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Edward Huang
Edward Huang

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3 Things I Learned About Writing Newsletters

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Hello, dear readers! This week's posts will differ from our regular software engineering posts because path-to-senior has reached a big milestone.

On October 11th, 2022, I announced on my blog and Medium that I would start a newsletter documenting my journey and giving actionable advice to fellow software engineers. In the past, I have always used blogging as a way to present my learning in technical expertise. However, I realized there is more to being a superb software engineer than merely technical skills, and there are a lot of known secrets in the industry about how to play and win the corporate ladder.

I realized that to be a better software engineer; you must perfect your technical skills and be good at all the software development rituals. Technical skills are what can get you into the door, but afterwards, to be a well-rounded and good software engineer, you also need to communicate with your stakeholders, address blockers, resolve conflicts, and voice your opinions. These are things that we are not taught in college, and it is often learned through experience.

I was just burnout from my previous job in a startup, where I was constantly pushed and contested on every decision I made. I thought, "I should start documenting my journey and my learnings so that others don't make the same mistake and get burned out."

I created this newsletter to assist those seeking guidance on managing and strategizing their software engineering career. Although the announcement was thrilling, it was also nerve-wracking.

I was curious to see if the community would consider my advice and musings valuable. Some strategies I used to help me level up weren't widely discussed in the community. Moreover, I have yet to write consistently. I tried it once on my website, but I have always failed to continue due to competing project deadlines. A newsletter is a medium to hold myself accountable for people who trust my words and are willing to put their attention to the thoughts and advice I offer.

To hold myself accountable, on January 1st, 2023, I set my New Year's resolution to write until I can reach 500 substack subscribers.

2023 new years resolution

I wrote one article weekly to make sure I could pace myself to balance my workload with writing. I would start reflecting on all the resources and lessons I encounter during my workweek and start listing the topic I would like to publish the following week. I spent most of my time on Saturday and Sunday finishing the draft and scheduling the writing to publish next Thursday.

Things have gone well in the first few months of writing. However, other times, the resistance has really got into my brain - I would feel like I don't want to write after working day and night launching a big project because all I want is to take a break. There are some times that I failed, where I stopped writing for one or two weeks because I was really behind on hitting work project deadlines that required me to work during the weekends.

During those times, I felt that I failed myself and you. I broke the promise that I had to give good advice to my subscribers. Nonetheless, I looked back on that first post on October 11th, 2022, and kept reminding myself about the mission to help fellow engineers lead fulfilling careers and life. Therefore, I looked forward to the following week and pushed myself to write quality content.

Today, I want to share that path-to-senior has reached 500 subscriptions!

Path-To-Senior subscriber Journey

It is an important milestone I set for myself at the beginning of the year, and I am thankful I reached them. I am grateful and humbled that my advice and thoughts have resonated and helped you all strive towards a fulfilling software engineer life. Without your support, I would not have been consistently writing and expressing my thoughts boldly on the internet, so thank YOU!

As a result of this milestone, I want to share and reflect on some of my learnings and observations in writing a newsletter.

Consistency Beats Virality

I got lucky once. The first article that I had has gone mini-viral. I saw a huge subscription boost during those times, which gave me the confidence and adrenaline to write more. However, those feelings are short-lived. Those feelings are similar to getting a mini jackpot playing roulette in Vegas.

Afterwards, my other articles didn’t go mini-viral. Instead, I shifted my focus, not on the subscriber count, but on the quality and content of the articles. Consistent writing may increase the chance of virality. But more importantly, consistent writing helps maximize your future compound growth potential.

How to Create Great Exponential Growth

In investment, the key to the best compounding is not to pick the best asset, but to hold the asset longer.

Increasing your growth rate is one way to improve your chances of becoming a successful writer. This means finding ways to get feedback more frequently so that you can make adjustments and improve your skills faster. For example, if your current strategy is to publish one book every two years, you may be compounding at a very low rate because you only receive (anonymous) feedback every two years. However, if you start writing a blog post every week, you will get feedback every two weeks, which can help you improve much more quickly.

As I wrote more in Medium, I saw other writers keep talking about quantity vs. quality and that the algorithm will pick your article more often if you have a mass volume of quantity. The real reason for publishing more often is that you get a tighter feedback loop.

