The pleasure of writing

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The pleasure of writing
Ahmed Bashir
Ahmed BashirEngineering, DevRev

With my recent career change — now going 0→1 at DevRev — I’ve taken to writing more and more for its cathartic value, a way to express my journey and reaffirm my commitment to DevRev’s mission. Given that DevRev is a seed-stage startup spread across three continents, it has also proven to be an invaluable tool as we design and launch the world’s first Dev CRM. Today, we celebrate Writer’s Day at DevRev, and I’d like to point out three ways writing has served as a critical building tool in my daily work.

Building consensus

Writing is critical to sharing knowledge and bringing everyone into our processes and decision making; it serves as a great equalizer, making your hard work accessible to team members in all time zones.

Whether it’s a meeting, a Slack thread, or a design doc with comments, forward progress relies on consensus around the ground facts. Between the folks who hardly care, the folks who have it figured out in their head, and those who aren’t ready to raise their hand, there’s a lot of reasons why discussions wrap up without clarity. Oftentimes, the end result is lower engagement: folks question why they’re pulled into meetings, or discussion threads go dark.

But by writing down key points, I’ve found that it helps frame the discussion and establish key checkpoints while the discussion unfolds.

In more dynamic environments, this is necessary to create context and help drive maximum engagement. While we might imagine coworkers huddled together near a whiteboard, seeking experience asynchronously by perusing the team’s written documentation can be equally effective.

Furthermore, it makes your expertise and experience available anytime, to anyone. It’s not a perfect substitute for that serendipitous hallway meeting, but it beats waiting for the stars to align and all parties to be available in person.

Building understanding

Remote work can lead to fewer opportunities to build understanding. Perhaps even more dangerous is that it allows for misunderstandings to fester, often fracturing an otherwise productive engineering culture.

The written word can often be that companion in an otherwise empty room, championing the cause and allowing the mind to return to neutral ground — a place where team members can realign and move forward together.

The written word matches your work hours, in your local timezone, present when you’re ready and willing to consume it. And with understanding comes trust, allowing for even greater achievements to manifest remotely.

Some more points to consider here:

  • Effective written communication allows others to know you, and vice versa
  • Going through the rigor of writing down thoughts can help bring clarity to our ideas
  • For almost any decision, there are many relevant considerations. Allowing others to contribute to our written thoughts can help distill big decisions down to their determinative factors and guide the way forward

Building momentum

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of writing is how it can capture the zeitgeist and symbolize closure. As you hit each milestone checkpoint, you guarantee yourself at least some forward momentum. Writing helps preserve your hard work and directs future efforts.

Personally, I’ve found great success in articulating milestones and early wins through writing; this facilitates celebration and brings teams together. In a remote environment, team identity can be vague and fragile — your shared wins, expressed in writing, can help solidify what it means to be a single unit.

Writing is also an incredible force multiplier:

  • Be thoughtful about what written resources are available for talent onboarding
  • Ensure that brown bags, tech talks, and design reviews have associated written documentation and/or recordings for the benefits of the broader audience, both present and future
  • Ask others to contribute back to the document to reinforce their understanding & keep the flywheel in motion

Sustaining a culture of writing

Writing can be hard; it can be seen as one more step, an orthogonal skill, perhaps. To counter this inertia, we need to be intentional:

  • Make written documentation a specific part of your inclusion efforts
  • Be clear about where written content exists, how it can be found, etc.
  • Connect it to your team’s practices

As a final note, being intentional about communicating through writing is a major step towards making our communication more inclusive and effective overall. However, it demands a generative culture where individuals are willing to self-organize to do the hard work in a scalable way. Some things to consider in this regard:

  • Is writing (design docs, readouts, playbooks, etc.) a part of your team’s workflow?
  • Does written communication play an integral part in how team members learn & engage? Is it shared cross-functionally?
  • Is this practice celebrated and/or rewarded?
  • Are peers incentivized to read and contribute to each other’s writing?
  • Are counterforces preventing team members from actively writing?
Ahmed Bashir
Ahmed BashirEngineering, DevRev

Engineering at DevRev