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The Real Reason Silicon Valley Coders Write Bad Software

Stashed in: Steve Jobs, Silicon Valley!, Software!, Think!, Awesome, Writing!

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If you can't write... you can't write. As programming technologies, tools, and techniques move the human-computer communication frontier more toward the human side, this will become ever more true.

This article posits that "self-taught" programmers are LESS able to write coherent sentences or sustain complex thoughts than CS grads. Um... my 12 years at the University of Chicago beg to differ.

You're right, self-taught has nothing to do with it.

Most developers can't write well because they did not value that skill before they became programmers.

Even the best of these APIs are hard to use because the documentation, supposedly written in English, is terrible. Most engineers can't write a single coherent sentence, never mind string together a paragraph.

In order to write a person must first learn how to THINK.

In my experience, the kind of explicit writing instruction described in Peg Tyre's Atlantic story enables people to write powerful sentences -- and sometimes, when tempered with genius, great short stories. But this advanced degree of writing ability is also key to helping our country maintain its competitive edge in technology.


Steve Jobs once famously said that all the minutes wasted through bad software add up to lifetimes lost. If all the programmers I've worked with in my career had had good writing instructions, they would have been forced at an early age to think clearly, to communicate complex thoughts, and to combine simple ideas into compound ideas. These ideas, later written as code, would have resulted in better products. As I see it, our country's ability to maintain its technological advantage is very much intertwined with this discussion about teaching explicit writing skills in our schools.

The point of Tyre's article is that we need to teach people how to think. Once you can think, you can, with the right instruction, learn to write a good sentence. Once you can write a good sentence, then, and only then, do you have a shot at writing a great short story -- or code that can change the world and help maintain America's leadership position through the 21st century.

The writing article referred to by that article makes some good points.  I would like to see a complete and concise guide to teaching writing and thinking from the basics.

Agreed, that article is excellent.

Also, isn't the point of school to teach us writing and thinking from the basics?

That seems like it should take a lot of time to learn and practice.

Like this:

Unfortunately, it seems that everything is behind a paywall with intensive engagement.  Hopefully they will write a thorough book at some point.

@AdamRifkin: Sure, but A) I'd like to be able to analyze whether particular programs are effective and B) I'm into thinking about alternative, potentially better ways of teaching such things.

This is another source of supposedly good teaching techniques:

Thanks Stephen. I guess they're behind a paywall because it's valuable. 

The author's Linkedin

Originally, I was indignant when I read this article, but once I dug up his linkedin....

... let's just say that now i'm contemptuous...

and spontaneously giggling.

Not sure why. He's a full stack dev. Seems legit.

I see nothing "full stack" in his history.  I see an arrogant Flash picture-drawer who migrated from one undesigned language (Actionscript) to another (Javascript) as part of the herd, doesn't comprehend that "adjunct" negates any prestige wherever it's attached, and has difficulty keeping any team-oriented job.The validity of his theme, that writing skills are a value multiplier, is merely incidental to his need for superiority.

also, I think he was intentionally being hyperbolic and I totally fell for it

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