FAQ

Common questions and answers.


Author

Q. Who are you?

Read here.

Q. How can I contact you?

Here. As a subscriber, you can reply to any email and substack will forward it to me.

There’s also some contact information here.

Q. Why do you write this newsletter/blog?

I have taken notes for decades as part of my learning process because:

  • Engaging writing muscles deepens learning.

  • It helps formulate my own takes from the learning.

  • Capturing the learning in a reference frees my mind for more learning.

Some of those notes are good enough to be useful for others as well. Since 2012 I started sharing them on my blog. I have a few goals with publishing them publicly:

  1. Sharing my thoughts publicly unlocks the possibility to learn from the feedback.

  2. I have been a consumer of great content that helped me. This is a way to give back.

  3. Professionally, it makes it easier to share my thoughts at scale and have a higher baseline before face-to-face conversations.

  4. It helps my personal branding which opens doors that align my long-term growth plan.

I write about technical leadership, site reliability engineering, and growth (career, personal, mindset).

Q. Why is this newsletter named after you?

I could pick a brand name for a theme. Almost all my favorite newsletters chose that path even though they’re written by one person.

However, I chose my own name because:

  • Theme: it’s hard to find a name that captures the wide range of everything I write here other than the fact that they come from me. I bring my whole self to this publication and that includes cartoons, tech leadership and reliability engineering. It is hard to find a name that’s not taken: “random thoughts” maybe? 😄

  • Bias: I don’t want to present my subjective opinions as objective facts. These are my own experiences and obviously biased by my own life trajectory: people I have met, places I have worked, and technologies I used. All of that is filtered by my own perception and formulated from my own perspective. I’m sharing my personal notes.

  • Branding: I started this newsletter when the 2022 layoff season started. In fact, my very first post was about this topic. The idea was to share my personal experience and build connections so that if I get hit by layoffs or need to build options, I have some people who follow my work and can open doors.

Q. How do you find the time to blog?

I have the same amount of time as everyone else. Blog is the tip of the ice burg. I also code, read, play video games, and spend time with family. On top of that I have a demanding job that takes 8-10 hours per day. The key is:

  • Prioritization: I also keep a prioritized TODO list to be on top of what is the most important at any given time. In the future I will write about impact mapping which is my framework for prioritization.

  • Efficiency: as I gain experience, I became more efficient at achieving goals in a shorter time. Also, I have optimized my lifestyle for getting stuff done. I cannot remember the last time I watched a movie. A few years ago, I sold my car and live close to my work to reduce the time wasted taking care of the car and commuting.

Q. Why did you leave Medium?

This question can be asked about WordPress, Blogspot or the other platforms I have tried over the years. It boils down to one simple criterion: if my interests don’t align with the platform and there are better alternatives, I have no reason to stay there.

The fact is: I do not own the platform, but I own my content. The platform owners are in control of their users but not the individuals if we do not let them.

For Medium those reasons are documented here.

Fun fact: I did try to create my own static site generator in JavaScript but it took long and I decided not to block my writing while that hobby project is ongoing.


Payment

Q. What is in it for me if I become a paid subscriber?

See the question about monetization strategy.

Q. Is it safe to enter my credit card information on your site?

This is newsletter is completely run on Substack. If you don’t feel comfortable entering your payment info on a 3rd party domain, I fully understand. I have dug into this with Substack support and unfortunately there’s no solution in the platform.

However, you can contact me via email and we’ll try to sort it out.

Q. Do you offer discounts?

  • Group discount: If more than 1 person is subscribing at the same time, you can get a good discount via this link.

  • Upgrade discount: if you want to support the energy and time I put into writing, please consider paying the full price. But if for whatever reason you want a discount, here’s a link to get 20% off.

  • Colleague discount: as a policy I don’t charge my current colleagues. This allows me to share my post internally for professional purposes without coming across as trying to use internal communication channels for marketing and making money. Please get in touch via internal communication channels for the link to get 100% off. The offer is only valid for my current colleagues.

  • Referral: an easy way to get a free subscription is to use the referral program. Inviting your friends helps this content reach a wider audience, and in return you get free months depending on the number of referrals.

Q. I have a voucher for 100% discount. Why do I have to enter my credit card information?

Logically you don’t. Because you won’t be charged. However, the way Substack operates makes it a required field. One reason they may be interested to your payment information is to make it easier to convert you to a paid subscriber for other newsletters.

However, you can contact me via email and we’ll try to sort it out.

Q. What is your monetization strategy?

Substack allows pay-walling my content to monetize it. I have mixed feelings about it:

  • Openness: knowledge wants to be open, accessible, and shared to evolve. I owe a big part of my growth to the free information available on the internet.

