Why engineers should focus on writing


All engineers are good writers… of code. But I believe that in order to a become better engineer–you should improve your writing skills.

From the dawn of times, people were writing. We have written using symbols, like in Ancient Egypt. And we have written using letters, like in Renaissance times. And all of us, got at least one writing assignment in school, without the “Why?” And yet, today writing is so underrated, that most people want to avoid it. But the truth is–you will have to write. Comments, documentation, design documents, presentations. Whether you like it or not. So why not become better at it?

Why write?

Writing is a way to organize your brain

For some reason we, humans, think that knowledge equals reading stuff. I’ve read the starting guide for Rust, so now I know this topic. I’ve read a book about how TCP/IP works–so now I know this stuff. But it’s not true. If it was true, we’d all be super-stars.

What helps us cement our knowledge–is writing. That’s why I believe in writing code, as opposed to copying code snippets. Because when you type it–you cement that knowledge.

Writing is a way to learn something

If you want to learn a new topic–write about it. When I want to learn a new programming language, I write a short program using that programming language. When I want to understand how something works–I write an article on this blog about it.

Real writing, where you try to dig the truth, will require you to try and experiment. I’ve learned more by writing articles on this blog, than by reading programming books.

Writing helps you identify mistakes

How many times we are asked to prepare a design document, while we think to ourselves, “What for? The design is so simple, I can hold it in my head easily.” This is a big misconception, we all fall for. If we would actually write the design document, we would have identified so many problems with our “simple” design. Things like–inconsistencies, missing details, or simply “lazy” thinking our brain did, which in reality make no sense.

How to write more?

Remember–reading is a habit, writing is a skill. And in order to prefect your skill, you need to write more. One simple way to write more–is to approach design reviews differently. Instead of hating them, and doing them like a homework assignment, try to approach them with enthusiasm. Each time you write a design review, try to improve something. Make it shorter–without missing the point. Make it longer–in order to cover more use-cases.

Writing design reviews, and documentations–at your workplace–is an easy way to get into writing. You will have to do it anyway, so why not improve while writing? However, if you want to improve your writing further, outside your workplace, consider starting a blog. If writing a blog is intimidating for you, consider answering questions on Stackoverflow–but focus on providing textual content, rather than copy-pasting code snippets.

One last advice–abolish the copy-paste. So many developers, whom I mentored, simply copy-paste everything. Code snippets, function declarations, etc. I know how to initialize a git repository, because I do it by hand every time. Most people simply copy the instructions from GitHub or Google. And if you are scared about being unproductive–remember that you are not judged by how much code you write, or how fast you complete the assignment.

Writing is unavoidable. Whether you like it or not, if you want to become a 10x engineer, you will have to write. Write documentations, write design reviews, write presentations. The sooner you get better at writing, the faster you will become a better engineer.

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Dmitry Kudryavtsev

Dmitry Kudryavtsev

Senior Software Engineer / Tech Entrepreneur

With more than 14 years of professional experience in tech, Dmitry is a generalist software engineer with a strong passion to writing code and writing about code.

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