Why Techies, Developers, and Designers Should Be Bulking Up Their Writing Skills
Some time ago during a tech writing gig, I was chatting with that company’s only social media specialist. As the result of an organizational shift, we tech writers were becoming increasingly responsible for blog content. To put it simply, there was a 10-blog-post quota, and we were on the docket for all 10. But when I approached him to ask for a hand, the gist of his response was, “Dude, I don’t write.”
As it turned out, dozens of posts on their blog had been Chimp Rewritten. No offense, Chimp Rewriter, but the blog wasn’t pretty. And unsurprisingly, the entire blog and most of its social media presence are now managed by a third party.
Saying that you “don’t write” can be a perverse point of pride for people on the tech/design side of things. But why?
Writing, after all, is a great way to prove your “attention to detail” and to make you appear more professional overall. It’s the easiest way to diversify your skillset. It keeps your résumé and cover letter immaculate. And solid writing skills mean that your social media presence will reinforce your identity as a thought leader (or at least as someone who knows how to spell).
The Dark Side of Being “Indispensable”
The attitude that leads people to declare they “don’t write” is closely linked to the attitude that makes people say they’re indispensable. Both can be a mistake. Hear me out.
In rapidly growing companies, a false sense of the value of seniority can rear its head. “I was here when we built this thing, and I was the only [insert job title here]. That makes me indispensable.”
For example, at one gig, I was chatting with a software developer who was being forced to completely revamp a proprietary e-commerce platform — because the creator of the platform hadn’t made his code collaboration-friendly. The creator had always worked independently and thus had made something that was too specialized and that could only function when he was around. It ended up being very inefficient for everyone else.
Instead of striving to be indispensable, striving to be the “only one” who knows something, you should strive to be diversified and, quite frankly, completely replaceable.
The benefits: If you teach others your highly developed skills, your team leaders will re-assign the tasks you began with and assign you more challenging work that can help develop you. If you’re transparent about what you do and how you manage your time, “important” folks can more easily track your value. And anyway, feeling “indispensable” can nestle you into a comfort zone. Employers see comfort zones as the death of ambition.
In short, it’s important to stay on your toes and diversify your skillset instead of sticking your head in the sand and only completing one sort of task while patting yourself on the back for being an expert.
Make Writing Part of Your Everyday
Speaking of diversifying your skill set, let’s get back to writing. Don’t be a one-trick pony who can’t create content to save his life — work on those writing skills. You can start right now. For free. And no, you don’t have to go buy a typewriter and set it down in front of a multicolored sunrise.
There are easier ways to start integrating better writing into your work. Here are a couple of out-of-the-box ideas:
- Practice better email writing by staying cognizant of best practices. This is a real way to see your progress, stand out from the crowd who treats Outlook like it’s Facebook Messenger, and hone your focus on communicating ideas via word economy. Though it may slow your response speeds down a little bit at first, once it becomes second nature, you’ll see how much more articulate your other writing becomes.
- Hold stand-up meetings with yourself. Not only do these help you focus on goals and identify your strongest skills, they can keep track of your trends, what kind of phases you go through, and other personal metrics. And, as a bonus, you’ll be able to track down some of your previous processes, similar to how people use GitHub to save their best snippets.
- Draft stream-of-consciousness rants . . . in a very secret place, lest your Burn Book be discovered by the wrong snooper. Not only can you let off some steam in a safe space, but you can also look back, in embarrassment, at some of your venting and perhaps identify your pet peeves or triggers and how to handle them better in the future. And while you do that, you’ll be practicing that whole writing thing.
What Happens When You Learn to Write Better
Once your writing becomes clearer and the writing process becomes a bit easier, you can start upping the ante in a variety of ways. Trust me, people will notice.
At work, you’ll be able to better document your milestones and processes, sharing them with others on your team or in other departments, creating better company cultural habits and increasing your value.
And as a bonus, tech writers will love you! They’d probably be inclined to help you out with other favors if you packaged source material so nicely that it only requires a little polish on their end. Just sayin’.
When you look at your application packet, you’ll start to notice opportunities to clean up your resume and other documents now that you have a new toolbox of great writer habits to work with.
When you hit a plateau at your job and need a new challenge in a new place, start blogging about your innovations at work. You’ll enhance your portfolio with copy that both illustrates and explains your professional achievements. This may even demonstrate UX expertise to potential employers.
If you’re a developer or even web admin, you’ll start to realize that writing uses variables and arrays to execute on ideas. You’ll create a mutually beneficial relationship between two of your skill sets, easing collaboration and documentation for you or your team.
To sum things up, writing is just like any other skilled work set, in which we strive for great ideas with equally great execution. A well-executed idea, as you know, is not one hoarded by its conceiver. Documenting your ideas is a form of execution, whether it’s an accepted UI comp your director approves or a few scribbles on a notepad.
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When you polish your writing and start underscoring your work by documenting it, no matter how casually you may do so, you’ll not only exude value and professionalism, but you’ll start to sense the value, or lack thereof, in every way you burn the clock. And you’ll course correct not for the sake of your employment, but for your own self-worth.