  • Compensation: I owe the rest of my growth to the books, courses, and education that I had to pay for. Converting my private notes to a shape that can be presented publicly without wasting the readers’ time takes a lot of time.

  • Relevance cap: for blogging to replace my regular salary, I need to quit my job and work on it full time. But this prevents me from having up to date relevant experience to write about.

So, I aim for a middle ground. My policy is to:

  • Prioritize sharing over money: the main part of the article is and will always remain free.

  • Payment is voluntary: only those who want to support my work can freely choose to pay.

  • Token of appreciation: some articles end with a “Pro tips” section that can help professionals at their work. It will be unlocked for paid subscribers but does not hurt the experience of public readers or free subscribers.

  • No cadence: many paid blogs commit to a cadence to communicate what the user is paying for. With my voluntary monetization strategy, I don’t commit to a cadence. A post is ready when it is ready. This gives me the time to polish the post to worth the time.

  • No vanity metric: some blogs use quantity metrics like number of words or lines to convey the quality of the post. I strive to create the shortest possible article while still being able to communicate. I don’t care about metrics like follower count, revenue generated or open ratio. What do care about is the feedback that I get for each article, so please keep them coming.

  • Beat AI: accept the fact that the creator economy is changed forever thanks to AI. Don't fight it. Adopt it to your work and create pieces that AI cannot possibly make. Use your unique experiences and stories. Use AI as a peer to brainstorm, review and improve the results. If anyone can get a result that's good enough, they don't need my work, so there's no reason spending energy on something AI can do better. I vet ideas by asking the AI and only if it falls short, I'll invest on them.

And here are the actions:

  • I have set up the Stripe payment integration on Substack.

  • I also have set up PayPal for direct tips (if you do that, please contact me with your email so I can manually add you as a subscriber)

  • I communicate this monetization strategy.

  • If there are “pro tips” at the end of every article, I write a brief version of this policy and ask for support

You can also follow me on LinkedIn where I share useful tips about technical leadership and growth mindset.


Writing Advice

Q. What is your writing process?

  1. Ideation

    1. I take notes any time I learn new things that are worth remembering.

    2. As I learn, my mind starts processing the information in the background and ideas occur.

    3. I have a system to capture those ideas before they vanish.

  2. Draft

    1. When I feel like I have enough interesting things to start writing, I dump those notes into a document

    2. Then I start ordering those notes in a logical order.

    3. At this time, I also do more research to learn more.

    4. This helps write the filler text that connects those ideas to shape a cohesive read.

  3. Assess

    1. Many of my writings stop at this point and stay as a private note in my archive. I have at least fifteen times more text than what I publish on the internet.

    2. Not everything is worth publishing.

    3. The threshold for publishing is: if the time the readers spend reading my notes is significantly shorter than what it takes to read the top few results that comes up in a public search. If it is a unique perspective or story that adds to the body of knowledge already on the internet, then it is worth considering.

    4. I also assess its impact in terms of how many people it will enable. Is it feedback to one person or team? Then it’s best to talk to them internally. Is it wisdom that can help people across industries and countries? Then it has higher value. It also needs to align with my vision and the branding that I want to be associated with.

  4. Edit

    1. I let the draft pickle for a few days and then come back and read it from top to bottom and heavily edit.

    2. At this point I may add some illustrations

    3. I also brutally remove anything that can be removed to make it easier to consume for the public. It should always take less time to read than find that wisdom with a few searches or asking chatbots.

  5. Review

    1. Occasionally I share the edited version with a few friends and subject matters experts (SME) to learn from their feedback before going live. It is like Beta testing. It happens that after receiving feedback I abandon the original post and start fresh.

    2. After applying the feedback, I read the post from the perspective of a sceptic or critic. This usually leads to adding some more data, links, and paragraphs to support the claims.

  6. Publish

  7. Advertise

    1. There are many voices on the internet.

    2. Advertise on LinkedIn and Twitter. Since many platforms have strict policies against self-promotions, I rely on the readers to share it on Hacker News, Reddit, newsletters, etc.

  8. Learn

    1. The most interesting part starts after publishing: I read people's comments and edit as I learn.

    2. The inability to edit emails after they are sent was my biggest hurdle to be active on Substack because it sends the first public version to people's mailbox while an article can look much more solid after a few weeks of exposure and hammering.

Obviously, this is a time-consuming process but considering the blog’s vision and mission it is worth it for me. My goal is not to create content just to engage an audience. The bar is set at a level to make it worth your time and teach me back.

Q. What is your system to capture ideas?

During the day ideas are born from various sources:

  • Contents: blog posts, podcasts, newsletters, videos, books, …

  • Observations: patterns at work, best practices, inspiring conversations, …

  • Thoughts: my brain processing things in the background, …

I write them down without having any plan but to remember them. The idea is to capture the ideas before they fizz out to void.

