Writing: The Software Developer's Superpower

Jun 29, 2020

Writing is a deeply underestimated skill within the field of software development. Learning how to be a clear and concise writer is the fastest way to level up your output and effectiveness. In this post, you will find 3 strategies you can utilize to improve and stand out as a writer.

In most companies, the majority of your output as a software developer will come in the form of written communication. This includes code, pull requests, tickets, bug descriptions, emails, and slack messages. Developing strong writing skills will enable you to save time, improve personal performance, increase team output, interface well with other teams, and advance in your career.

Unfortunately, very few software developers consider improving their writing skills when they think about what they should do to improve as an engineer. They are much more likely to consider learning a new language, building a side project, or refactoring an existing feature as a way to improve their skills. Ultimately coding is just another form of writing. Even developers with very strong technical chops will eventually hit a career ceiling if they lack strong writing skills.

In this post, you will find 3 strategies you can utilize to improve and stand out as a writer.

Start A Blog

As an applicant for software development jobs, one of the biggest things you can do to stand out is to have a blog or personal website. Contributing regularly to a blog is the single best way to improve your writing skills.

Each time you write a strong blog post, you will have to approach a specific problem, break it down into manageable chunks, solve each piece step by step, and then put the whole thing together at the end. Spoiler alert: this is exactly what you have to do each day as a software developer! Flexing this muscle through repeated exposure will enable you to take on progressively more challenging projects in the future and instantly demonstrate your critical thinking and problem-solving skills to prospective companies.

CMS OR DO IT YOURSELF? Gatekeepers might tell you that you’re not a “real software developer” if you use a CMS (Content Management System) like Wordpress or Squarespace for your blog. I’m here to tell you that they’re flat-out wrong! For many new developers, building a blog can be a time consuming task that detracts you from your main goals as a developer. For example, should you self host your images or put them on a CDN? Also, what’s a CDN?

If you’re just getting started and are more interested in data-science, back-end development, DevOps, or automation, it probably doesn’t make sense for you to build your own blog.

On the other hand, a blog can be a great way to both show some personality online and improve your skills as a full-stack or front-end developer. If you do end up building your own, make sure it loads quickly (even on slow connections) and the styling is mobile responsive. Ultimately, remember the number one rule of blogging: content is king. However you are able to get your content out is the best way to do it.


Write Documentation

If you are currently working on a project, one of the best ways to develop your writing skills is to take one aspect of the system and write technical documentation about how it works. For those that are not currently employed, writing documentation for open source software projects is just as valuable. During this process, you will hone your writing skills, develop a better understanding of how the product works under the hood, and benefit both the rest of the team and your future self. In addition, understanding something well enough to write documentation about it is a great precursor to being an effective contributor.

Good documentation serves a purpose. Have you ever looked for a recipe in a grocery store, found one that looks great, and then clicked on it only to have to scroll past a description of the author’s backyard before he or she even got to the ingredients? How annoying! Remember that pain every time you begin writing. Documentation should start with a sentence or two outlining the goal of the piece, then dive straight into the explanation.

Enlisting visual aids when writing documentation can be an effective strategy. Many people are visual learners, so creating diagrams, flow charts, or images will ensure that your documentation can be useful for a wide audience.


Be A Critical Reader

One of the fastest ways to get better as a writer is to be a critical reader. The next time you open up a book, blog post, article, or e-mail, take note of what you like and dislike about the writer’s style. Do they get to the point succinctly or was there a rambling introduction? Do they utilize a well-structured hierarchy or is the main point difficult to find?

Keep a running list of stylistic strategies that are effective and then try to employ one the next time you find yourself writing something, even if it’s just an e-mail or a thank you note. Through critical reading, you can absorb the best tips of the world around you and accelerate your progress as a writer.

Ultimately, writing is a skill that you can get better at through repeated exposure. Continue to practice, seek feedback, and make adjustments in order to improve. Eventually, you will find that your writing makes you stand out from the crowd, help your team get better faster, and can even become your superpower as a developer.


Originally published on mattmorgante.com