February 10, 2020
I’m naturally a very reserved person. Like many introverts, I steer clear of confrontation and rarely do I post anything intimate on social media. As much as I hate to admit it, I also fear criticism and find it hard to differentiate a critique of my work from myself as a person. Because of this, I don’t often share the things I’m working on.
Sad, but true. I’m working on it though, I promise.
At the turn of the new year, I tweeted I was going to be more open and vulnerable since I wanted to better myself after a not-so-great 2019.
So when I came across an Ask Hacker News (Ask HN) thread asking “What interesting problems are you working on?”, I forced myself to contribute to the conversation rather than just read all of the comments. What resulted is not what I had expected.
Before delving further into the story, let it be known that the Hacker News community isn’t the most subtle when it comes to critiquing others’ work. For instance, there’s the infamous Dropbox comment among others.
To get a better picture of Hacker News as a whole, I highly recommend reading The New Yorker article, The Lonely Work of Moderating Hacker News.
At this point, hopefully you can see why it can be intimidating to show off your work on Hacker News, especially as a budding developer like myself. But there’s a reason why people continue to do so: the power of Hacker News can be immense. The traffic alone to the site you are showcasing is known to be so overwhelming that it causes entire sites to go offline.
Simply put, it is like a badge of honor to be accepted by the Hacker News crowd. And because of the decision I made to break out of my usual habit of consuming media and instead contribute to the Ask HN thread, I was able to get a small glimpse of said power.
As teased above, I ended up commenting about my long-time side project, Unearth. At the time of commenting, Unearth was still a bare-bones MVP. The website was a simple React application that had no styling besides the landing page.
To my surprise, nobody batted an eye about it. What mattered most was the fact that my app worked and it solved a pain point that users themselves faced. Even more surprising, I was praised for the quick and easy no-BS onboarding process which takes less than a minute to complete. As cheesy as it sounds, I was ecstatic. So much so to the point I was hooting and hollering.
As the hours passed, more and more users replied to my comment, many of them leaving valuable suggestions and constructive criticism which I made sure to take the time to respond to and make note of for future improvements to Unearth.
Before commenting, I had done a little marketing on Reddit by answering questions related to Reddit’s save functionality in meta subreddits like r/help, r/ideasfortheadmins, and r/beta. After answering the original poster’s question, I would then plug Unearth. This had resulted in a grand total of seven users signing up. Of those, only a handful actually completed the onboarding process necessary to receive their personalized newsletters.
As of today, post-Hacker News comment, the numbers stand at:
This has been a huge win for someone like myself who never shares their work. What’s great is this isn’t even close to the end for Unearth—I’m just getting started. Soon I will get Unearth into the hands of an even larger audience once I make actual posts on Show HN, Reddit, and Product Hunt rather than commenting.
What I find most intriguing about this entire experience is I knew all of this could happen. I have read countless of other stories similar to this one and I knew what I needed to do in order to make it happen, I just never did.
Having recently read James Clear’s Atomic Habits, I now know this is what he refers to as “being in motion” as opposed to “taking action”.
Moral of the story is this: just do it. Really. You will be surprised by the results, and you will never know unless you put in the effort. So just do it.
Written by Cedric Amaya who is currently studying Computer Science in sunny California. You should follow him on Twitter.