I hated writing in high school. It wasn’t objective like my favorite subjects, math and science. It also didn’t help that we had to write about old, hard-to-understand literature like Shakespeare. But my perspective on writing changed once I started working full-time as a software engineer.
Writing Is the Job
The way I worked started to change around when I became a mid-level engineer. I led a small workstream of a few engineers and to get my work done, I was writing more and more without realizing it. Soon writing became a significant part of my work outside of coding. This became even more true when COVID hit since most conversations moved to async chats and word docs.
Almost everything software engineers do requires writing. We need to write when we ask technical questions, comment on code reviews, or create design docs. This is because writing software is collaborative. The better you are at writing, the more effective you will be at building software.
Aside from being a necessity, writing is the most efficient way for you to scale yourself. As a concrete example, I have a friend who takes incredible notes at work. His notes become a wiki of common terminal commands, code pointers, and diagrams for the team he works on. The best part is that his writing helps others move faster without any work on his part after sharing it.
At the end of the day, you can only ship so much code by yourself. You can have much more impact by influencing others to ship what matters most. Writing is the most scalable way to influence others.
What About ChatGPT?
Some worry that ChatGPT may make writing obsolete. Even if AI tools write for us, I still think writing is valuable.
Writing your thoughts down forces them into a coherent, logical narrative. Condensing your writing gives you a deeper understanding. This process improves your thinking.
Also, writing doesn’t just clarify your existing ideas; it generates more of them. When I write design docs, I often discover optimizations or edge cases I didn’t think of at first. So long as critical thinking is necessary, writing will not be obsolete.
It is no coincidence that the strongest engineers I know are all excellent technical writers. It is one of the key skills engineers need to be effective at work. This is one of the main reasons I’ve committed to writing once a week for this Substack.
Over to you: Do you think writing is important for engineers? If so, what’s helped you improve most?
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Thanks for reading,
Writing will forever be important, I write and then ask ChatGPT to make it shorter, more readable or in list form. Either way, it is an exercise in gaining clarity.
I couldn’t agree more that writing is so important in collaborations. I learned a lot from you on technical writing during our collaboration.