September 19, 2018

How Writing Can Expand Your Skills and Grow Your Career

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writing
Learn how writing can help build new skills and improve your career in unexpected ways.

At the recent Open Source Summit in Vancouver, I participated in a panel discussion called How Writing can Change Your Career for the Better (Even if You don't Identify as a Writer. The panel was moderated by Rikki Endsley, Community Manager and Editor for Opensource.com, and it included VM (Vicky) Brasseur, Open Source Strategy Consultant; Alex Williams, Founder, Editor in Chief, The New Stack; and Dawn Foster, Consultant, The Scale Factory.

The talk was inspired by this article, in which Rikki examined some ways that writing can "spark joy" and improve your career in unexpected ways. Full disclosure: I have known Rikki for a long time. We worked at the same company for many years, raised our children together, and remain close friends.

Write and learn

As Rikki noted in the talk description, “even if you don't consider yourself to be ‘a writer,’ you should consider writing about your open source contributions, project, or community.” Writing can be a great way to share knowledge and engage others in your work, but it has personal benefits as well. It can help you meet new people, learn new skills, and improve your communication style.

I find that writing often clarifies for me what I don’t know about a particular topic. The process highlights gaps in my understanding and motivates me to fill in those gaps through further research, reading, and asking questions.  

“Writing about what you don't know can be much harder and more time consuming, but also much more fulfilling and help your career. I've found that writing about what I don't know helps me learn, because I have to research it and understand it well enough to explain it,” Rikki said.

Writing about what you’ve just learned can be valuable to other learners as well. In her blog, Julia Evans often writes about learning new technical skills. She has a friendly, approachable style along with the ability to break down topics into bite-sized pieces. In her posts, Evans takes readers through her learning process, identifying what was and was not helpful to her along the way, essentially removing obstacles for her readers and clearing a path for those new to the topic.

Communicate more clearly

Writing can help you practice thinking and speaking more precisely, especially if you’re writing (or speaking) for an international audience. In this article, for example, Isabel Drost-Fromm provides tips for removing ambiguity for non-native English speakers. Writing can also help you organize your thoughts before a presentation, whether you’re speaking at a conference or to your team.

“The process of writing the articles helps me organize my talks and slides, and it was a great way to provide ‘notes’ for conference attendees, while sharing the topic with a larger international audience that wasn't at the event in person,” Rikki stated.

If you’re interested in writing, I encourage you to do it. I highly recommend the articles mentioned here as a way to get started thinking about the story you have to tell. Unfortunately, our discussion at Open Source Summit was not recorded, but I hope we can do another talk in the future and share more ideas.

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