In 2021, Cristian Velázquez helped Uber resolve a major software issue. First, he and his teammates diagnosed a data processing flaw that could have prevented the app from working properly. Then they developed a way to clean up memories more efficiently, which saves the company time and money.
That’s the short version, at least.
The public can read a more detailed account of Velázquez’s project on Uber’s engineering blog, in a post titled “How we saved 70,000 ‘cores’ across 30 mission-critical services.” But it’s good to be aware that reading will be easier if you know what jargon means like Go, CPUs, and garbage collection.
In his role as a site reliability engineer, Velázquez fully understands these terms. But back then, he didn’t know much about blogging. In fact, despite having been working as an engineer at Uber for nearly three years, he didn’t know the company had an engineering blog until he was asked to write for it.
“This is the first job where I started doing more outside work,” said the engineer. It took him a few months to finish the text for his first publication. “I learned a lot from her,” said Velázquez. “Making the following text was much easier”.
It’s only fair, because many people discovered the Uber engineering blog through Velázquez. His post has generated more than 84,000 visits since it was published in December 2021, according to internal company data, making it one of the most popular pages on the site.
Uber is one of several large companies hoping to reach out to engineers in this way. Organizations like Google, Apple and Meta, whose goal is to build the future of technology, are also in the blogging game — a relic of the Internet’s past.
These sites combine glimpses into what life is like inside a company with case studies of complex programming tasks. Posts tend to have titles similar to postgraduate academic papers, and the editorial charm of how-to manuals. Often, their goal is to increase transparency, provide resources to the engineering community — and attract people to jobs at these companies.
“It bridges the gap between a company’s careers page and employee job descriptions,” said Jennifer Hindle, director of product marketing for Stack Overflow, an online platform where tech workers can ask and answer questions.
Stack Overflow found that 48% of developers use this type of blog and other corporate-controlled social media when researching potential employers.
“It’s kind of how Instagram works in people’s real lives, to show highlights of something cool,” said Devin Riley, an engineer who has worked at technology companies like GitHub, an open source platform, and Braintree, a payment processing company. “There’s a lot of tedious work, mundane day-to-day tasks, that need to be done at these tech companies, things that aren’t particularly exciting and are never going to be featured on their blogs.”
Riley recently left his role at GitHub after more than three years. He said he got tired of fully remote work and a new boss who didn’t show him opportunities for career growth. In his search for a new job, he defined compensation, the company’s mission and product quality as his main criteria. An engineering blog won’t influence his decision to take a job somewhere any more than a high salary would, but it still has weight. He consults them for clues about what a company values.
“Engineering blogs offer some signals,” he explained. “On whether companies consider engineering an essential part of their business, and whether they are willing to invest in texts about what they do”.
Some companies seem to invest more enthusiastically than others. Brands like Uber go into detail about important projects, but engineering blogs, at their worst, sometimes seem like little more than press releases in disguise, and lead to rejection from potential job seekers.
“If I read a blog post and can easily tell it was written by a salesperson, I cringe and give up at the second sentence,” said David Walsh, a senior engineer at cryptocurrency company MetaMask, and also the author of a personal technology blog. . “If I can tell that it was written by an engineer on the team, we’re talking about someone who’s been in the trenches and had to accomplish something important. He’s someone for whom, as an engineer, I have admiration, and for whom I can empathize.”
Publishing internal engineering blogs and encouraging people to write for them is not a risk-free proposition. For posts to be effective, they require honesty. However, technology companies generally like to keep their products confidential, and don’t want information leaks to give competitors any potential advantage.
Now those same companies are voluntarily disclosing the challenges they face and bringing more transparency.
It is not very expensive to maintain this type of blog, the companies say, since the engineers usually do not receive additional payment for their writing. But managing this type of publication comes at a price in time. Engineers typically earn salaries that are among the highest in technology. Contributing to a blog takes them away from their main job of building and maintaining a company’s products. As a result, it sometimes takes months to complete a single post.
“Whether it’s the editors or the engineers and data scientists who take the lead in writing the texts, our experts always need to invest time in the subject – time they don’t always have,” said Anita Clarke, Senior Executive Editor from Shopify.
Companies have to consider this equation during an especially chaotic time in technology. The sector continues to create tens of thousands of new jobs every month, yet at the same time more than 153,000 workers were laid off in 2022, according to layoffs.fyi, a website that tracks layoffs.
Even for companies that must accommodate the possibility of layoffs, hiring qualified engineers is vital. Research has shown that founders and technology executives believe that product and engineering roles are the hardest to fill.
“This is a challenge for employers,” said Stack Overflow’s Hindle. “Technology is not slowing down. They are still struggling to fill that gap, to fill the need for tech talent.”
Before starting on e-commerce platform Shopify as a developer, in 2020, Josh Larson visited the company’s technology blog, which is designed for engineers and data scientists. “It offers a glimpse into the tools that are being used,” he said. “Do they use the latest technology? Is the blog always updated or was it last updated three years ago?” Your future employer passed the test.
Two years later, he has become one of the authors who respond to blog posts. (Larson enjoys an unfair advantage: he studied journalism in college.) In June, he published “How We Built Hydrogen: A React Framework for Building Custom Stores,” which takes a behind-the-scenes look at how Shopify built a new set of tools for developers. Despite being 2,500 words long, the text became one of the most popular of the year on the site, as it exposed the way in which Shopify used customer feedback to improve its product.
It’s a good example of why Shopify’s tech blog has become an industry success story. Annual traffic exceeded one million views in 2022 – a 56% growth since 2021, according to the company – which indicates that, when the blog is well done, there is a significant audience interested in this type of information.
“What you hear over and over again about writing, especially on the internet, is ‘this has already been written about’ or ‘I don’t know what I’m talking about,'” Larson said, expressing doubts that many bloggers have certainly had in the past. He encourages his fellow engineers not to get discouraged. “Your perspective will be helpful to other people,” he said, adding, “Just don’t be afraid to share what you’ve learned.”
Translated by Paulo Migliacci
I have worked in the news industry for over 10 years and have been an author at News Bulletin 247 for the past 5 years. I mostly cover technology news and enjoy writing about the latest gadgets and devices. I am also a huge fan of music and enjoy attending live concerts whenever possible.