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Become a Better Developer: 3 Ways Writing Will Expand Your Mind, Improve Your Code and Grow Your Career

A long time ago, in a single-window basement far, far away…

Since the dawn of time, content marketers like me have been trying to think up clever ways of convincing programmers to write code a little less, and write more about the craft itself in technical blogs, articles, how-tos, reports and the like.

I’d love to tell you that it’s easy, but there is a perception of writing in the development community that isn’t always positive. Recently, I asked our Estonian development team what I could do to encourage them to feel like writing more…and here are some things I heard:

  1. I have no time to write, I need to pay attention to bugs.
  2. What, like technical documentation? Bleh.
  3. I don’t have anything interesting to say.
  4. Can I have my keyboard back now?

I remember hearing that developers like to be convinced by logic and argumentation, so I came up with 3 reasons why developers should spend some hours each week reflecting on their lives, work and thoughts as engineers of the virtual environs. I’m even willing to bet that your manager would look positively on these points below as well. Unless they suck.


Reason #1: Writing improves your mind and thought process

Whatcha thinkin’ about? Our thoughts are often a messy tangle of abstraction. I declare that writing out your thoughts and putting everything down “on paper” solidifies their existence and lets your creation come into being. Writing something down requires that your abstract thoughts not only become concrete, but forces you to think your problem-space through. Thoroughly.

It also means that you have to translate from your incomprehensible internal brain language into English, Russian, Portuguese or Chinese, and explain things using efficient and common language (or else your writing is unreadable). The idea is that this entire process exercises different areas of your brain. Now, I’m no scientist, but I think this article gives some good info about how creative thought, generally, works chemically. This is my favorite line, although what I comprehend from it is that creative people secrete some kind of brain chemicals that makes their thinking awesome:

Why Devs Should Write More

‘[Highly] creative individuals “may be endowed with brains that are capable of storing extensive specialized knowledge in their temporoparietal cortex, be capable of frontal mediated divergent thinking, and have a special ability to modulate the frontal lobe-locus coeruleus (norepinephrine) system, such that during creative innovation cerebral levels of norepinephrine diminish, leading to the discovery of novel orderly relationships.”‘


Reason #2: Writing improves your code and daily work

Are you suggesting the writing code isn’t creative? Uh, no. In fact, quite the opposite. Being a good coder requires creative skills and talent beyond working with the implied rules of the programming language. Coding is an art form and spending time refactoring or reflecting on that pesky bug, for example, lets you attack challenges in different ways later on. A developer named John Hawksley recently expressed a desire to write more, but was unsure of how it would fit into his workweek (I offered to call his manager, by the way, and I’ll call yours too if you want):

Why Devs Should Write More Twitter Conversation

When trying to learn new tools, technologies or processes, writing a tutorial or how-to in a friendly, welcoming way isn’t an easy task, but teaching it to someone else is one of the best ways to learn it well. If documentation is part of your job, writing about your code can help you complete those less-desirable task painlessly & efficiently.

Being able to explain complex concepts in simple ways teaches you many skills, but first among them is how to write readable and maintainable code. Teams often do post-mortems when code breaks or bugs are shipped with a release, so why not apply the same level of reflection and analysis on your own work? Ideally, before something goes wrong ;-)


Reason #3: Writing improves your network, profile & career opportunities

Who are the most well-known people in the JVM-based software industry? Many of the most successful people that I’ve met over the years–WARNING, NAME-DROPPING COMMENCING: Martijn Verburg, Ben Evans, Antonio Goncalves, Ed Burns, Bruno Souza, Michael Hunger, Lincoln Baxter III, Trisha Gee, Attila Szegedi, Sven Peters, Kohsuke Kawaguchi, Dan Allen, Adam Bien, Markus Eisele, Gene Kim, Arun Gupta, Jevgeni Kabanov, Anton Arhipov, Simon Maple and Geert Bevin–all have one thing in common…

They write. A lot. And what they write turns into books that developers download or buy, presentations developers peruse and talks that developers listen to. Why do you think they do this in their extra hours?

