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How does Alex write so well?

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Entry-Level Software Engineer at Taro Communitya month ago

What does Alex Chiou read?

How does he think when he writes?

Is there a certain number of drafts?

Does he get someone to read it and give their thoughts etc?

When I read Alex's work, it makes me think better. I learn something new because I think - oh, I could also think this way. Oh, someone else can think this way. Oh, I learned something new.

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(6 comments)
  • 11
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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    a month ago

    From knowing him for years: anime. He reads tons of anime, and I've learned a ton about the whole genre in recent years 😅 Ask me who Uncle Iroh is!

    But seriously, Alex is very good at distilling complex topics down to their essence. He talks about his approach to LinkedIn here: [Case Study] How I Get 500,000+ LinkedIn Post Views Per Week. In particular, I love the point about writing the first line to get people to the 2nd line. That first line has to hook people.

    Learning (or copying or remixing...) what works for other people is also very effective. Find a writer you admire, even if they are not writing for engineers, and adapt their style to the stuff you want to write about.

    • 4
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      Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
      a month ago

      Rahul here showing how little of a weeb/otaku he is 🤣. You read manga. You watch anime. Most anime is based off of a manga. I both read manga and watch anime.

      While manga/anime haven't really contributed to my writing ability (at least not consciously), I find them really helpful for maintaining inspiration and viewing the world in a healthy way. The classic anime is about overcoming adversity, even if you come from a humble background, and that's more or less how I've lived my career.

    • 2
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      Thoughtful Tarodactyl
      Taro Community
      a month ago

      The lesson here is a manga a day keeps the pip away 😂

    • 1
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      Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
      a month ago

      A manga a day keeps your motivation in play! 💪

  • 9
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a month ago

    I'm flattered 😇. I have a lot to say here so I'll just go through all your questions first and then share bigger overall guidelines.

    What does Alex Chiou read?

    I actually almost never read books. Ever since I graduated college, I average 1 book read every 2 years (a bit less than that actually).

    The only reading I do is for day-to-day stuff to survive. So like the instructions on a food container or my tax return. I also read pretty much everything on the Taro forum.

    How does he think when he writes?

    I take how I would talk to that person IRL in response to their question and convert that into written text. In terms of how I come up with what to say, I'll cover that later.

    Is there a certain number of drafts?

    Nah, I just write. It's a big reason why I'm so efficient. I just write stuff out and make edits if I messed something up. It's the classic Meta philosophy of getting something out there quickly and iterating on it.

    Overthinking before communicating is how you waste a bunch of time just to end up tripping over your own words anyways when you finally get something out there.

    Does he get someone to read it and give their thoughts etc?

    For 99.9% of the writing I do, I don't. I have a lot to say (and a lot of people to help!), so I prioritize speed. I only get feedback on really big written materials like the outlines for my courses! And even then, those aren't scripts, just high-level pieces.

  • 16
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a month ago

    So here's my primer on how I write. I should probably turn this into a course later. Anyways, let's just dive in.

    Make Sure Spelling And Grammar Are On Point

    It's pretty crazy to me how some engineers are making $250,000+ per year and type out some of the worst English I've ever seen. I understand that English isn't the 1st language of most engineers (including me!), but there's no excuse to have poor spelling/grammar nowadays due to awesome tools like Grammarly.

    This is a low-hanging fruit that adds so much to the resonance of your writing. I noticed that your post has very clean spelling/grammar/punctuation so you're already on the right track!

    Organize And Split Up Ideas

    "Wall of text" is the next super common failure mode I see when people write. It's just a slog to read 15+ lines of text with 0 breaks, especially if spelling/grammar are poor.

    This is why you'll see me constantly adding line breaks, bullet points, and headers. In fact, you can see me doing this literally right now!

    This is another low-hanging fruit that takes like 1-2 minutes to implement. If it's too hard for you to do it while writing, just write out all your stuff and break it up afterwards.

    Be Positive. Inspire.

    There is waaaaay too much negativity in the world. The engineering world doesn't need any more people telling you that every company is evil and every manager is the spawn of Satan so you should just leave your current job (that'll totally fix everything right?).

    I've always been a "Glass half full" type person. However, I've also always done a good job of not mincing words and being honest with people: I don't sugarcoat. I got a ton of points for that as a mentor which is why my mentees loved me so much and got promoted so fast.

    My approach is to be transparent and then share advice to improve your situation, because it's incredibly rare for a situation to literally be completely hopeless and impossible. In 99% of cases, there is something you can do to make things better, even if it's just incremental improvement.

    I'm not that smart. But what I am good at is learning quickly from mistakes (and making lots of them 🤣) and being deeply empathetic with people, which makes them want to help me. I truly believe that anybody can do what I did. I grew up as a painfully shy introvert with near 0 friends. If I can succeed, so can you.

    Talk Normally (Like A Friendly Human Would)

    You can see this with my response right now as well. Emojis are a corollary for the facial expressions I would make if I was telling this to a person IRL. Things like "waaaaay" are things I also say verbally in a regular person-to-person conversations. Having a casual vibe makes your writing a lot more exciting (and retentive) because people feel like they're listening to someone instead of slogging through a wall of text.

    Respect The Nuance

    I almost never talk in absolutes, because it's incredibly rare for something to be the optimal path 100% of the time. You'll see this in how I use tentative language a lot.

    Another thing I do is to proactively handle the edge cases. You'll see me write a lot of things like "Try this, and if it doesn't work, try this". Thinking 1 step ahead is very important and saves everyone time. This applies to code as well, because thinking through system design and edge cases proactively is a massive productivity boost and a sign of senior+ engineer behavior.

    Conclusion

    For folks reading this, you'll probably find this overwhelming and that's okay! My advice is to take all of these tips 1 at a time. If you improve just a little bit every day and have the mentality of building up muscle memory, you'll genuinely get better super fast. It's not rocket science: If you want to get better at a thing, just do the thing a lot.

    Lastly, here's another thread that covers this all in more detail: "How to make communication succinct and more impactful?"