This is the first post in a new ‘Engineering’ section on our blog. I am lucky enough to know some ‘proper’ engineers, whose jobs involve producing physical outcomes rather than digital ones. I imagine they may raise a smile at us saying that building things on the web is engineering, so I checked the definition:
The branch of science and technology concerned with the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and structures
- the work done by, or the occupation of, an engineer.
- the action of working artfully to bring something about.
I love the “working artfully” part, so I think we qualify for an engineering blog for that reason if no other.
We’re in good company. Facebook, Foursquare, Pinterest, Instagram, Twilio, Github and almost every other product we use has a blog specifically aimed at showing the details of how they develop the technology side of their product.
Why do all of these companies have engineering blogs at all? Are all their customers fascinated by the inner workings of what it takes to build a digital product? Probably not. Although I’m sure there are a few of you reading this who aren’t developers, but you’re keen to find out more about how we build Echoleft because you use it and you’re interested in how it works.
For me, engineering blogs achieve two things. Firstly, it’s a way of sharing the lessons that we learn while developing Echoleft with the community of designers and developers that are also working hard on creating a new generation products that will hopefully last for years to come. Secondly, it helps us be more transparent with how we work, and how the things we build work, which we believe is really important for our customers to be confident and comfortable.
I’d like to talk about the community aspect for a moment. I was in high school when I built my first website. I took a floppy disk(!) to school to show my teacher what I’d built and asked for his help on a couple of things I couldn’t quite work out. I remember vividly him teaching me about the target attribute when using links within frame tags. That tag doesn’t even exist any more, it was made obsolete long ago, but the memory stays with me. There is no longer a need to take your work to school to ask your teacher, you can just Google the answer. Stack Overflow has become a source of developer knowledge so vast that even the team themselves have wondered about its impact on the economy.
Engineering blogs are an extension of this community. Everything we’re doing is new. A decade is a long time, but on the web it feels like an entire industry ago. As new problems crop up, there are a few products that deal with them first. Scale is a good example of this. Facebook engineers post a lot of information about how to deal with half a billion people logging in to the same system every day and creating a lot of activity. There aren’t many of those blog posts around, because there just aren’t many things in the world that half a billion do every day. They share the information so that others can see how they’re approaching things and hopefully not have to re-invent the wheel when the next group of developers have to solve the same problem.
So what can Echoleft contribute to this? Compared to Facebook, probably not a lot. However, we are part of a wider community of smaller developers, products, teams, beginners and professionals that try their best to share knowledge so that when you’re stuck on a coding problem at 2am and you find the one person that’s used the same technology in a really specific way, you feel a wave of gratitude that they blogged about it. Their post may not be perfect, it might not always be completely state-of-the-art, in fact if it was written more than six weeks ago it’s probably already wildly outdated, but it’s enough to point you in the right direction, or give you the right idea.
If we can do that for just one person, then an engineering blog is more than worth it.
We are privileged to be able to leverage the work of thousands of developers from around the world in the open-source technologies we use, and feel a responsibility to continue that tradition by open-sourcing our own code for others to see, taking part in tech events, training new developers and, of course, in blogging about what we do for others to learn from.