Why Developers Should Write
When you picture a software developer in their natural habitat, writing is one of the last things you probably think of them doing. You’re more likely to imagine someone writing code, testing things, drinking copious amounts of caffeine, or begrudgingly attending meetings.
But while developers rarely go about their work with the intention of writing, it’s something that they always do regardless of where they work. Writing—and, in particular, writing well—can help you become a better developer in many ways and open up opportunities for your future.
Writing Improves Your Communication
This one’s fairly obvious, but it deserves some elaboration anyway. Too many developers focus on developing their core technical skills at the expense of soft skills like writing. This imbalance can lead to poor performance in certain areas of your work where writing (and communication in general) are more important than coding.
Especially in today’s increasingly remote work environment, it’s more important than ever to be able to write effectively, no matter what your job is or in what sector you work. But writing, like any skill, requires practice to perfect. The more you write, the better you write. And the better you write, the more clearly you’re able to communicate new ideas and information to others.
Although you might see writing as only tangentially related to a developer’s job, it’s actually a very important skill in our field. If you think about it, we’re always writing something—pull requests, descriptions for bug reports and new features, messages in Slack or Teams, and, of course, plenty of documentation. Writing even impacts the most atomic level of your work as a developer, like the clarity of your variable names or your inline comments.
There are many different ways to communicate the same idea, some of which are clearer than others. Clear and concise writing is important when you’re discussing concepts that have lots of moving pieces or if you’re explaining a complex concept to a co-worker. Often, that’s the case in software development, especially when you’re working at a company with multiple teams and with people who may not be familiar with your work.
All of this becomes even more important as you climb in seniority and assume responsibility for projects with greater scope since you’ll be interacting with leadership and stakeholders who may not have as deep a technical understanding of technology as you do. Great writers can distill complex concepts into simple and accessible language, making them valuable members of your team when it comes time to present work or research.
And, last but not least, good writing skills can help you craft compelling cover letters, cold emails to recruiters, a well-polished resume, and strong copy for your personal website. All of this applies to other professionals, too, and not just to developers. But I think it’s worth bringing these up because developers often overlook the importance of writing in their line of work.
Writing Can Be Fun
Even if you choose to primarily write technical tutorials, you don’t have to exclusively write about software development or technology all the time. It’s your site—you’re free to write about your personal life, interests, and whatever else comes to mind, so long as you’re not just shouting into the void and stringing random words together for the sake of padding space.
Like any hobby or skill that you pick up in your free time, writing can be cathartic and help take your mind off of work. For example, I don’t always write about dev on my “dev” blog, and you shouldn’t either. Doing the same thing 24/7 can make you miserable. On the other hand, a bit of variety in your routine can help relieve stress and allow you to develop more balanced habits. In turn, this can ensure that you don’t burn yourself out by always engaging in the same activity.
Writing Helps You Learn New Things
Writing exposes you to more concepts than coding alone can.
For one, eventually, you’ll run out of ideas for your blog. You could rehash your old content or find a different perspective to add some variety to your existing work. (And just to be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing that—lots of great writers do it.) But you’ll still want to find new things to write about to keep things fresh (and your readers interested). And that means that you may need to learn new technologies or skills or read up on some recent trends to understand where your industry’s headed.
Running a dev blog gives you a platform where you can share your thoughts and discoveries as you learn new things or find solutions to problems that others have yet to write about. This is what makes learning in public such an effective philosophy—by writing, you learn from the very process of teaching others. It’s analogous to learning by talking to yourself—in order to communicate ideas clearly to others through writing, you first need to develop a deeper understanding of those concepts yourself. And that means that you’ll need to form an accurate mental model for how things really work. This may mean doing some extra research and reading as you write, all of which are good skills to pick up as a developer.
There’s also the matter of where you choose to write. If you’re writing posts on a site like Dev.to or Medium, you usually don’t care about things like web performance as much as you do about the quality of the content itself because certain optimizations are beyond your control. But if you’re writing on your own blog—like I do on my site—then you’ll eventually reach a point where you’ll need to learn about some of these important topics in web development (and maybe even write about them!):
- Optimizing and lazily loading images.
