Writing is an important skill for a developer to have.
It's how you convey your ideas, influence people, advocate for your skills and pay raises, as well as produce comments and documentation to assist others.
“What many people underestimate is that being a good writer,
whether that is through emails or through documents, allows you
to be more impactful. I see many engineers ignore that skill.
You might be proud about your code. You should also be equally proud
of the craft of writing… Writing is a highly underestimated skill
for engineers.” –Urs Hölzle (Google’s first VP of Engineering)
- Impress future employers
- Help you solidify what you recently learned
- Share insights to other developers
- Save others the pain of hours of research
freeCodeCamp can really help develop your writing skills too. They can help give you ideas based on what people are searching for, and they proof-read and edit your writing to make sure everything is explained well. Then they help publish it to a wide, diverse audience.
All this is done by the Editorial team and they're all really friendly and (most importantly) really useful. As you write more articles, you will learn more about who everyone is and how they can help you.
I'm going to briefly explain how I started writing for freeCodeCamp and my experience with it so far. We'll also touch on freeCodeCamp's publication style guide which you can find here.
Who writes for freeCodeCamp?
There are all sorts of people who write for freeCodeCamp.
Some are professional teachers who run programming courses, some are indie developers, some are still learning programming, others are full-time employed software engineers...and the list goes on.
There are people from all different places in the world who speak many different first languages – lots of voices are represented on freeCodeCamp.
There are no hard prerequisites for becoming a contributor to freeCodeCamp News. They don't check whether you have a Computer Science degree (in fact, many self-taught programmers write articles on News), submit you to a test, or expect you to finish their entire curriculum before writing.
You just need to have some prior writing experience so you can provide samples of your work when you apply to become a contributor.
But there are some guidelines about the content you contribute (maybe freeCodeCamp isn't the place for your lasagne recipe).
I'm a full time software engineer. I write to learn more about topics I find interesting.
freeCodeCamp distributes their articles so widely that last month alone (January 2021) people spent 600 hours reading the articles I wrote. That's pretty cool.
What does freeCodeCamp's style guide cover?
The style guide is the way freeCodeCamp standardises their expectations and guidelines so that all contributors know how best to research, write, and present their articles. It also helps ensure that what is published is high quality.
The style guide covers topics like article length, composition tips, how to write a good headline, how to choose a cover image, how not to plagiarize others' work, some rules about cross posting, and a lot more.
I also found it useful to take a Google technical writing course that you can find here. If you don't want to take the course, you can read my summary of it here if you don't have the 4 hours to do it all.
This course helped me learn some common helpful tips for technical writing, but it's not mandatory for freeCodeCamp.
How do freeCodeCamp authors apply?
If you want to apply to become a contributor to freeCodeCamp News, you should first read the style guide. In it, you'll find the application form.
When you're filling out the application, you are asked to link to 3 articles you have written in the past.
If you don't have three samples, or the work you've done is private, make an account on dev.to or Hashnode and write some articles. This helps the freeCodeCampEditorial team learn about your writing style, what you like to write about, and whether you'd be a good fit for the publication.
I just want to really emphasise that you should read freeCodeCamp's style guide. Read it two or three times and email the team if you aren't 100% sure about what something means.
If you write those 3 articles following freeCodeCamp's style guidelines, you will hugely increase your chances of being approved as a contributor.
But they do also "only approve a small percentage" of contributor applicants, so don't be discouraged if you don't make it the first time around.
My best advice to get approved is to try and find what is missing from articles you are currently reading. Are you going to write the articles for total beginners or intermediates? How much detail are you going to put in? Do you have a favourite programming language? How much do you use humour? None, or lots of jokey references? How should readers apply this knowledge?
When I first started writing I got the genre wrong a few times (I wrote satire for one article, and some article ideas I had weren't great). But through some practice and speaking to the team, I started to improve and understand what freeCodeCamp's genre is.
But I can't write well
So what? The best way to improve is by writing! If you feel like your writing skills are weak, try and set yourself a specific goal – for example to write 50 words a week on any topic. Something achievable for you, and on a topic you will enjoy.
Give yourself 6 months to see if you are making improvements. Reflect on what you don't like about your writing and try to address it.
My only other advice to improve your writing is to read more. The more I have read, the better my writing has become over time by seeing how others do it.
I don't know what to write about!
Write about something you want to learn about. You don't have to be an expert in something to write about it. You develop expertise by writing, discussing, and researching topics you're passionate about.
You can also ask the Editorial team too if you want some help once you get your contributor account.
What if I'm wrong?
It's proof read by the team so you aren't alone. They offer a second pair of eyes, and you are able to make edits post-publishing if you misunderstood something in your research.
It's a good way to learn, too. When you publish something and you're wrong, people will direct message you to correct you. I have been messaged about things people thought were unclear. I thanked them and reviewed what they said, which often helped me improve that article.
Don't feel too scared about failure to try it!
I write too slowly
freeCodeCamp doesn't have a schedule for you. They don't email you to chase you about writing an article a week.
You just write as and when you want to, and the Editorial team are there to proof read and help in any way they can when you're ready. If you only want to publish once a year, go for it!
English is not my first language
This is the case for many freeCodeCamp News contributors. They're practising English by writing, and contributing to the freeCodeCamp audience.
I hope you feel encouraged rather than intimidated to push your comfort zone boundaries if you have always wanted to try technical writing.
You can apply here to contribute to freeCodeCamp News.
Part of my writing was influenced by a talk Quincy did here about writing technical articles. I would encourage you to watch if you plan to apply to freeCodeCamp in the future. He also gives some fascinating case studies of people who began writing and some benefits that came from it.
I have enormously enjoyed writing for freeCodeCamp and it's been an incredibly positive experience for me. I would encourage anyone to try their hand at writing.
Even if you don't end up doing it at freeCodeCamp it's a skill worth investing time in, and makes you a well rounded developer.
I share my writing on Twitter if you enjoyed this article and want to see more.