106

I need advice from people who might understand where I'm coming from. I'm the lead engineer on a software product. The company I'm working for recently expressed serious interest in having me blog about it (much to my dread). They even had someone set me up a blog.

I have Asperger's disorder. I'm really good at taking complex software problems and finding wonderfully elegant solutions. I don't know the first thing about writing interesting and engaging text. Writing for me is a difficult problem, one that doesn't have a defined solution.

I'm really struggling with this and it eats into a lot of time I could spend getting things done. I love the company I'm working for, but I'm worried what it'll mean if I tell them I can't do it.

I don't know how to tell my employer that what they are asking for is something that's totally beyond me.

Help or advice anyone?

Update

Thank you everyone! Wow, such great responses, lots of great advice!! It was very hard and took a long time, but I was able to do it. I'm going to stick with it a bit longer in hopes that it gets easier (the first post is probably the hardest, because it sets the tone and such). Thanks for the kind words, all the advice, and even for the kicks in the pants!! =)

139 accepted

You might not like this, but don't use asperger's as a crutch. What you've written here is clear and succinct, so you've shown you can write prose. It doesn't have to be good, or even interesting to anybody but yourself, but just spend some minutes a day writing something about something.

53

Consider the following:

  1. "I have aspergers disorder" No one cares. Seriously. If you've written any good code, we don't care about your personal life. If we knew you, we probably would care. However, we don't know you -- we only know your writing.

  2. "I don't know the first thing about writing interesting and engaging text". Neither do 85% of the bloggers I read. No one cares. Seriously. if you've written any good code, we don't care if your text is not "interesting or engaging" We value factual and helpful.

  3. "Writing for me is a difficult problem, one that doesn't have a defined solution." You're wrong. It has a defined solution. Simplicity, clarity, accuracy, and a good fit with other people who are simple, clear and accurate. Read Knuth or Dijkstra or Wirth. Copy their style.

Get over it. Share your insights. Help other programmers.

30

maybe do a "problem:solution" type of blog. present a problem you faced at work (could be very low level "got this compiler warning" or high level "had to design a system for x") and explain how you solved it.

It will be a good reference for yourself, and others may also read it.

26

As a developer with aspergers myself, I know where you're coming from. As others have pointed out, your writing skills seem up to the challenge. What others may not realize is how long a person with aspergers might take to generate that. I sometimes take hours writing a couple of paragraphs, trying to be sure I communicate precisely what I intend to communicate. If that isn't a problem for you, blogging might actually be a great activity for you. Even if you do excessively deliberate on your writing like I tend to, it still might be a good activity, a good chance to do something akin to socializing, but with structured boundaries.

If I were in your shoes I would ask exactly what they want to get out of the blog, then write a couple of sample posts. Track how much time it took, then convert it to dollars. Show the person in charge what you came up with, and how much it cost. If they think the post you show them is worth $300 (or however much) of your time, fine, go for it.

11

Blogging, unlike a book or a column, is for you and not for someone else - if you realise this I think it will reduce your anxiety level a lot.

9

They want you to blog, they are willing to pay you to do it and willing to give you the time to do it? Public or private?

Seems like a good deal to me. Just like writing documentation or whatever. There's always downtime - waiting on builds, waiting on installs, etc., this is when I usually work on little things. If a blog post takes hours of new research/coding/samples, there needs to be commitment by the company that this is valuable.

If, however, there is no extra compensation or reduction in other expected workload or assistance to build test cases/samples, I'd give it a pass - like so many corporate initiatives, it could just be management following a fad, with no actual commitment.

6

How about hiring a profesional writer?

You could explain your ideas and thoughts, and she/he will put it on paper.

4

I'm not an expert on your condition, but from what I do understand, perhaps you would have better luck with it if you consider it writing for yourself. What advice or documentation (or even experiences) would you like to have seen written before you started your latest misaventure in software development?

I do most of my documentation as a similar exercise.

4

I couldn't agree with Nick Bedord more. You've already written a correct, well-formed, easy-to-understand piece about what you're doing at work and posted it on the internet. How is it different whether you're writing about them asking you to blog, or them asking you to code some nifty widget? Maybe it would help you to think that you're writing it to the SO crowd :)

4

Writing a technical blog does not mean that the content has to be in the same style as any popular non-tech blog on the internet. Focusing on the content rather than worrying too much about the style, at least at the start, might be a good idea.

