I know, another non-technical blog post. But this one is career-related as well.
In high school I was introduced to William Faulkner, one of the greats in American literature. The president of the South Carolina Governor's School for Science and Mathematics then, Dr. Lee Cox co-taught my 1st semester Special Topics in English class. He introduced us to Faulkner and I both loved and hated this American lit. giant. I loved him because his work was outstanding. I hated him because I was going to be tested on said work (and Dr. Cox was sure to test us in a way that proved we knew the work). Faulkner is the one who gave us the following quote, "The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with." As someone who has endeavored to write and improve my writing, I would agree wholeheartedly with Faulkner's view. So why write?
One of the biggest gaps technicians face is how to explain deeply technical problems and issues to less technical folks, whether they be end users, junior technical personnel, or management. When put on the spot, say at a project meeting or when something catastrophic has happened, if we've not developed an ability to communicate effectively our technical concerns in a manner which others can understand,likely we'll only make the situation worse. Been there, done that, and my dresser drawer is overflowing with the t-shirts. At times it's something I struggle with even now, even though I realize the importance of bridging the communication gap.
One great way to improve our ability to present technical things in a way for an audience to understand is to write. At first, writing about technical subjects for a technical audience is a good way to build our confidence and ability. It ensures we know what we're talking about. It helps us develop proper grammar, spelling, editing, and an overall readable output. Whether this writing be in email messages, in technical documentation, or in articles on a community site, simply practicing the art of writing with the intent to improve will help greatly. As we get better at writing in general, we can branch out to what for us are more difficult audiences, such as non-technical readers. The better we're able to communicate with those other than the "uber-techs," the more influence we'll have, the more our opinion is likely to be valued, and the more likely our concerns will be heard, understood, and respected.
So that's writing. How does that help with those project meetings? Well, the more we practice how we communicate, the better we get at it. Therefore, learning how to write well will help us speak well, too. And that leads back to getting our point across, having that point be respected and considered, and really, that's all we can ask, right? To further reinforce this point, I'll refer to one of the pieces of advice I was given by a Competent Toastmaster (now called a Competent Communicator) when I first started in Toastmasters: write my speeches down. His point wasn't that I write my speech and memorize it. Rather, by writing a speech down and practicing it from the written script I would become more familiar and comfortable with what I was going to say. And as a result, I would be better able to give the speech without notes. This is essentially what we do when we are on the spot at a project meeting. If we've taken the time to write out our concerns, our thoughts, etc., when it comes time to verbalize them, we'll be better equipped to do so. And the better we write, the better we'll speak.
To this end I'm endeavoring to write some every day. Monday through Friday I am committed to write a devotional based on my faith. I've been inconsistent in recent months and that needs to change. But I also want to ensure I'm writing a lot more professionally (and not just blog posts, either). And I want to work on personal writing projects, especially delving back into poetry. I've often heard it said that great writers write every day. I know that when I was at The Citadel and a member of the Regimental Band and Pipes, the band director, Major Day, brought in this tuba player who used to play with the President's Own. That old tuba player said the secret to his success was practicing every day. Practicing, even if it was for as little as 15 minutes. Practicing, even when one was sick and didn't feel like it. This kind of ties in with Steve's editorial and I think that's what spurred on this post. But in any case, I want to make sure I'm writing in at least two of those channels each and every day. Even if it's for only 15 minutes. To go back to Faulkner's quote, our work may not match our imagination, but still, we must endeavor to keep trying for that dream of perfection. It's the only way our work will ever progress towards what we see in our minds' eyes.