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Why writing is an engineering superpower
And not just any writing, public writing
I became an engineer so I could avoid words. – Some engineer I overheard
You hear lots about why writing is good for yourself, and it is. But this kind of writing is fundamentally not for you because software engineering is a team sport.
People regularly cite how it scales your time better so that you can have larger impact. That’s true, yet engineers often hear that scaling statement in the wrong way.
The scaling is less about freeing up your time and more about unblocking other people. If people need to talk to you instead of reading something you wrote, people are queueing to get your attention. And yes, you’ll need to repeat something. But that repetition is the symptom, not the problem.
Organizations tends towards communication trapped in tiny information silos like private messages or emails or 1:1 calls.
Information trapped in private communication is unavailable for other people not just to read, but to do anything else with. When you write things down in public, other people can reference, cite, expand, or even rewrite atop of your initial work.
Writing things down improves communication with you coworkers in different locations and timezones2, but even if you’re not in a remote-friendly environment3, people take vacations or go out on medical, maternity, or paternity leave. Having things written down for when they come back helps bring them up to speed rather than multiple days of conversations or long videos of meetings that they’re supposed to watch.
Senior+, EM Roles are Writing Roles
As you move up, you spend less time coding and more time writing technical documentation. You write code review comments, comments on tickets, architecture docs, etc.
These higher ladder roles do not stop being technical. However, you are required to write in the language with the highest degree of freedom of expression of the idea—human language.4 It’s what we all drop back to when we want to express difficult ideas or ideas that are not yet specific enough to be able to make a solution for yet.
Writing externalizes your thinking, allowing others to give feedback on it. Consequently, your technical skills are your potential floor, and your writing ability is your ceiling.
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Addendum: But what about public speaking?
Verbal communication is important as well. If you have an idea that’s pretty much baked that you want to teach, demo, or convince others about, you probably want to make a video or schedule a meeting or something similar.
Verbal communication fundamentally scales badly for collaboration—especially technical collaboration. Just be aware of which mode of work you’re in and choose appropriately—but it’s probably better to start with at least an email before you schedule a meeting.
I must not interrupt. Interruption is the mind-killer. Interruption is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my impulse to interrupt. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the interruption has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. — Me (with some Dune influence)
Doing synchronous meetings every day at 6am or 11pm is a horrible way to live.
And you should be a remote friendly environment—specifically for engineers.
There’s a reason there are a lot of words in math proofs.