This creates an incubator to let the best ones grow. The key is to capture them before they fizz out to void.

At this stage, the metric I try to optimize is TTC (time to capture an idea) and there’s where tooling is important:

  • Available: it should be available everywhere I go, so a phone app is great. It also should work without internet. The tooling should never stand in the way of an idea.

  • Accessibility: it should be accessible on various screens that I use during the lifetime of that idea (mobile, tablet, PC)

  • Searchability: as I dump ideas to storage, there should be a reliable mechanism to quickly retrieve them when needed and add/edit

I currently use Google Keep but I have used a bunch of tools over the years including paper notebooks. For notes that I only use on the desktop (programming or meeting notes) I use a directory with lots of Markdown files which are synchronized across my machines.

Q. How much time does it take for you to write a post?

Each post takes 3-20 hours but not in one session. The most expensive part is polishing it, illustration and editing to make it suitable to be published on the internet.

The paid subscribers motivate me to pull these extra hours from my private time and spend it in front of the screen.

Q. Do you consider yourself a talented writer?

Yes and no. People around me have always given me positive feedback for my writing since I was little. But translating that skill from my native tongue to English was a journey that took many years.

I believe the quality of the writing has less to do with words than the actual content. I consider myself a good observer and communicator. When I was younger, most of my observation activities were to formulate my own world view. But as I got older, I realized that some of that "code" can help others to cut the learning curve.

My main product is not writing, it is perspective, original thoughts, and reflections.


Help

Q. Can you promote our product for a fee?

No. This is not a paid media site. I just write about the products that I have worked with, and I don’t want the money to skew my opinions in any way.

Q. Can you recommend my Substack publication?

Yes, if ALL the following conditions are met:

  1. Your publication is relevant to my audience. I write about technical leadership, reliability engineering, and growth.

  2. Your publication is complementary to my content. If we both write about the same thing, there’s no point in hitting the audience mailbox twice. I’m looking for complementary knowledge that adds to what I write about, fills the points I don’t dig in, and fits my audience.

  3. Your publication is something I would read and subscribe to myself. I vet each publication that recommends me separately. If your publication is not active, I would rather use that recommendation slot for someone who is active.

I reserve the right to terminate the recommendation if any of the conditions above has been breached. If that sounds like a deal, ping me (you can reply to any of my newsletters).

Regardless, I do link relevant posts in my articles which leads to better exposure in the right context. So, the best way to gain subscribers is to just do what you do best and share your insights.

Q. Can I republish your work?

If you want to publish any of my articles as-is to another publication or site, please get in touch so we can discuss the details.

The paywalled part of the article is not free to publish (see the monetization strategy). Publishing the free part is regulated with these conditions:

  • You have written permission to republish a specific post (get in touch via email). Why? To let me be in control over where my content is published and how it is used. Also, if it is a translation, I can link to it from the original article to divert the non-English speaking audience to your site.

  • The original author's name is clearly specified. Why? To give credit and help me build a personal brand. Also, to clearly distinguish that the opinions expressed in my content are mine and not necessarily represent your own brand.

  • The original publication date is clearly specified. Why? Because my article represents my thoughts at a certain point in time and as I grow, I may change my opinions. This is especially true about the more technical content that may be irrelevant as technology evolves.

  • The republished work set the original link to my blog as the canonical URL. Why? To make it easier for the search engines to find the original article.

Q. Can you do a guest post for our site/publication?

It depends on the topic and what you’re planning to do with it.

Q. Can I train my AI models on your website?

Only on the part that is freely available. The paywalled section should not be used to train any AI model that will be available to an audience that is not paid subscriber to this newsletter.

Q. Can I translate your post?

If you want to translate any of my articles, please get in touch so we can discuss the details.

The paywalled part of the article is not free to translate (see the monetization strategy). Translating the free part is regulated with these conditions set in the “Can I republish your work?” plus these ones:

  • The translation is loyal to the original text in meaning and intention. Why? Because translations are tricky. The original meaning may get lost if the translation is too literal (particularly in case of proverbs and idioms)

  • The translator's name is clearly specified. Why? To get credit for your translation but also avoid confusing the audience.

  • The translation date is clearly specified. Why? Because my articles are live content and I add/modify them as I learn more about a topic. The translation captures the article at a certain point in time.

  • For embedded media contents (e.g., images), the source is clearly specified. Why? I don’t own the full rights of some of the images.

Thanks for your interest in translating my article and making it available to people speaking other languages.

Q. Can you speak on my podcast or at our conference?

It depends on the topic. I can speak on the following topics:

  • Technical Leadership and Staff Engineering

  • Reliability Engineering (SRE/Platform Engineering) and ownership

  • Growth (personal, organizational, culture)

Contact