Quite a few I never touched again and have more or less completely wiped any knowledge from my little mind.

So writing these docs can be a little bit of a curse. Of my top five most visited blog posts three of them are related to Hibernate from years ago. I am not an Hibernate expert nor do I want to be, but this could trick people into assuming that I am. My most visited (by a country mile) howto doc is about setting up an email server. I know a bit about the subject but it is not my job nor interest, I merely wrote a good howto in 2003.

But in general sharing is worth it. The amount of thank notes I have received and general good feeling I get from these are gold.


Another benefit to myself is that I now have reference points when I evangelise about a certain topic. I can refer to my own work and words instead of soon to be forgotten spoken words.

I also starting to be confident enough to present, submit CFPs and in general talk about subjects which are often built on documents and blog posts I have previously written.

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