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Code as Craft

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Why Writing Is Important for Engineers


A few weeks ago we relaunched this Code as Craft blog, which hasn’t seen significant change since we first rolled it out in February 2010. Over the twelve years of Code as Craft’s existence, we’ve written on hundreds of topics, ranging from our blameless postmortems, to how we prepare for the holiday surge, to how we selected a cloud provider. All of this writing and all the effort that we’ve put into relaunching this blog is important work. It’s important not only because we have a learning culture at Etsy, one that demands that we teach each other, but also because it makes us better engineers.

At Etsy, we love to learn. In Engineering we dedicate part of a week each year to celebrating the things we’ve learned by teaching them to each other. We conduct workshops, lightning talks, round tables, and unconferences, all to share knowledge and information widely throughout our organization. The Code as Craft blog is an extension of that commitment, another means for us to take what we’ve learned and offer it to the wider tech community. In addition to the almost 70 open source projects we’ve launched, this is one more way Etsy Engineering gives back.

Learning by teaching has been an important pedagogical approach for a long time. As engineers, most of us are probably familiar with the story of the rubber duck, made popular in The Pragmatic Programmer, where explaining your problem to an inanimate object helps you understand it better yourself. In a sense, Code as Craft is our rubber duck. Having to write down your thoughts gives you a systematic way of testing them. Writing engages every stage of critical thinking: identifying a problem, gathering data and opinions, checking assumptions, establishing significance, drawing conclusions. The act of writing gives you time and structure to follow these steps and produce thought that is organized and rational. This skill is crucial in so many of the tasks that engineers and engineering managers perform every day.

Dear Reader: this blog is for us as much as it is for you. It’s a way we give back, but also a way we improve our own thinking. As Richard Feynman, the American theoretical physicist, stated, “If you want to master something, teach it.” I hope you enjoy this new version of the Code as Craft blog, and I hope it will encourage you too to write about what you’ve learned and thereby teach it to yourself as well as to others.