Hint: It’s not to highlight the “cool stuff you’ve built”
The idea of technology companies launching their own software engineering blogs is far from new, but the vast majority of companies who head down this path do so for ill-informed reasons.
“We need a place to highlight the cool stuff that we’re building!” isn’t going to cut it—it’s certainly not going to end up prioritized against a backlog of new features that need to be delivered.
A familiar pattern is most often to blame—a motivated employee joins the team, whips up some excitement for the idea, and spins up a Medium publication. A few initial posts are written with great vigor, but soon the posts become a quarterly afterthought until the publication is abandoned altogether. The internet is littered with the corpses of corporate developer blogs that have succumbed to this plague.
While that’s the case, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the really successful corporate software engineering blogs on the internet today are published by some of the biggest names in tech—Airbnb, Slack, Stripe, and Instagram to name a few. At first blush it’s easy to write this off as making logical sense—bigger companies naturally have more developers to contribute to their blogs. But a blog done right is a product in and of itself—what these companies have in common is not their size, but their motivations for writing a corporate engineering blog in the first place.
Corporate developer blogs are a recruiting tool
As the war for software development talent wages on, what the big tech companies have realized is a corporate software engineering blog can act as an extremely effective recruiting tool. The purpose of the blog is not just to “show the cool stuff you’ve built” but rather to showcase your employer brand, highlight your engineering team’s culture, and introduce the talented engineers on your team. It’s a glimpse inside of your engineering organization—a view that you can carefully cultivate and optimize, then publish for the whole world to see.
Corporate developer blogs increase applicant quality
Engineering focused blogs don’t just afford you the opportunity to showcase your engineering team’s culture, but can also directly improve the quality of the candidates applying for your open roles. Much is made of candidates “doing their homework” on your company prior to interviewing for any role—have they taken the time to review your website, study the competition, and ask relevant questions? These steps are very much seen a prerequisite to making good hires.
But corporate engineering blogs take this concept a step further, giving the most motivated candidates the opportunity to get a detailed and informed perspective on the code that your team is already writing. Armed with this “insider information,” candidates can easily distance themselves from other applicants by asking detailed questions and sharing perspectives on the unique nuances of your code base and the technology challenges that your company is facing.
If you’re wrestling with a particular challenge, why not write about it? You might be surprised when your next job applicant offers a detailed perspective on how to best address the issue. This is an area where transparency (through blogging) at the very least presents job applicants with the opportunity to stand out from other applicants who haven’t put in the same level of effort when applying to your company.
Our favorite corporate developer blogs
If your company is struggling to hire the software engineering talent that you need, launching a corporate developer blog could definitely be part of the solution. But make no mistake about it, the blog itself is a product that needs to prioritized and actively invested in—positioning the effort as a recruiting tool (and measuring the number of applicants that reference it!) is the right approach to take. Here are some of our favorite corporate engineering blogs to serve as inspiration.
Airbnb’s engineering and data science blog features weekly updates that focus on how the company has scaled their services as they’ve expanded globally. The medium publication currently has over 94,000 followers and counting.
AuthO’s blog has a heavy emphasis on authentication architecture as you might expect. They also accept guest posts, allowing outside developers to get their writing in front of the company’s audience.
The engineering blog from the team at Eventbrite is a great source of content focused on React. They also tackle topics like building a diverse team and how to scale a remote workforce. It’s no surprise there’s a “Join Our Team” call to action alongside their most recent post.
Want to test your React skills? Try our React Demo Assessment.
Self-proclaimed as “stories from the people building Instagram,” Instagram’s engineering blog has a heavy emphasis on Python and performance engineering. The Medium publication currently has over 18,000 followers.
With the tongue-in-cheek title of “Several people are coding,” Slack’s engineering blog is a gem. The publication features many “day in the life” style posts relevant to specific people or roles at the company, and job applicants can even get a leg up by reading articles like Refactoring Backend Engineering Hiring at Slack.
Buffer’s “Overflow” blog may very well be my favorite of the bunch. Check out their “Snackchat” posts which feature short, informal presentations from members of Buffer team. It’s posts like these that give job applicants a real sense of what it would be like to work at Buffer.
Stripe’s Engineering blog hasn’t been as active recently, but as you might expect from Stripe all of their posts are thoroughly detailed and just extremely well done. Payment infrastructure is a common theme, but there’s a lot more that you can learn here too.
The team at Thoughtworks publishes a wonderful “Technology Radar” which they describe as “An opinionated guide to technology frontiers.” If you’re looking for a macro-view of what’s new in the world of tech—tools, techniques, platforms, or languages and frameworks—this is a must read.
Toptal’s engineering blog is written by software engineers that are part of Toptal software engineering network. It features in-depth development tutorials that provide insight into each freelancer’s specific skill set and area of expertise. If you’re looking to hire freelance development talent, this blog is a great place to source developers with the expertise you need for your own project.
Netflix has become a household name, and their tech blog should be a regular stop for software developers, too. It features content on a wide range of technologies with a heavy emphasis on the challenges associated with dealing with enormous volumes of data.
How to make your corporate software engineering blog a success
Now that we've served up an ample dose of inspiration, we'll leave you with a few no-nonsense tips to help ensure that your corporate developer blog is a success.
1. Position your blog as a recruiting tool—This should be the primary reason that you decide to launch your blog in the first place. Actively track the number of applicants that reference your posts, or better yet, add questions to your application process that require applicants to read some of your content and provide their own commentary.
2. Assign a product manager—Make no mistake about it, your corporate engineering blog is another product that won't be successful without proper oversight. Assign a product owner for your blog—preferably a developer who is excited by the idea and has some writing chops. It's this person's job to ensure that the blog is consistently updated with interesting content.
3. Ask everybody to contribute—What you want to avoid is creating a situation where contributing to your engineering blog becomes seen as busy work or yet another responsibility. Even if you have a small team, asking each developer to contribute a single detailed post per year focused on one of their major development projects is a great place to start. Also, prompt your developers to contribute more "snackable" posts that are just a quick overview of how they wrote a specific bit of code or solved a problem.
4. Add a call-to-action to apply to your open roles—If you're writing a corporate engineering blog in order to help attract better developer candidates to your open roles, make sure that you add a clear call to action to your blog that allows readers to quickly view your open development positions. Also consider linking to your open roles directly within posts—if you're writing about part of your code base that you're expecting new hires to contribute to, call that out directly.
5. If you build it, they will not come—Just because you launch a blog doesn't mean that anyone will read it—you need to actively promote your posts. When new articles are published actively share them with your developer friends, submit them to topically relevant communities or forums, and ask your development team to share the posts on their own social media accounts.
So there you have it—the big boys and girls of tech are wielding software engineering blogs to their advantage. So before you start writing your own pause to ask yourself, “Will our company invest in our engineering blog like the recruiting tool that it has the potential to be?” You need that level of commitment in order to avoid being the latest publication in the Medium developer blog wasteland.