The ninth and final post in my Blogging for the Holidays project. Just a little wrap-up post to tie a bow around the whole thing.
Well, it’s hard to believe but my two weeks of vacation are coming to a close and tomorrow morning I return to the grind. It says a lot about my mental state before my break that I feel like another two weeks would be welcome, but alas, until I manage to earn myself a sabbatical or, some day, retirement, I suppose this will have to do.
As for this blogging project, I’m really glad I set myself this writing goal! For folks who have their own blog but struggle to get motivated to write, this approach–setting a queue of topics over a fixed period of time and then tackling them steadily–was very motivating and rewarding! I definitely recommend it as a fun way to get inspired.
I was particularly happy with how a theme emerged across the various posts. And I felt pretty darn smug when, in the January 1st episode of Slate Money, Stacey-Marie Ishmael, a writer and journalist who’s much smarter and articulate than me, summarized the theme of this blog series: the pandemic is making the invisible visible. I have to admit, when I heard her say that, I felt a rush of validation that maybe I was onto something!
So, where did I end up clocking in? Well, over the course of the last two weeks, counting short posts, I wrote a grand total of approximately 13700 words. Counting only long form posts, roughly 12900 or about 800 words a day. Not bad at all! And I know of at least one person who actually read most of them!1
Anyway, for folks who weren’t following this project as it was being published and want to check it out, here’s a list of the long form posts in the order in which they were written:
- Blogging for the Holidays
- Grappling with Viruses
- Grappling with Statistics
- Revisiting The Lord of the Rings
- Grappling with Misinformation
- Grappling with Supply Chains
- Grappling with Labour Markets
- Grappling with Inflation
- A New Years Post
For those few people who actually stuck it out and read these posts, either as they were written or afterward, thank you! I hope they were interesting and worth the time.
And for those folks who’ve heard me going on about these topics throughout 2021 and still read these posts, a special shout out! You’re a trooper!2
Finally, I hope everyone had a happy holidays in spite of all the difficulties of the past two years, and I truly believe this next year we’ll see things start to get better.
Have a fantastic 2022!
I’m off for the next 16 days (yay!) so I’m introducing an attempted holiday blog series! This is gonna be… something.
Writing on a regular basis is something I really struggle with. As is true of so many of us, at the end of the day, after long hours of remote work under the cloud of pandemic-induce malaise, I just don’t have the energy or creativity to write very much. This is particularly frustrating because the past two years are a complete blur. A regular cadence of blog posts would have given me something to grab onto, and more importantly, something to look back to when I wondered, bleary-eyed and exhausted, at what the heck has been going on for the last 24 months.
But 2021 has finally coming to an end! My vacation begins today (okay, fine, I’ll probably be doing a little bit of work, but hopefully not much) and, rather than just letting these next 16 days just slip by, I thought I’d try to mark the time by writing each day.
Some of these posts might just be quick notes! Others might be long-form posts. I doubt any will be particularly long… though, honestly, who really knows.
But what to write about?
A few things spring to mind. First off, I want to do a little sub-series that I think I’m gonna call “Grappling With”. The pandemic in general, and the last year in particular, has forced folks around my age and younger1 to face concepts that we’ve been able to take for granted for at least a generation, and in some cases even longer, including:
- Communicable diseases
- Supply chains
- Risks and statistics
- Political institutions
- Information and misinformation
- Labour relations
- How we work
You know, the little stuff.
So I thought I’d write a post on each of these topics, laying out, as an individual, what I’m up against when facing these things that I’ve been able to ignore for so long.
Now, that’s great, but it can’t be all serious stuff, so what else? Honestly, I don’t know! I’m hoping to do a bunch of reading, watching movies, and some coding amongst the various domestic chores I need to catch up on, so maybe a bit about those activities? Or a couple posts of photos from the year? Not sure yet!
Of course, the most pressing question is: does this post count? I kinda think it does? But who knows. If I’m feeling motivated, maybe I’ll write a bit more today! It’s my vacation. I can do what I want!
