Should coders learn to write prose?

Does spinning a good yarn translate into good code writing?

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These days, MIT has replaced that writing requirement for all undergraduate students with a more comprehensive communications requirement. It requires students to take four communication-intensive courses, two in humanities, arts and social sciences and two in the student’s major, that teach oral and written communications skills.

What kind of writing skills (if any) are required of students at other top computer science schools? I took a spin through the undergraduate requirements at a few and here’s what I found:

Stanford has a two-phase writing and rhetoric requirement (boy, I like the sound of that!) so that all undergrads will be able to “express themselves effectively in writing and speech.”

Cal-Berkeley has an entry-level writing requirement that all incoming freshmen must pass. In addition CS majors must also complete a reading and composition requirement.

Carnegie Mellon University seems to be less concerned about writing skills, thought they do requiring CS majors to take a technical communications course. However, any CMU students or grads should feel free to correct me if there are other writing requirements for an undergraduate CS degree that I missed.

So, while the depth of the writing and communications requirements for computer science majors vary across programs, it’s good to see that they all require something along these lines. It really is a skill that you’ll need, even if you dream of being squirreled away to write code alone (or in pairs).

Keep in mind, though, that while writing skills won’t help your coding, per se, they sure don’t hurt your ability to write good - or at least entertaining - comments in your code. If I had known that 25 years ago, I might have taken more writing classes.

* MIT also, famously, had (and still has) a swimming requirement for all students, which is a serious issue for some. Luckily, I passed that on my first try as well. Whew!

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