Blogging for actuaries


Graffiti in Egypt - early blogging?

Graffiti in Egypt – early blogging?

There are as many schools of thought about blogging as there are blogs.  Everyone has their own reason, but here are a few of my favourites:

It gives you a creative outlet

Blogging is a creative activity. The act of crafting a post, working out what your message is and communicating it is deeply satisfying. Actuaries are creative people and getting creative with a liability valuation is generally frowned upon.

One of my favourite blogs is called writing as jo(e). A creative writing professor uses her blog to write beautifully crafted paragraphs about her life and the way she teachers her (mostly science) students to write creatively and well.

Develop your views on issues

Writing a blog post about a particular issue forces you to develop an argument. It forces you to think through exactly what you are trying to say, understand the issue from lots of different arguments, and make the case. Gradually, as you get better at it, you develop an audience, and you will start to learn from the comments you get. They will teach you to be a better writer, and to write for your audience.

One of my favourite bloggers (although these days he writes books as well) is written by Bruce Schneier, security technologist and author. His first book was about cryptography. These days he writes widely about what security means, and coined the phrase “security theater” to describe all those security measures that are actually useless, but look good.

My own writing improved substantially with the experience of trying to communicate to a wide audience. The two-way conversation that blogging can become makes it a conversation, not just a broadcast.

Improve your personal brand

This is a popular theme on workplace advice websites – Penelope Trunk is an example. She is a passionate advocate of blogging as a way to skip some career steps quickly. If you blog about a topic you are passionate about, and become known as an expert, her view is that you can skip over a whole lot of steps on the career path.

You can always blog to have fun

I’ve found blog to be a deeply satisfying hobby over the years. In the various blogs I’ve maintained, I’ve had the fun of ranting about all sorts of topics, including the bike path across the harbour bridge and the efficient frontier of shoes, as well as one of my more actuarial hobbies, mortality statistics.

So where do you start?

The two most popular free blog hosting services are blogger and wordpress. Either of these will allow you to start a blog in about five minutes. You just need to pick a name that isn’t already taken, choose a format that looks good from the myriad of choices, and start writing posts.  Yes, start writing. If you’re like me, you will spend ages trying out the different formats first, but you can’t work out what they will look like until you’ve actually got some content.

So start writing!

What should I write about?

It depends on why you are blogging. My first blog (started in 2001) was about my baby. It was pretty much written for the proud grandparents. So it was pretty easy to work out what to write. But my second blog was just for fun. So I wrote about whatever seemed interesting at the time. That’s the best way to do it, in my view. If you’re not sure what to write, just write. Enjoy having space to develop your ideas, and an audience for them.

Should I use my name?

This is a tricky one. Again, it depends why you are writing. My view is that you should develop your blog a bit first, before you decide whether it is the kind of blog to come up when your name is googled. You can always delete a few posts if you decide to use your name. But it is hard to make your blog anonymous if it started out public.

And what if I want to write about real people?

There is a very famous blogger, Dooce who became a verb (“I’ve been dooced”), after she lost her job because she blogged about her co-workers anonymously. So write on the assumption that anyone you write about will read what you write. It’s safer that way. Because sooner or later, even if you stay anonymous, you’ll share the address with a friend. And then anyone could read it. Even if you do write assuming your subjects will read it, you’ve still got a good chance of writing something they won’t like. But it will be worse if you don’t.

But isn’t blogging a bit old-fashioned?

Blogging came before twitter,  Facebook,  Reddit, and Kickstarter, and all those other social media. So it is a little passé for those who are into every possible form of social media. But for actuaries, who hate being told to limit their report to one page, it seems the perfect form of social media.

This post was first published in the Actuaries Magazine.