A few weeks ago, LinkedIn has reminded me that it was four years ago (on ) when my first technical article, titled Create Your Own HTML5 Environmental Thermometer, went live. The article was published by SitePoint at a time where the editor was Tom Museth (still thank you for that!).
This anniversary has made me think about what writing technical articles has meant to me and what benefits it has provided to my career. In this article, I’ll share 5 reasons why you should start writing technical articles.
You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.
For me, this quote is the essence of the first reason.
When writing an article, you’ll find yourself digging deep into the topic you’re writing about. You will search things like what the state of the art is, what other related works have been published on the subject, and what counterarguments were made against similar articles. This phase is crucial because it’ll increase your knowledge, which in turn will allow you to write a better article.
As many experienced writers will tell you, they didn’t always start an article with all the concepts clear in their mind and with all the details that ended up in the writing. Others will also tell you that they thought they knew it all about the topic, but once they started researching on it, they realized this wasn’t true. I’m among those that will tell you both these things. When I started writing jQuery in Action, third edition, I was a heavy jQuery user and I definitely knew a lot of methods and techniques. However, I later realized that I didn’t have in my mind all the concepts that ended up in the book.
To give you a better idea of how important the research phase is, the study of the jQuery source allowed me to spot a few issues and omissions in the jQuery official documentation. These findings played an important role in my contribution to jQuery, which eventually helped me in joining the jQuery team. A big achievement for me.
In conclusion, writing a technical article is not only helpful to other developers that will learn from your experience, but it’s also an excellent way to improve your own knowledge about the subject you’re covering.
Before moving on, there is an important warning I want to give you. It won’t sound good, but it matches the reality. If you publish a technical article, you must expect and be prepared to receive criticisms. Sometimes they will be constructive and they will teach you something new; other times they will be quite rude. Now, unless you’re publishing an article just for the sake of it, you should care about your reputation and you should defend your work. The study you’ll do on the subject will enable you to do that.
Writing good articles is not easy. It’s not just a matter of knowledge and experience. You need to communicate your thoughts correctly and efficiently. Communication is important in many aspects of life, but if your job involves client-facing activities such as show-and-tell a pre-sales meetings, it becomes crucial.
My writing experience has played an important in my career, especially once I moved from Italy to the UK. Giving presentations and talks, and participating in meetings is now second nature to me.
Writing articles is already hard on its own, but when you have to use a foreign language, things get really complicated. Another benefit of becoming a technical author is that you have the chance to improve your English. If you’re a native English speaker, this might not apply to you, but if you aren’t a native speaker you’ll be amazed by how much your English skills will improve. Since I wrote my first article, my confidence in speaking and writing in English is increased and my vocabulary has expanded heavily.
Publishing articles for your own website or blog is perfectly fine, but my advice is to start your journey by writing them for well-established network such as SitePoint, Tuts+, or Smashing Magazine. All these networks have a review process in place. So, if you write for them, you’ll work closely with editors that will review and correct your drafts. They will fix all the grammar issues that you might not have noticed or that you aren’t aware of. The editor will also take care of replacing constructs that you might have employed because they sound good in your native language, but that don’t really make sense in English.
The points I’ve discussed so far should be already enough to let you stop everything you’re doing, including reading this article, and start drafting your first article. In case you still have doubts, I want you to consider the impact that sharing your knowledge can have on your career.
By publishing articles regularly, especially if you cover the same topic, you’ll establish yourself as an authority in that field. This can be a life changer. Think for a moment to the people you follow on Twitter or to the authors of your favorite books. Why do you think at them and not to others? The reason is that they have established themselves as an authority by using a combination of public presence, creation of innovative techniques, development of libraries and frameworks, and publication of articles and books.
By writing good articles you’ll also gain the respect of your colleagues and the community. This will make it easier for you to negotiate your benefits and salary. Moreover, if you write for established networks, you’ll earn money out of your work. And talking of which…
Earning more money might not be your first goal in life (and it really should not). But let’s be honest: those bills needs to be paid, and (probably) nobody is going to pay them for you. So, making some extra cash by writing articles can help.
Networks such as those I mentioned before pay a fair fee for the articles they publish. Moreover, they are always on the outlook for new authors that can share their knowledge and point of view about new technologies and approaches, and their experiences in general. So, don’t be shy and propose your ideas.
I beg you to not underestimate this aspect. There was a point in my career, during the period I was moving from Italy to the UK, where the money I was making by publishing articles were playing a big role in my economy.
Writing (articles and books) has been a significant part of my career. While at the beginning I didn’t see much benefits coming from the time spent on these activities, eventually it all paid off. Achieving my dream to publish a book, joining the jQuery team, going to job interviews where people knew who I was, and having a better position in the negotiation of job conditions and salary are a few examples of the what writing technical articles has given me.
I hope that with this post I spurred you into trying to share your knowledge about a technology, a methodology, or a software you’re excited about, and that publishing technical articles will have the same positive effects on yourself and your career that I experienced.