How to Persuade a Software Engineering Team to Write 26 Blog Articles in 12 Months
FullStory’s software engineering blog (originally christened bionic.fullstory.com or “Bionic” for short) launched in February 2019. Over the course of that first year, 5 new articles were published. As might be expected with low output, our blog received low traffic. Our recruiting team was interested in directing candidates to the blog, but feared that stale content would send a negative signal. Recognizing that a cadence of 5 articles per year didn’t relay the energy and enthusiasm inherent to our engineering group, our CTO decided that someone should lead the charge to reinvigorate our blog in 2020 and raise the profile of our engineering staff and the fantastic/fascinating work that we do. I saw an opportunity to build on my people skills (persuasion) and strategy skills (defining a mission and setting related goals) so I raised my hand.
By the end of the year, our engineering team published 26 articles, maintaining a cadence of one article every other week. Readership increased %730 year over year. Our content ended up in widely-distributed software development e-newsletters and top-5 Google search results. Links to our blog go out to all candidates during our recruiting team’s initial outreach, and candidates have mentioned our blog content as a positive influence when researching FullStory as a place to work.
So how did I convince 21 engineers to author 26 articles in exactly one year?
Make it worth their time
What do great engineers want?
Is it maximum compensation?
Or unlimited paid time off?
How about foosball, free meals, and an endless supply of snacks?
I believe great engineers want to work with other great engineers, because great engineers learn from each other and produce the best products together. An active engineering blog is a signal to great engineers that other great engineers work at FullStory. I reached out to our recruiting team and they agreed. They were thrilled to be armed with strong evidence of a high-functioning and active engineering corps. They announced that they would use the newly invigorated Bionic blog in all of their sourcing and outreach emails. The relationships between our recruiting and engineering staff are strong at FullStory, so having the recruiters pitch the value of the blog was a great testimonial.
The value of authoring articles for the blog was clear: you can help bring in talented people who can help you build a great product, and who you can learn from.
Frame an ambitious goal so that it is attainable
Targeting 26 new articles for the year seemed unreasonable. Engineers are busy! How can we expect to 5x our blog content from the prior year at the same time that product work continues to grow?
Framing the goal relative to overall team size provided the right perspective. The engineering team was large enough that if less than half the team wrote one article, we’d hit the target. Framed a slightly different way: if every engineer wrote one article, we’d have multiple years worth of content.
With the realization that 26 articles per year was attainable simply by virtue of our team size, what once seemed an unlikely goal was now viewed as entirely feasible. A barrier to action had been removed.
Publicize, Praise, Prod
There are a few large group meetings on the quarterly calendar at FullStory: a product all-hands meeting, an engineering all-hands meeting, and a weekly company all-hands meeting. I worked with the organizers of these meetings to ensure that time was allotted to review engineering blog status (I spoke at the company all-hands once or twice per quarter).
The message was simple:
- relay progress towards the 26-article goal
- report on blog traffic
- praise authors for their contributions
- solicit more authors
I set up a Slack channel dedicated to information about the blog and asked our Bionic Ops team (an internal development team) to add all engineers to the channel as part of the new hire onboarding process. I pinned a short document outlining blog themes and some helpful tips for authoring content to the channel.
For every new article, I posted a message announcing the article and praising the authors (along with a running tally of the total number of articles published thus far). Other engineers would share in the praise. The channel was also a forum for potential authors to share article ideas.
Publicly praising authors in company meetings and public Slack channels helped elevate the status of the blog and the authors who contributed to it. At the same time, I kept a running list of potential authors (folks who shared ideas in the public channel) that I would reach out to periodically via direct message. I called this list my “Blog Nag” list — it was my reference for who I should be reaching out to and all of the times I had reached out to them. The trick was finding a balance between “Patrick, you’re annoying” and “thanks for reminding me.” It would sometimes take weeks of private reminders to shepherd an article onto the blog, but persistence almost always paid off.
A life of its own
At the beginning of 2021, I needed to hand off blog shepherding duties so that I could take on other initiatives. I made one final appearance at the company all-hands where I did a roll-call of the 21 authors who wrote for the blog and trumpeted the astounding growth in traffic that their content created. I closed by asking for volunteers to take over Bionic and quickly received a hand-raiser. Another engineer has taken the mantle and great content continues to roll out onto the blog.
Our engineering blog has now become an institution. Momentum has built such that there is a queue of articles and authors deep enough to maintain several months-worth of content.
None of this would have been possible if not for our curious and talented engineering staff. They take the initiative to build creative solutions to our most complex problems and graciously share their insights with the world.
There’s more to come!