Time Is The School In Which We Learn

I've always considered time an enemy as I always had a disdain for how fast the hours and days would just fly by. The speed dial seems to turn a little more further with every year that passes and then one day you wake up and you're the big 3-5!

Ever since the pandemic hit, time has become an enemy once again but for a different reason entirely... It just goes sooo slow! On top of that how one would normally progress themselves (for business and pleasure) before the pandemic is no longer within our reach. With the combination of living on my own and a somewhat lack of social interactions, you can easily find yourself just letting time pass doing a whole lot of nothing.

The following quote by Delmore Schwartz, an American poet, resonates with me:

 Time is the school in which we learn,  Time is the fire in which we burn.

The worst thing I can do is let time pass and have nothing to show for it. There is a need for something tangible to prove my worth over this period to look back on. For me, writing about what I've learnt is something I can use to quantify progress and this very post just adds to that. I am hoping this will be the fuel to focus on cranking out more posts throughout the year.

I decided to write about the areas in my life that give me the ability to hone my skill set and the process involved.

The Workaholic

Most of my learning happens in a work environment as I am constantly allowed to work on upcoming technologies and platforms. This is probably the reason why I’ve become quite the workaholic. I’m lucky to be in a job that is of great interest to me where I can flex my technical muscle. I am constantly learning new things based on challenging client requirements and that in itself plants the seeds on what I need to learn next.

In the UK, the average working hours per week is 42.5 - above the European average of 41.2. I generally work 45-50 hours a week and that’s not to brag. It’s fun and I genuinely enjoy it. Maybe working from home has also contributed to this. After all, there is nothing else to do in the current climate we find ourselves in.

So far, this year alone, I've learnt the following within a working environment:

  • Azure Functions
  • Azure DevOps
  • Hubspot
  • Hubspot API Development
  • Ucommerce

The Daily 30-Minute Cram Session

Mastering something is just a matter of investing some time no matter how short a learning session is. As minutes become hours and hours become days, it all adds up.

I have a regiment where my day starts with a quick 30-minute learning session on a subject of interest to me. It’s quite surprising how effective a 30-minute cram session can be. I have progressed through my career and adapted to learning new subjects quicker by doing just this. This has benefitted me in other areas: preparing for meetings.

There have been numerous times within my job where I have to be in client meetings to talk about platforms that may be a little foreign to me and provide solutions. I now feel relatively confident that I'm prepared for such a meeting within a short period of 30 minutes.

At the time of writing, my current 30-minute cram sessions are focused on Hubspot development to push the boundaries on what the platform can do and keeping up with Azure’s vast offerings.

Focus Time

I have my "30 Minute Cram Session" but when is the best time to do them? I find the most ideal time is the start of a working day where I get to my desk an hour before the working day starts. Normally, this would be impossible pre-Covid times, as this time would be spent getting my things together and making my way to work. Throughout the pandemic, I have continued to get up at my normal time so I can get to my desk by 8 am.

I find it amazing what this one hour of solitude can give me. I either use to extend a "30 Minute Cram Session" for reading and research or to just get through some tasks before the working day starts. After the pandemic is over and normal life resumes, I hope this can continue.

Creating A Knowledgebase Through Blogging

Being the forgetful person I am (just ask my mum!), I find I remember things more when I write about them - one of the main reasons I started this blog. It allows my brain to process big subjects into more digestible chunks. To aid this further, I added Algolia search to my site at the start of the year, as there have been several times where it's taken me too much time to find something I've previously written.

I have quite a backlog of stuff that I want to write and sometimes I find it difficult to put some technical subjects into words. Believe it or not, I generally find writing a little difficult even after 10+ years of blogging. But I like this challenge.

My approach to writing blog posts is a little unconventional. I work on a handful at a time. Each post starts in my note-taking application of choice, Evernote,  where I can start things off simple with a subject title, a skeletal structure to then flesh out. I then write in small chunks across various posts.

Twitter

I may not post much to Twitter, but I follow people who either work in the same industry like me or those who instil similar interests. The conversations that are had on the platform open my eyes to other areas I should be looking into. As a result, this breaks the monotony of approaching something I've been doing the same for so long and try a different approach. It was tweets that got me into seeing the power of Azure Functions and provided an alternative way of running a piece of code on a schedule effortlessly.

Ongoing List of Ideas

Along with my pile of "in progress" blog posts to write, I also have a to-do list of potential things I want to work on. It could be random things of interest based on what I see day-to-day.

For example, I am currently looking into creating my own Twitter bot (not the spamming kind) that carries out some form of automation. I see quite a few of these bots when checking Twitter and interested to see how I could create my own.

I don't plan on developing anything fancy, such as the very impressive colorize_bot, where black and white images are made colour by simply mentioning the Colorize Bot Twitter handle. But maybe something a little more reserved, such as some textual response based on a hashtag or phrase.

Putting such ideas into practice is the prime environment to learning as I'm developing something that is of interest to me personally on a subject that excites me.

Writers Block and The Difficulties of Blogging

There are times when what I want to express does not form into words, which is very much unlike me if I look back at my journey through blogging. I'm noticing more so than ever that writers block is becoming a regular occurrence resulting in a lack the energy to write my thoughts on subjects of interest.

