November 17, 2020

Writing Well: a must-have skill that no one teaches software developers

Forget that hip new technology! To take your software development career to the next level, learn... how to write well.

Effect of good writing skills on the progress in your career

I started writing because the generous community of programmers had helped me by sharing their knowledge freely over the Internet. I wanted to contribute to this incredible trend so I could be a part of something bigger than myself.

Little did I know that it'll be me who gets benefitted the most by pursuing this noble cause.

3 years of writing on the Internet has done more for my career than what 4 years of college education did.

I published 14 articles in the past 3 years while I was teaching myself programming, data science and machine learning. These have allowed me to reach hundreds of thousands of readers around the world, make valuable connections, get a unique job opportunity, work with people from multiple countries and make more money than I hoped.

In this article, I'll tell you why being a good writer can take your career to the next level and how you can start your writing journey as a software developer.

The Writing Revolution

We are living through a Writing Revolution where good writing skills can have an immense impact on the life of every ambitious software developer.

In the past 30 years, our world has changed in a fundamental way - Internet has demolished the cost of distributing information.

"It turns days into minutes," Andrew Grove, the legendary CEO of Intel, commented on the arrival of email. "A lot more people know what's going on than did before, and they know it a lot faster than they used to."

Today we have email, Slack, Notion, Github, Twitter, Facebook and a plethora of Internet apps focused on written communication.

For 200, 000 years of human history, speaking and listening was the primary mode of communication. But in the past 30 years, reading and writing has overtaken it as the primary mode of communication.

The Writing Revolution

You are now living in the early years of a Writing Revolution that has changed the way humans communicate with each other.

Traditional education, however, has failed to recognise this human-scale revolution - good writing tuitions are still reserved for students of the liberal arts.

You cannot wait for traditional education to catch up when being a good writer can benefit your career now.

Especially, with the remote-working revolution underway.

The Remote-Working Revolution

Some of the biggest companies of our generation like Facebook, Twitter and Shopify have recently announced a permanent transition to remote working. Inevitably, they have paved the path for entire industries to follow.

Therefore, it's highly likely that your next company will be working remotely.

In remote settings, with little face-to-face interaction, written communication becomes the key.

Your competitive advantage in a tough job market

Work-from-home means that the competitors for your next job are not just from your city, they are from your entire country and potentially the whole world. Add economic depression and rock bottom unemployment rates to the mix, and you have a saturated job market.

You need to find a way to stand out.

Being a good writer will help you.

When deciding between a few candidates to fill a position, companies like Basecamp hire the better writer. People of Basecamp have been working remotely for more than 20 years and great writing is a prerequisite for every single position they have.

Being a good writer boosts the arc of your entire career

Being a good writer helps you get a new job. A better job.

But more importantly, it helps you do your everyday work better and therefore, changes the arc of your entire career!

Effect of good writing skills on the progress in your career

Here are 3 ways it boosts your career:

1. Grabbing the valuable attention of people around you

  • You need your peers to read that awesome idea you propose.
  • You need your subordinates to pay attention to you.
  • You need hiring managers to read your next job application.
  • You need interesting people, that you admire, to read and answer your cold emails.
  • You need your connections on LinkedIn or Twitter to pay attention to your posts - we all know, better connections mean better opportunities.

Yet, you can't rely on the awesomeness of your ideas to grab their attention. Everyone has loads of them.

What differentiates successful people is their ability to convey their ideas in ways that makes people want to pay attention.

"Being a good writer is about more than writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit."

- David Heinemeier Hanson and Jason Fried, founders of Basecamp

2. Finding new career opportunities

Writing on the Internet can advance your career. A well-written article, published on the Internet, works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to find new opportunities for you!

Therefore, your blog is like a resume, only better.

Writing a useful article is the quickest way to establish yourself as an expert in that field. No degrees required.

Two years ago, I wrote an article to help people get started with reading Deep Learning research papers. It still fetches me LinkedIn connections from PhDs in universities around the world. Funny thing is that I have read only one research paper in my life - when I wrote the article!

"By making it easy for people to find you online, you’ll create a vehicle for serendipity."

