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Readin’, Ritin’ and R’ithmatic

December 17, 2018

There’s an old Dilbert cartoon where the Pointy-Haired Boss informed Dilbert that he has recently run spellcheck on his code.

And don’t even get me started on your punctuation.

I have a friend who wants to be a comedian. He’s young. He has no experience. He doesn’t think school is important. He’s going to be a comedian, right? He’s going to stand on stage and tell jokes. Who needs school for that?

I’m not sure my friend knows that I’m friends with several professional comedians. Full-time, travelling comics, not just open mic’ers. Everyone one I know who is making a living has a university degree.

I had a guy on my team one time who deserved to be promoted. His previous manager had told him “work harder.” That’s stupid advice. Hard work is important. I have great respect for people who work hard, and not much respect for people who are lazy. But, “work harder” is stupid advice. Harder how? Punch the keyboard harder? Stare harder at your screen?

The guy really did deserve to be promoted. And he was already a hard worker. But, his problem was he was an engineer, not a marketing guy. And he couldn’t spell. I mean, he was a terrible speller. And he didn’t seem to know.

The funny thing is that we were the email team. Outlook has a built in spellchecker. But, it’s not on by default.

First step in getting him promoted was to get him to turn on spellcheck. He’s now a Vice President of technology at a large bank. Spellcheck wasn’t the only thing that got him promoted, of course. But, it was an important thing.

You might think that writing isn’t important at your job. Maybe you’re an engineer, or a phone service agent or even a comedian. Here’s the secret: every job require good writing skills.

Because every job requires you to communicate. Every job requires you communicate with other people. And every time you send an email people use it to judge you. Write a brilliant compelling argument for a new proposal, and people will notice. Mispell a siimple word in an email and people think your not very smart.

And the funny thing is that often technical people are terrible at writing. Too often we use it as a crutch. But, it’s important.

My engineer friend found that something as simple as turning on spellcheck would change people perception. My friends who are comedians will tell you that performing is only a part of being a comic. The real work, the hard work is writing. Comedy has a pattern. It’s nearly impossible to teach. Some would say it is impossible to teach.

Writing is a binary skill. Either it’s helping you or it’s hurting you.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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