One blogs not just for others, but for themselves!

I sometimes question if a post is worth the time it takes to write as it might not even be of interest to anyone. This in itself is not the right attitude. One blogs not just for others, but most importantly for themselves! This is what I have to keep telling myself during times of self doubt. I have always had the opinion that if I manage to help just one person from one of my posts, then it's truly a job well done!

Every blogger has a process they go through before publishing a post. I have the problem of just wanting to get a post out as quickly as humanly possible just to see the end result, to the detriment of quality. Over the last few years, this small site of mine has gained traction from both readers and search engines (the stats speak for themselves) and it is during this time I constantly fight to reign myself in to ensure the content I put out is up to the mark. Maybe I am putting too much pressure on focusing on the numbers (Google Analytics, Adsense, etc) than words.

I look at my blogging heroes like Scott Hanselman, Troy Hunt, Mosh Hamedani and Iris Classon (to name a few) and at times ponder if I will have the ability to churn out great posts on a regular basis with such ease and critical acclaim as they do. Do they even experience writers block? What is their writing process?

As for my process, it’s changed somewhat. Writing has become more of a special event rather than on an ad-hoc basis, where I now schedule time within the comfort of my new office setup (still need to blog about that!) a couple of times weekly to write and plan future posts. In addition, before getting into the nitty-gritty detail, I’ve learnt to create a skeletal structure first to outline a posts milestones. I’ve ended up doing this across the initial stages of many posts, as I gather my thought processes.


The new approach has also made writing less daunting and more manageable as I am not just focusing all my efforts on producing a single post alone. I literally have an Evernote notebook created specifically with a collection of post ideas. Some bear fruit, some don’t.

I like to end this post on a positive note. The upside of this situation is I know deep down writing is a release for me and it’s not something I could ever grow tired of. Yes, it can be frustrating at times, but I will continue to write when I can and even more so when I can’t. It’ll show progress and how far I’ve come.

I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghost

As I have been writing the last few blog posts, I've been getting the case of "twitchy feet" during the writing process. I normally get "twitchy feet" when frustrated or annoyed by things in my life that I feel could be done easier. In this case, my site has started to frustrate me and felt that adding new posts became a chore.

Over the 10 years (has it really been this long!?) owning and maintaining this site, it's started to become a bit of the beast from the initial outset. I've jumped from platform to platform based on my needs at the time:

  • Wordpress (2006)
  • BlogEngine (2007 to 2012)
  • Kentico (2012 to present)

I feel at the grand old age of 31, I need a platform that nurtures my writing creativity without having to worry about general maintainance and somewhat restrictive editorial functionality. Ever since I tasted the pure nectar that is Markdown, my writing speed has gone through the roof and love having full control through the simplistic editing interface - Markdown is the furture!

I am a certified Kentico Developer (you may have got that impression from my vast posts on the platform) and specifically chose Kentico CMS because it gave me the full flexibility to build the site how I wanted. As great as the platform is, I've come to the conclusion that this site will never grow to be anything more than one thing: a blog. So I want to down-size like a person getting on in his years and move to a smaller house.

Enter Ghost...

Ghost

The Ghost platform has garnered a lot of traction over the years ever since its concept in 2012. I've been keeping an eye on it over the years and never really gave the platform much thought until I noticed quite a few popular bloggers making the move and experiencing the lightening fast performance. This is possibly down to the blogger hosting their instance on Ghost Pro. Could be wrong. I am planning on going down the Ghost Pro hosting route and get everything setup by the very nice people behind the scenes at Ghost HQ, who will lovingly host and look after my site.

I opened up a dialog on Twitter to Ghost who were very kind in alleviating my initial migration worries:

@sbhomra We can upload images for you, if you send the upload directory in the format Ghost uses, i.e. /content/images/yyyy/mm/image-name
— Ghost (@TryGhost) October 7, 2016

@sbhomra We can help with the redirects if you're coming over to Ghost(Pro). :)
— Ghost (@TryGhost) October 6, 2016

The only thing I will have to get over, which Ghost will not be able to help me with is getting over the mindset that I will not be able to to tinker around with my site to the full extent as I do now. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing and will give me the opportunity to concentrate more on writing quality content. I just hate the thought of restricting myself.

Ghost has put a framework in place that no other platform has done so well - giving power to write content anywhere:

  • Desktop browser
  • Mobile browser
  • Desktop application

Looks like Ghost lives up to its main selling point:

An open source blogging platform which makes writing pleasurable and publishing simple.

What I also love is the SEO optimisation out-of-the-box. God knows how many hours I've spent trying to get my site SEO friendly, not only from an search indexing standpoint, but a social sharing standpoint too with all the open graph tags built-in. No need for extra plugins or development from a code perspective.

Whats Next?

As it currently stands, I am evaluating Ghost through their 14 day trial and need to send an email to their support team before I make a confirmed decision to move. I like what I am seeing to far. Just need to get the time to put a migration process in place to move the 200 posts on this site. Eek!

Ghost is definitely not as scary as I once thought. Cue Ray Parker Jr...