Becoming Qualified

Recently, I wrote some tips for Safari Book Online’s blog — on jQuery & CSS widgets that I’ve built in the last few months:

I’m pretty happy with these. I have done quite a bit of tech writing, but it’s usually been for government projects, which means very few portfolio pieces. And while I don’t normally talk about software stuff on this blog, I thought I would use the opportunity to talk about process. Since that’s a big part of why people follow this blog.

For the last few years, whenever I’ve written anything — technical, writing craft, RPGs, whatever — it started with an important thought:

It doesn’t matter if I’m not qualified to write about this. I will either become qualified enough or throw it away.

This is essentially a specific version of not telling yourself “no”. To try things and see what happens. Either you’ll become qualified in the process, or your piece won’t be worth publishing. Either way, you’ll learn something.

So let’s talk about how to become qualified:

  • Try things
  • Talk with people who know about what you’re doing
  • Do peer review
  • Dare to be wrong publicly
  • Consider & process criticism

I’ve been doing this in my technical field for years behind closed doors, so writing how-to documentation with tested code snippets isn’t really a big deal. especially when you have folks for peer review[1] and good editors. But the only way I was able to crank out those articles, these blog posts, various games, etc., was to try things I wasn’t qualified to do in the first place.

So, you know, do that. Years down the road, you’ll be happy you did.

- Ryan

P.S. Today, I drive from Northern California to Denver, so I’ll be out of touch for two or three days.

[1] Thanks to Tracy Hurley for some peer review on the above articles