An engineer who writes code should also write essays

Typewriter
A hipster PC (Image by Erik Dungan)

A couple of years ago, I came across an essay by Shubhro Saha, a software engineer at Facebook in California, entitled “Software engineers should write“.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently.

He writes,

“An engineer who writes code should also write essays.

“Software engineers should write because it promotes many of the same skills required in programming. A core skill in both disciplines is an ability to think clearly. The best software engineers are great writers because their prose is as logical and elegant as their code.

“[…] Even if nobody reads your essay, writing it will make an impact on you. It will clarify your opinion on a topic and strengthen– or even weaken– your beliefs. The process alone of putting jumbled thoughts into concrete words is valuable.”

It’s a very good essay with a very compelling argument.

At high school I ‘failed’ my English higher the first time round; I actually got a D pass but the school felt that I could do better. They were right: I sat it again in sixth year and got a C.

It wasn’t until I went to university and studied Hebrew that I really began to understand language better. After that I went back to English and read numerous books about syntax, and grammar and punctuation. And I read widely.

I read well-written books and articles and journals. As I read them I stopped to consider why they had been written that way. I questioned why certain words has been used: what effect did they have. I analysed sentence structure. And I observed how simple the best writing was.

And I wrote. I wrote a journal—I still do. And a blog (this one). And a book, which was published in 2007. I’m currently, and slowly, writing another.

Writing helps me to clarify my thoughts. It helps me to express myself better. And if any of it helps someone else, or makes them laugh, or look at something from a different perspective then that’s a bonus.

I suspect that it does also help me write better code. And at the very least: better comments.

If you are a coder then I encourage you to read the article. If you are a writer and are wondering whether you ought to learn to code then perhaps start here: please don’t learn to code by Jeff Atwood.

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