If you have ever been to an IT event, you’ll remember that speakers at conferences are industry rockstars, well-known and thought of first when it comes time for that new idea or project to get started. It comes down to a question of visibility. Published authors are more visible than “corner coders” (i.e. headphones on, heads down, and, if in large teams, sometimes seen as just one of the ranks) :-/


Final thoughts

Managers and team leads should be informed of all the merits that come when your development team spends a few hours each week reflecting and reviewing their work. Developers who take some time out of their work week (if feasible) or allocate some extra hours (if possible) for writing each week or month are doing themselves a great service. Starting slow seems to work best: Write 1 paragraph (or just even a Tweet!) about what challenged or interested you this week. And again next week. Easy.

You can quote me here: I cannot think of a more simple and yet so highly-beneficial way for developers to improve their minds and thought processes, so that their code and daily work improves, resulting in a better network and career prospects as nice little cherry on top.

Confession: I have a selfish goal in mind with this article: to invite the best engineer-writers out there to become RebelLabs Authors. It’s no secret–and I’ll be blogging soon about how specifically RebelLabs can help these 3 points become realities for you.

So there you have it. I invite you to please share this article, leave comments below or tweet me @theotown. May the [writing] forces be with you.

 

  • pvdevoor

    Hi Oliver,

    This is a great blog post and I hope it will actively help people to start writing about their passions (be it their work in the software industry or just their hobbies).

    Good luck with your endeavor!

    Best regards,
    Peter

  • http://kamaondev.wordpress.com/ Felipe Kamakura

    “Our thoughts are often a messy tangle of abstraction” – couldn’t agree more!

    In my opinion good writing is a very underrated skill in this industry.

    Aside from my tech blog, I recently started a personal journal and it is being a great way to reflect upon my life in general.

    Very nice post!

  • Alex Nishikawa

    “I don’t have anything interesting to say”

    …yep

  • Vishnu Bhagat

    Hi Oliver,
    After reading this I decided to write a page for 1 book that I read each day for next 40 days.
    I am positive that this will bring great result.

  • Oliver

    Thanks Peter, the more we spread the word the better.

  • Oliver

    Good to hear Felipe–the challenge for you will probably be continuing the writing on both in light of changes to your schedule or disruptions to your normal routine.

  • Oliver

    Vishnu, you rock and that’s a great idea. What is your ultimate goal for the end? Email me at oliver@zeroturnaround.com if you want some motivation :-)

  • Oliver

    And thanks for the compliments :-)

  • Oliver

    I doubt that Alex. How about an easy exercise? If you have 10min, tell me what you think of RebelLabs technical articles and blogs, and what could we do better? :-)

  • Diogo Kamioka

    Hello Oliver,

    Nice Article, never been here before, this post was sent to me by a friend. I like to write, although lately I didn’t prioritize it…

    I have two questions:

    1) How much time did you spend to write this particularly post;
    2) I often have this problem of “tangle of abstraction” thing, what would you recommend for me to write better (besides reading more, because that I think I am doing already).

    Thanks and congratulations for the post.

  • Oliver White

    Hi Diogo, many apologies for not responding sooner. This DISCUS plugin is behaving badly sometimes. To answer your questions:

    1. Writing and editing: somewhere between 6-8 hours over a period of days. Thinking and brainstorming: weeks of incalculable time.
    2. I would practice by explaining technical subjects to non-technical people. Take a concept that is explained in a 30-page report and break it down into a single page of text. Then turn that 1 page into a single paragraph. If you can, then turn that paragraph into a Tweet. The abstraction here can benefit you in a way, by letting you rephrase and restructure the content however you like.

    Hope that helps, and thanks for your compliments :-)

  • Andrey Hihlovskiy

    Nice post, gives good motivation to write. But more importantly, stimulates to read and think in this direction.