It does not have to be funny or witty, as long as you are clearly explaining the topic. Not everyone will agree with me on this, but often I find a wikipedia article or a blog written in the same style more useful than a blog explaining the same things and trying to be funny at the same time (even if it does succeed in being funny).

3

I sympathize with your plight. Obviously, blogging is not your vocation. Even if you could do it, this is not what you WANT to do, and you shouldn't be forced to do it! I understand the "suits" PR need for a blog, "keeping in touch with our customers", "opening windows into our company". But, hey, some of us just want to code! Next they would ask you to do community service to improve the company's image.

So what I would do is follow Mr. Ferriss's suggestion and outsource this work to someone in India, and pay for it out of my own pocket.

The 4 Hour Workweek

3

It seems that you can do it, judging by this post. The question then is: 1) how long does it take you (and how much does it take out of you) to write X amount of prose, and 2) how much code could you have written in that time / effort. If you can quantify both of those things, you can go to your employer and ask them to make the tradeoff. (I hope they're not asking you to blog in your spare time, or in addition to everything else you were doing before!)

If they know the tradeoff and still choose blogging, then you have to decide if it's what you want or not -- it might open new doors for you and expose you to new things, but it also might just annoy you and leave you worn out at the end of the day/week. At that point, it's up to you to decide if you want to stay at the job or not.

Another approach, if they really want you to do it but you don't: you could just do it badly until they relent. Presumably they've hired you to be a programmer first and everything else second, and would rather keep the good programmer than lose you to another job over this.

My two cents.

2

Be honest and tell them that you cannot do it and why. HOWEVER, you are willing to give tips to someone that will do it (assuming you are). It is as simple as that. You can also suggest that they have someone more business-oriented (aka someone working in the business) to do it and use you as a technical reference to increase the blog's relevance.

2

One of the most important tasks we face as programmers is communicating our ideas to other people. It's arguably just as important as communicating our ideas to machines. Most projects are done in collaboration with other developers, managers, and designers. And they need to be documented well enough that future developers can maintain them.

So your job is to explain your work in such a way that anyone can understand it. In this case your audience is wider than you're used to, but it's basically the same task. Take a complex technical concept and reduce it to its essentials. Get out of your head a little, and try to look at it from other people's perspective.

Of course, it's difficult for people who don't have Aspergers (I don't) to understand exactly how it affects your ability to communicate. You might want to expand on that in your question. But in any case, it seems like a worthwhile effort to make.

Or -- how about explicitly writing from the perspective of someone with Aspergers? Not sure if your company would go for that, but it could be interesting.

2

Aspergers is not the problem, because your audience might also include a number of aspergers people... the problem is, who is your audience, and what is the purpose of the blog?

Many of the most popular blogs are provocative. They come up with very simple statements that are obviously incorrect, but generate a lot of debate. You should ask your boss about the purpose of the blog, and the intended target audience. If the boss asks back, you can inform your boss that making your customers angry is the shortest path to a large audience...

Another solution can be, that you define the target audience that you communicate well to. If your boss wants to attract attention of nerds, an easy way to do that is to tell about company internal stuff, like how did you solve problem XYZ etc. Ask your boss, how you can easily determine, which of your company internal information, that you can reveal to the outside. Unfortunately, again, the most popular stuff will probably be "how your company failed in helping customers" and stuff like that.

If your Boss says: You are so smart, you must know stuff that others want to read, the answer is simple: "Thanks, but if you want a blog about that kind of stuff, then I need 1-2 days off per week, and I will need a couple of months of practice before I get started." Added value usually comes at a cost, and you need to tell your boss, what the costs are.

All these suggestions share one thing: Your boss is probably not willing to pay the costs that make you able to write a good blog well. Use that in your advantage.

2

If they have asked you them I'm guessing someone in the companies management has seen what you have written in the past (code documentation ?) and liked it so they must think you are up to the job.

In my experience its best not to outright refuse to do something like this or bring up some kind of medical reason why you can't do it as you will come across as being negative. Try saying you will do it but that you have read there are many pitfalls in corporate blogging and/or don't want to accidentally give away any trade secrets. So ask if someone in the senior management of the company could check your posts before they go "live" it may also be worth asking if you can write the blog for a few weeks before the blog is made public. This way both you and the management get to see if you can do this job with no risk of embarrassment to you or the company.

I do agree with previous posters in that your question was so well written I suspect you may be underestimating your own abilities in this field.

Oh and if you can't think of anything to write about just look at other company blogs for posting ideas.

