Why Developers Should Write

Written by: Chris Wolfgang

As the editor of Codeship’s blog (and several other tech publications from bygone eras), I am of the strong opinion that every developer should write. Of course, I’m also aware that tech writing is a preferred pastime of a select few in the industry. But never fear, I’m going to tell you why you should write anyway.

Why Writing is Worth Your Time

At its most basic, writing is about communicating ideas. Anyone working in tech knows that, here, the ideas just keep coming. Everyone has their own opinions about what works best, in what situations, for what teams, and why. So what are your ideas? Get them out in the open for others to benefit from.

Sharing knowledge helps everyone

Technical writing is an efficient way to share your knowledge. Are you really experienced with Docker? There are lot of people coming after you that would really benefit from knowing what you do. Have you failed massively when you were attempting to decompose a monolith into microservices? Others would probably like to know what not to do when it’s their turn to attempt it.

What goes around comes around. The more people share about their own experiences in tech, the more quickly everyone learns from each other, and the faster the industry as a whole improves. Right now, tech is infamous for changing at the speed of light. Make sure that keeps happening by adding to the conversation yourself.

Tech writing furthers your own career

That’s all very altruistic, right? Shared knowledge makes the tech world go ‘round, very nice. But on a much more self-serving note, a dev who writes is a dev who’s getting their name out there in front of other devs. In front of executives. In front of decision makers.

Writing and publishing your own take on the latest language, framework, workflow, etc. proves to others that you’re thinking about your industry and where it’s going next. Positioning yourself as a voice of authority, especially in an industry niche, can make you the dev that people reach out to when they’re ready to start building the next cool thing.

Say hello to your advancing career.

How to Make Writing Easy(er)

You might be saying, Cool. I still don’t like writing. Well, the reason you don’t like writing is because it’s hard. And you’re already doing hard things, like, development. Why add to the list?

We covered that in the last section. So let’s go into how to make writing easier.

Stick to one main thought

The main pitfall of a newbie writer is that they try to cover too much at once. They’re determined to fill a page, and they’re concentrating so hard on using all the words that they get off topic. No one’s got time to read off-topic tech writing.

So as a newbie writer, you want to stick to one topic. This post covers four ideas. Don’t do that. You have one idea, and it should sound a little something like this:

  • “I think x helps me do y because z.”

  • X is the best y because z.”

  • “Everyone should be using x because y.”

For those short, one-idea pieces, you’ll need about 500 to 1,000 words to cover it. If you’re going over that word count, read through your piece again. Delete everything that doesn’t directly speak to that one-sentence idea that you decided to write about in the first place; that means jokes, side stories, and opinions about things other than your main point. Get rid of them. Good writing means good self-editing.

Read it out loud

Once you’ve got everything edited down to your main point, it’s time to think about flow. Read it out loud. If it sounds awkward, chances are you’re trying to write in a way that’s different than how you normally speak. Try to make your writing mirror your usual speech as much as you can. Your piece will be a lot easier for others to read if it sounds normal to your own ears.

Where to Put Your Writing

If you’re just starting out with writing online, get yourself a Medium account. It’s a well-respected self-publishing platform that boasts a simplistic interface in an easy-to-read format. It takes the burden of designing a legible blog off your shoulders.

Somewhere easy to read

Because that’s something you have to consider if you want to publish your writing to your own site. Is your blog easy for people to actually read? Is the background too busy? Is the typeface too small? Did you get too creative with headers, images, and all the bells and whistles? Is the navigation clear?

These are serious considerations that will make or break your readership. This is not something you should just throw together. Take note, devs with little to no background in web design.

Other tech blogs

Once you’ve been writing for a while (and that’s a different definition for everyone), you might want to start branching out to other websites as a guest blogger. If you want to reach out to a prospective site with a pitch of your own, it’s helpful to have some bylines already published elsewhere, even if it’s your Medium or personal site.

Look at you, well on your way to being a legitimate technical writer.

How to Get People to Care About What You Write

The trickiest bit of writing online is not picking a topic or even necessarily being a good writer. It’s getting people to listen to you. The internet is a noisy place, and users are getting better and better about tuning out stuff they think is irrelevant.

Keep it short

First of all, remember that you’re trying to keep your writing short, at least to begin with. People are a lot more likely to read 500 words from an unknown byline than 2,000. Some blogs also include an estimate for how long it’ll take to read your work. People will spare two minutes a lot more often than they’ll spare 10.

Look like a pro

Second, get your online presence in order. Make sure your profile photos are professional. I’m not talking a suit and tie shot in a studio. Just don’t look drunk, avoid bad lighting and super-close selfies, and for the love, think about what’s generally considered offensive and what’s not. This is not a high bar, but if you don’t trip over it, you’re already ahead of the pack.

You need this professional profile photo on your Twitter, your GitHub, your Google, your LinkedIn, and your website. And yes, if you want people to take you seriously as a tech writer, you do need all of these things because they are how readers find you. Make sure these profiles are linked to each other. People need to get from your Twitter to your Medium, from your GitHub to your personal site. Let people find you everywhere.

Read good tech writing

And finally, the most time-consuming part of being a writer: You have to read. Reading is the fastest way to improve your writing and the best way to ensure you’re writing about relevant topics.

When you follow respected tech writers, you’re getting free lessons in how to concisely make a point and how to lead readers through complex material, all while using approachable language. The more you read (and the wider you read), the easier it will be for you to pick up patterns about trending topics in the industry. Follow the writers that are saying what you wish you could, and soon you’ll be doing it too.

In Conclusion

Let’s wrap up this primer, shall we? Here’s how to break into the world of tech writing and why you should bother in the first place:

  • Tech writing is an efficient way to prove your professional competency and advance your career.

  • Concise, focused writing is easier for you to write and easier for readers to absorb.

  • Make sure that you’re publishing your writing somewhere that’s easy for people to read.

  • Make sure you look like a pro online across all of your profiles.

  • Seek out and read good tech writers to keep your own writing fresh and relevant.

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