Articles that Perform Well Recount My Firsthand Experience as a Software Engineer

The best performing article I wrote is the article in which I heard advice from my manager or listened to advice from a tech talk.

How to Conduct a Status Update like Senior Engineer is the advice I hoped someone would give me when I was starting out. It was the strategy that I constructed based on the feedback that I got from my manager and my peers. My manager ACTUALLY gave me harsh feedback in one of my performance reviews because the team didn't know what I was talking about during standup. Therefore, I started noticing how other, more well-spoken engineers present themselves during standup and scheduled a 1:1 call to ask how they prepare for one.

How to Reduce Engineering Scope is another article that I wrote based on my own experience. I have always loved building robust and reliable features, which has served me well through the beginning of my career. I learned through the year that good software engineers know how to build the right system instead of the perfect system, and we can often change the product requirement description (PRD) if we can reach the same goal with fewer resources and time. My manager had a 1:1 with me and gave me feedback about architecture design. She told me that good engineers focus on the product's WHY and figure out ways to reach the goal with less time and resources. Then, she gave me some tips, which were very insightful and valuable.

On the other hand, Articles such as How to Give a Layoff in a Humane Way_ may seem less personable because I have never been a part of a group that gave layoffs. On the other hand, how to survive a layoff is more relatable to me and fellow software engineers.

The work is not finished when you hit "Publish."

Before writing on Substack, I wrote my blog and tutorial on Medium. During those times, the hardest part about writing was to come up with what to write about and the editing portion. Once you hit publish, leave the rest to the algorithm and pray that someone will read your piece.

Although Substack has a good network effect, many other great writers publish their posts elsewhere to drive traffic back into their newsletters. That is why early Medium publications such as "The Startup" or "Better Programming" have such a huge following. They publish all of their articles in multiple social network channels to increase the discoverability of their article.

Better Programming Newsletter Always Asks to Promote to as Much Social Media As Possible

I start cross-posting my article on Medium and in, as a number of software engineers are going into that platform.

I have not created accounts on Twitter or LinkedIn, and some individuals have mentioned that I have overlooked two significant methods to acquire an audience. Nonetheless, to maintain a balance between composing newsletters and work, sharing articles on Twitter and LinkedIn necessitates modifying the content, which takes more time and energy.

What happens to Path-to-Senior?

I will continue to write posts helping software engineers to level up and live fulfilling careers. I will still post actionable insights about becoming a high performer as a SWE, programming language, and system design. I also wanted to post more topics about how software engineers can live a more fulfilling life outside of their work and share some insight and learning about building in public. I thought about some exciting side projects that I wanted to do based on problems that I encountered.

I noticed a lot of unknowns about how to make big decisions in your life, including what kind of job/side project to pursue and how to invest your wealth outside of working. Software Engineering is a field that has become very popular in the last 10 years, and there are a lot of questions about what to do with the money and equity we receive - should we sell the equity right away, or should we hold the equity and not sell them? What should we do if we have $100,000 in our pocket right now? What are some of the mindsets that we need to adopt to live a more fulfilling life? These are the questions that, including myself, I am currently looking for a solution. There are thousands of content out there discussing money management, targeting a wider audience who wants to be financially independent. However, sharing what I learned in managing my money and what mindset I adopt to make decisions in my life will help software engineers have more reference points in making big decisions because we are in the same field and industry.

Aside from writing a 2000-word essay in Substack every week, I wanted to post more forums in or Q&A (advice column) to interact with other software engineers and answer any questions directly. I also want to give my personal email address to anyone with questions and needs advice to level up as a software engineer.


If you've read this far and are still with me, thank you for reading, thank you for sharing, and thank you for sticking along. I am so appreciative of my readers, and I'm also excited for what's next.

If you have any feedback, I would love to hear it; you can submit it through the feedback form. If you want to learn about a topic, please submit requests, please submit them here too.

Every single one of your questions and comments motivates me to continue sharing my journey, hoping it can help other software engineers in their careers. Thank you so much for your support!

💡 Want more actionable advice about Software engineering?

I’m Edward. I started writing as a Software Engineer at Disney Streaming Service, trying to document my learnings as I step into a Senior role. I write about functional programming, Scala, distributed systems, and careers-development.

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