In my many years in the software development industry, not to mention my many years in the software development education industry, I’ve been continually amazed by the tacit acceptance of the fact that many (most?) software developers are terrible writers. The university programmes don’t require anything beyond a simple English 101 class, and companies simply accept the fact that many of their people are, at best, barely literate. It’s a sad, stupid state of affairs, and I figured I’d take a few minutes to explain why I think it’s a detriment to the industry as a whole.
You see, in my mind, at it’s core, software development is fundamentally an act of communication. Of course, there’s the obvious fact that a developer must take their ideas and communicate them to the computer, which then executes them. But as developers, we must also communicate ideas to our users, through the user interfaces we build. And we must also communicate ideas to other developers through the code itself, not to mention the comments therein (after all, as any developer will tell you, development is as much, if not more, about reading code as it is writing it).
Similarly, writing is, obviously, an act of communication. When a writer writes, their goal is to take amorphous, ephemeral ideas, and turn them into concrete, written words which preserve the essence of those ideas and communicates them to the reader.
Now, in order to communicate complex ideas through written word, one must master some very basic skills:
- The ability to clearly conceptualize an idea and transform it into a more concrete expression.
- The ability to break down that idea into simple parts that can be easily explained.
- The ability to explain those parts in a way the reader can understand.
- The ability to take those parts, now explained, and to synthesize them into a coherent whole.
Does this sound anything at all like software development?
Furthermore, a capable writer pays attention to detail. He is as much concerned with the way an idea is expressed as he is with communicating the idea itself. For example, I could’ve written this entire post in short, terse sentences with no paragraph breaks. But I care as much about how these ideas are communicated as I do about the actual act of communicating them.
Similarly, in the area of software development, while two developers may derive the same solution to a problem, one may choose to write terse, difficult to read code that’s poorly formatted and organized, and consequently difficult to maintain, while the other may produce code that’s precisely the opposite.
By now you can probably guess what I’m getting at. I would surmise that you would find a correlation between developers who are skilled writers, and those who produce code that’s clean, readable, and maintainable. Now, that’s not to say there aren’t exceptions. I’m sure there are many many developers out there that are great writers yet terrible developers, and vice versa. But I would contend that, statistically, you would find a correlation between writing skill and development skill, and at their core, these two disciplines are really very similar.
So why is it that we accept such poor writing skill in the development community? Quite honestly, I’m not sure. I think part of the issue is the fundamental belief that software development is an engineering skill, a process that’s dominated purely by technological problems that must be solved with technological solutions. I suspect it’s also driven by a false dichotomy, the idea that writers are “thinkers” and technologists are “doers”. But I truly believe it needs to change. Meanwhile, the next time I interview someone, I may be tempted to ask them to write a short essay on a topic of my choice…
“… and he just, I dunno, disappeared,” he finished, taking a sip of his coffee, steam rising from the dark surface and condensing on his thick glasses.
“What do you mean, ‘disappeared’,” the man across the table asked, a puzzled frown creasing the dark skin of his forehead as he reached for his own up. “Where did he go? What happened to him? People don’t just disappear, you know.”
“Honestly,” the other man said, putting down his mug, “I don’t know. He just left. Took his coat and his keys, hopped in his car,” he reached over and grabbed the nearly empty sugar dispenser, pouring the remaining contents into his cup as he continued, white granules scattering on the dark surface of the table between them, like islands in a sea, “and left. Never said a word to his friends, his wife, his kids… no one.” The clink of spoon against porcelain punctuated the silence that followed, the dark liquid swirling and eddying in his cup.
“I just don’t understand,” his companion said, taking a sip of his coffee, “How could someone do that? Just up and leave like that? I could never do that,” I think, anyway, a voice in his mind said. The man in the glasses shrugged, himself unsure. “I mean, I talked to Mike, he seemed like such a nice guy. And then he does this? Seems like a dick move to me.”
“Who knows,” the other man said, “maybe he had his reasons. Really, I didn’t know him that well. Did you?” The man across the table shook his head, “See? Heck, no one seemed to. So who knows what happened. For all we know his wife beat him or cheated on him or something. But, whatever happened, he’s gone now, and I’m bettin’ he ain’t comin’ back.”
“Bizarre,” his companion said, his finger tapping against his cup, the rhythmic thumping setting off waves in his coffee. “People just don’t disappear like that!”
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