Sat, 17 Sep 2016

You Write Your Own Bio

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I love how children ask the hard questions. My daughter of 2.5 years tend to ask people out of the blue: "who are you?". Most answer with their names, and possibly with their relation to my daughter.

The nagging philosopher's voice in my head quietly comments, "OK, that's your name, but who are you?" And for that matter, who am I? My name is part of my identity, but there's more to me than my name. I hope :-).

Identity is hard to pin down, and shifts in time. Being a father, a husband and a part of a family is a big part of my identity. So is my work, software engineering and architecture. My personality traits, like being an introvert, and hopefully a kind person, are important too. As are the things that I do in my spare time. Like writing a book.

Speaking of books, please join me on a tangent.

You've read a technical book, and liked it. And the book case contained a blurb about the author: "Mr X is a successful software engineer and has worked for X, Y and Z. He has written several books on programming topics.". Plus a few sentences about his origins, family and hobbies, maybe.

Who writes these blurbs?

As a kid, I thought that the publisher hired journalists who did research on the author, to come up with a short bio that is both flattering and accurate.

Maybe the really big publishers do that. But mostly, the publishers just ask the author to provide a bio themselves.

I've written several articles in for technical print magazines, and that is exactly what happened. It's no secret either; it's right in the submission guidelines.

For my own book, which is self-published in digital form (and a print version being worked on by a small, independent publisher), I wrote my own bio, which was weird, because I had to talk about myself in the third person. And because I had to emphasize my strengths, which I'm typically not comfortable with.

You see where this is going, don't you?

The blurb, short bio, however you call it, is meant to shine a bit of light on the author's identity. This is to make the author more relatable, but also to serve as an endorsement. Which means that, depending of the topic of the publication it is attached to, it shines light on different parts of the identity. In the context of a book on software deployments, nobody cares that I kinda like cooking, but not enough to become really good at it.

So, should I call myself a successful software engineer, in the three-sentence autobiography? It sounds good, doesn't it? Am I comfortable with that description? I've had my share of successes in my professional career, and also some failures. If somebody else calls me successful, I take it as a compliment. If I put that moniker up myself, I cringe a bit. Should I? If others call me successful, it might just be my imposter syndrome kicking in.

But those adjectives are a small matter in comparison to other matters. Obviously, I write. Rambling stuff like what you're reading now. Articles. Blog posts. A book. Now, do I call myself a writer? Or an author? Do I want my gainful employment to become part of my identity?

There are no rules to do decide that. It's a choice. It's my choice.

And likely, it's a significant choice. If I consider myself a writer, the next project I'll be taking on is more likely to be another article, or a even book. If I consider myself a programmer, it's likely to be a small tool or a web app. I could decide I am an or even "the" maintainer of some Open Source projects I'm involved in. I can decide that I want to be something that I'm not yet, and make it happen.

I don't know what exactly I'll decide, but I love that I have a choice.

I'm writing a book on automating deployments. If this topic interests you, please sign up for the Automating Deployments newsletter. It will keep you informed about automating and continuous deployments. It also helps me to gauge interest in this project, and your feedback can shape the course it takes.

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