- Optimizing font loading (self-hosted or via Google Fonts).
- Minimizing layout shifts.
- Using accessible color contrast.
- Using accessible navigation and skip links.
- Writing semantic, clean markup.
- Testing your content with a screen reader.
- Writing descriptive alt attributes (or alt text in general).
- Testing across multiple browsers and operating systems.
- Optimizing your site’s SEO to rank higher in search results.
And a whole bunch of other concepts…
Lots of things that I’ve learned about web performance and best practices were actually spurred by the process of running a blog. In the very early stages of my site, I was using plain JPEG images for my posts and didn’t even know that I should care about optimizing my page load speed (or that semantic HTML is more than just a fancy term people throw around). Writing forced me to confront real problems with my site and to fill in my knowledge gaps—and, in the process, I learned a lot!
Writing Can Help You Grow Your Network
A dev blog is your own little corner on the internet where you’re free to share your thoughts and knowledge with other developers. Sometimes, this can open up new opportunities for you and help you advance your career. With a sufficiently large reach, you may find companies reaching out and asking you to publish content on their behalf or working with them on a contract basis. You may also receive invitations to speak at conferences or workshops. Regularly publishing content can help you grow your reach and publicity, which can in turn lead to a more successful career by distinguishing you from other candidates once you start applying to positions. Writing is also a great way to find other developers who share similar interests and to connect with them, allowing you to grow your network and get to know other people. And that’s one of the best ways to get hired.
Writing Can Help You Earn More on the Side
Speaking of writing for other companies: If you think your only source of supplemental income as a developer is a side hustle or project that takes off, think again. If you’re a decent writer, you can earn some extra cash on the side by writing tutorials for sites like Digital Ocean, LogRocket, CSS Tricks, and lots of others.
As a disclaimer, I don’t personally do this because of the extra time commitment that it would require and the fact that I’d be writing for others and not for myself, on my own site, or on my own terms. But I do know developers who do this successfully and who earn a steady trickle of income on the side just from publishing tutorials on occasion.
If you’re not sure where to start applying, there’s a pretty solid list of community writer programs for developers on GitHub.
Writing Is an Investment in Your Future Self
A dev blog is a great way to build up resources and knowledge not only for others but also for your future self. Running a blog doesn’t mean that you have to always publish long-form tutorials—lots of developers write shorter posts (notes, thoughts, or “TILs”) to document things that they’ve learned in case they ever run into the same issues in the future. That way, instead of sifting through scattered articles and StackOverflow posts in search of an answer, they can simply revisit their own writing.
I know a few people who’ve stumbled upon their own work in search results when Googling a problem that they’d previously written about. Writing can be genuinely useful in your career—you may end up helping yourself more than anyone else!
So, do you wish there were a site that taught a certain concept better than any existing resource? You can create that resource with enough time and effort; you just have to start somewhere. You’ll help yourself (and possibly others) along the way.
And, All Things Considered, Writing Can’t Hurt
Writing isn’t something that too many developers do in their free time. You can probably think of more exciting ways to spend your time, too. But even if it seems like the least exciting part of a developer’s job, writing is important. In fact, there’s a fairly high demand for technical writers—the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the field of technical writing will grow faster than all other occupations, on average, over the next ten years. This isn’t too surprising when you consider that everything we do these days involves some form of technology that needs to be documented and marketed effectively. And that requires, among other things, strong writing skills.
So, if you’re a developer who’s on the fence about writing in their free time, know this: You have nothing to lose (and potentially a whole lot to gain) by writing, whether for yourself or for others. It can feel a bit scary to put yourself out there, knowing that hundreds or thousands of eyes may one day read your work or visit your site. But like all things, writing is a learning process, and you’ll hone your craft with time and develop your voice and confidence. Plus, you may open yourself up to new opportunities that may have previously been out of reach.
Social media preview: Photo by Yannick Pulver (Unsplash).