Good Luck.

Ian

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You know it's often the case that the most worthwhile things you've done in your life are the things that have been outside your comfort zone.

There can be no success without challenge.

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You know what, a couple of years ago I would have said that I couldn't write. I did horribly in English/Grammer/Writing in high school.

When I first started blogging it wasn't because someone asked me too, it was just a way for me to write down solutions to problems I'd run into or my thoughts on various programming topics. My intention was just to have a place to store this information in case I needed it again.

To my surprise it didn't take long before I was really enjoying it and other people were liking it and reading it also. Two years later and I am doing some freelance writing at night after my programming day job because I like it so much.

It can't hurt to give it a try. You never know you may be pleasantly surprised.

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Try ask questions and answers to others questions in SO (just as you did it). If you'll be good at - writing a blog will be no problem for you.

Tip. Blog entries doesn't need to be long, they should be usefull.

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The essence of programming and the essence of technical writing (all writing, for that matter) are the same ? the clear expression of ideas. Treat your blog entries like a programming task for which you're seeking the clearest expression and you should be fine.

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Presumably they are impressed by the quality of your programming and the coding solutions you provide them with.

So I would say: publish your actual code or samples - if you can - and say what you can about it in explanation. Don't worry about the structure, the grammar or the professionalism of the blogging itself.

If you aren't a natural educator, then you just aren't; whatever the reason. But if you can bring out some of your thinking in the production of your code, then at least you are broadening access to it and the thought processes, analysis and design, that led to it.

1

Read Elements of Style!

This book was written a long time ago, but it explains how to write prose in a way that could have been custom made for programmers. The similarities between writing and programming are larger than you might think.

Also, I agree with S.Lott.. most bloggers have no idea how to write.

1

Judging by your question, you're a very good writer. Is it that you don't want to write on a blog, or more that you feel you don't have anything to say?

I honestly don't believe that you'd have any problems writing a blog... I'd read it! The way you wrote your question made me read it right to the end, even though I never usually read questions like these. +1

1

Make this your first post. Initially you can have someone post the content if you write it.

Blog what you are interested in and about the problems you are solving. Don;t let it consume you or intimidate you.

Just be yourself and you may or may not have an audience.

Make sure you keep coding well.

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just do it!!! :)

1

check out

http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/

The author has aspergers also and she's a great blogger. Read the blog thoroughly

1

You have stated that your company wants you to create and update blogs on their behalf. I've got some questions to raise:

  • What was the driving force that lead your company to appoint you to create a blog? Is it for marketing/ company visibility reasons, educational reasons, etc.?
  • By setting this blog, would this task of creating blog entries help the company and your clients to boost productivity for your products/services?
  • Should you agree to accept the task of creating blog entries, would there be a process in place, i.e. would your company moderate the items that would be published?

When setting blogs, you have to remember that anything that you will write in your blog will not just reflect your work, but your company as a whole regardless if it is popular or not.

Also keep in mind that the blog that you will be publishing (should you agree to take up the task) will NOT be judged on what your personal background is but for the content that you will produce, which in turn reflect your company's views as well.

Another thing that I would like to raise is that I detect a hint of uncertainty on your part because:

  1. You are entering into an unknown territory where you are tasked to document about something that involves your work and make sure that anything that you document should be "engaging and interesting".
  2. You are also concerned that doing a blog would be an additional workload for you and might affect your other workload as well.

If you are worried about not knowing how to write "engaging and interesting test", I encourage you not to worry because all bloggers started out with boring blogs anyway (even I myself started like this as well). Think of this as a challenge and an opportunity to learn and improve more on how to communicate via text-- I can assure you that at the end of the day, it will be an additional skill asset that will be empowering for you in all aspects of your life. Looking at what you have wrote here is very good and clear, and I encourage you to use it as a starting point for your writing.

On the other hand, if you still have some issues and not comfortable about this, I strongly suggest that you should talk to your superiors and be honest about your concerns. At least both you and your company would know what would be the next action to take if they are really pushing for this blog to happen.

Hope this helps!

0

If you have a valid reason for not wanting to do the blog, and in my estimation Aspergers would probably count, then I think you should explain your situation to whoevers in charge. If you're working somewhere reasonable, then it shouldn't be a large problem.

