Wednesday, March 02, 2011


How to Write Without Writing

I’ve long admired (perhaps even envied) Jeff Atwood’s ability to craft interesting, informative and thought provoking articles on his ‘Coding Horror’ blog. His recent post How to Write Without Writing is a great example why.

Over the last 6 years, I've come to believe deeply in the idea that that becoming a great programmer has very little to do with programming. Yes, it takes a modicum of technical skill and dogged persistence, absolutely. But even more than that, it takes serious communication skills:

The difference between a tolerable programmer and a great programmer is not how many programming languages they know, and it's not whether they prefer Python or Java. It's whether they can communicate their ideas. By persuading other people, they get leverage. By writing clear comments and technical specs, they let other programmers understand their code, which means other programmers can use and work with their code instead of rewriting it. Absent this, their code is worthless. [Joel Spolsky]

The ability to inform, entertain and present connected ideas is a wonderful skill.

Personally, I’ve always found writing difficult (though perhaps less so in the last 5 years).The main reason I started blogging was to improve my writing (and also to record things I find useful and tend to misplace!). If you set yourself a goal of writing a short blog post once a week, you are forcing yourself to write something. The more often you write, the more likely your writing skills will improve.

Some time ago I answered a question on StackOverflow: Should programmers be able to write clearly? I firmly believe the answer to that question is “Yes”. If you can’t communicate and express yourself clearly, how can you write correct code?


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