- David Perell, creator of the popular course Write of Passage

Good online presence allows you to connect with like-minded people around the world, who you would never be able to meet in real life. And meaningful social connections are often the source of surreal career opportunities.

3. Improving your thinking

"You don’t just write to share what you think. You write to discover what you think in the first place."

- Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, the company behind Wordpress

Compressing your thoughts into the written word removes noise from your thoughts. Clear writing induces clear thinking.

This is why Jeff Bezos makes his executives prepare 6-page narratives instead of 20-slide Powerpoint before any meeting. Bezos believes that Powerpoint presentations conceal lazy thinking. Instead, he wants his employees to think deeply and take the time to express their thoughts cogently.

I'm often amazed to see how writing an idea leaves me with a better version of the idea itself. It makes me realise how sloppy my thinking usually is.

Writing clearly can have the same effect on your thinking too.

These 3 benefits create a self-sustaining flywheel that accelerates your career

So, how do you start?

You must unlearn what school taught you

You've probably taken writing lessons in school.

And yet, so much of what school teaches you is worse than useless. It hurts you in real life. You need to unlearn so much if you want to write meaningful things in real life.

Here are some of the things that school made you do in order to get respectable grades:

  • You followed minimum word limits. Whereas, the real world has maximum word limits - the key is to convey your message in as few words as possible.
  • You followed rigid formats for "creative" writing. There was a format for essays, formal letters and even, informal letters! Well, guess what? Nobody likes it when you are formulaic and everyone loves being surprised.
  • You wrote an introductory paragraph before you made your point. Whereas, in the real world, your first sentence needs to grab the reader. Nobody has the time to read an introduction to your main content.
  • You wrote what was prescribed instead of what you wanted. You never realized that you write your best when you write about something that you are excited about.
No one told you that too much focus on getting good at school can actually do you harm

What good writing is about

There are writing courses all over the Internet that promise to turn you into a successful author or a professional blogger.

Oh, that dream of writing like a pro and monetising your words!

But wait, most of us don't aspire to be a professional writer.

You probably want to be an pragmatic programmer, an insightful data scientist, a great manager or maybe a successful entrepreneur. Don't you?

By connecting an incredibly useful skill with a dreamy aspiration, those guides miss the point of writing well.

Learning to write well is about learning to convey your thoughts to others.

Explaining things is an art. It is the art of getting your argument across. You cannot hope to learn that in a vaccum. Writing allows you to practice this art.

So good news, writing well can give you a leg up, no matter what profession you are in.

"Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success. Successwise, you’re better off being good at two complementary skills than being excellent at one."

- Scott Adams

Writing well is the extra skill that can double your odds of success as a software developer!

Publishing articles for software developers

The software development community built the Internet and adopted it before anyone else. Therefore, it is the most mature community on the Internet.

By simply being a part of it, you get to enjoy access to 3 systems, unique to this community:

  1. Supply of Resources: This community likes to share its knowledge for free on the Internet in the form of articles and tutorials.
    This gives you access to important resources that allow you to teach yourself.
  2. Demand for Resources: This community knows to surf the Internet to look for solutions when they get stuck or when they want to learn something new.
    This gives you demand for any tutorial you write - no matter how specific. You can be sure there are developers who'll be looking for it.
  3. Market of Resources: Most recently, this community has built online publications to make it easier for programmers to share their knowledge. They accept articles from newcomers and share them with their huge audience of hundreds of thousands of developers.
    This means you don't have to be afraid of shouting into the void.
The Programmer Advantage: pre-existing systems of demand, supply and market

Here's a list of a few places that accept contributions from beginners and share it with their huge follower bases (links take you to their contributing guidelines) -

Medium publications:

Other places:

As a new writer, you can piggyback off of their large audience to start creating a name for yourself.

Being able to write well is a superpower that can give you immense leverage in your career. Especially in 2020s.

And yet, there are no good courses to learn this.

Therefore, I've created a one that you can get over email right now!

It's called Clear Writing, Clear Thinking and it will take you from a Level-1 writer to a Level-5 writer, one at a time. At each level, I will address the hurdles of that level and give you advice on how to overcome it.