Other than this, I do agree with Greg. As someone who's written fiction, the biggest problem with writing is actually writing. Write something, even if it's incomprehensible garbage. As long as the ideas are all there, you or anyone else can clean it up. Most programming blogs aren't written in an 'interesting' manner, it's the facts and details themselves which are engaging to your target audience. As long as it's written clearly, the interest will come. From the way your question is written, writing clearly doesn't seem to be an issue for you. So write. Get stuff on paper. Give it a few weeks. If it still isn't working out, then talk to someone. But give it a try first. You may even find you like doing it by the end.

0

Have you thought about asking what you are supposed to put into the blog? There are a couple different routes you could take to my mind:

  • Features of product - Why should someone want to use the product? What cool new features are you putting into it? Alexey Rusakov on Sitecore development could work as an example with Sitecore as his employer.

  • Development of software - In a way this may be more personal but is more interesting to other developers, IMO. Here you'd discuss what method and tools you use and what cool things you did with them in building the product.

Each could have their appeal and maybe the company wants you to pick which way you want to go. The first category does have the cavaet of being labelled as propaganda if the company's marketing department has too much control over it.

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is it a must to write interesting and engaging things? interesting and engaging to who? I see a lot of people opening blogs and trying to be interesting and engaging to others, to the rest, a lot of times forcing their natural behaviour in the interest to sound "cool".. well, it is really an effort, hours spent trying to be fun to others... but a blog is not just for that.

i'd really love to read about how you elegantly solved a complex problem; what were the other not so elegant solutions. that is interesting.

just write about what you do. interesting is what you do, no how you write it. just write about what you do and don't waste time forcing it to sound "engaging", I personally don't care.

good luck =)!

0

Congratulations first and foremost - even though this is a daunting task it's not one they would have given you if they didn't think you were capable of it. Not an opportunity that comes to many technical people who do enjoy writing!

As a secondary option to reading 'The Elements of Style' (great book) I'd pick a blog that you enjoy, try and articulate five reasons that you enjoy it more than any other and try and apply these to your own work.

May also be worth discussing with the business the amount of time they expect you to spend on the blog each week (or the expected 'blog' output) where you would have an opportunity to mention Asperger's as part of a more 'practical' discussion.

Best wishes.

0

As for me (I hardly know anything about your condition, so I'm just sharing my experience with writing texts), I have noticed that writing a certain text (a blog post, a presentation of some code or scientific idea, or whatever) is becoming an ever more intimidating and unclear and anxious-making task for me the more I try to finish the text sitting alone in front of a computer or a piece of paper. I hoped that it's a matter of experience, but it doen't seem to become better the more texts I write.

Becoming more free in the physical space (e.g., taking a walk) makes me a bit more free and clear in my mind, so that I can better and clearer express what I intended to express. The freedom feeling eases a bit the anxiety.

But the most helpful thing is commnicating with someone. If I go and try first tell something in a very free informal manner to someone, then writing it down immediately after I successully communicated the idea to someone can be perhaps 1000 times easier and faster than writing it down just sitting in front of the computer without actual lively communication with people on this topic. Just don't let the encouragement the insteresting communication has given you go away, don't distract yourself to other topics, write down the essential thing.

As for me, I also say to myself and it helps: Don't try to write something complete and perfect in all the aspects of your intended text. First, express the main idea the way you would tell it to someone, and don't be anxious about the imperfectnesses. Then, calm down, look at it once again, re-read it, and go on extending it: add some missing references, notes, some side ideas. Then, perhaps, you might want to expand on some of those "side" ideas. Then look at the text as a whole once again, calmly. Give yourself freedom to imagine how the text could become better (I can't really conciously control my creative activity in thinking and imagining, so it's better not to try to direct oneslf, not even to have a strcit plan or think about a plan, but just feel free and not anxious); perhaps, restructure it, beautify, add illustrations, think of some concept that would go through your text and help organize the presentation so that the text will be more clear and concise to the readers, without involving any distracting, not really relevant notions.

The wiki way of doing small edits step-by-step, ever improving the text helps me a lot. I'm not anxious anymore about it being imperfect: I can return and edit it and extend later. It's much more important that it can be useful to the readers right away, rather than that it is not perfect yet. This idea helps me calm down and lower my anxiety.

I find it unfortunate that one often has to prepare something written down to present one's ideas at scientific seminars, because it's so hard for me to write something clear when I'm alone, and so much easier to write something down after you already have discussed it (at a seminar). It becomes a circular problem: to write something down, I have to discuss it before; to discuss it, I'm supposed to write something down--the thing I'll present at a seminar.

Good luck!