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In this humorous and witty piece, Jai Kumar shares their thoughts on the similarities between coding and writing. Their experience with coding allows them to see ENGLWRIT 112: College Writing in a new, unconventional light, and helps them to grapple with the challenges encountered in this class. In their discussion of the key takeaways from College Writing, captured in snappy catchphrases, they also demonstrate a keen awareness of their audience for this piece.
Jagath Jai Kumar
ENGLWRIT 112: College Writing
Day Month Year
AW&W: Always Writing and Writing
Write a piece of code, toss it out, and start over again. Write a new piece of code, tweak, and refactor. Show it to a friend, and ask her what she thinks. Clean up the syntax and compile. In a nutshell, the coding process boils down to four simple steps: draft, revise, peer edit, and proofread. Seems familiar?
Writing, in its plethora of forms, is all around you at all times. Whether you are reading an article on your smartphone, or reading the code that powers your app, evidence of the writing process can be found wherever you are. But I know you, and I am sure you will argue that writers and programmers are different, and they follow radically different paths to achieve their goals. As a programmer, you challenge the idea that an excellent writer and a veteran hacker have anything in common, let alone their defining set of ideologies. As a young writer, you find writing difficult: crafting a research paper is boring, writing multiple drafts is discouraging, and writing for a specific audience is confusing. Fortunately, my experiences in College Writing 112 have shown me that writing and programming follow the same process, and the main mantras of coding are extremely applicable to writing essays as well.
Unit 1 Mantra: Fail Fast and Fail Often
Your first essay for 112 is an introspective investigation into one of your social contexts, and you will be required to write and ultimately submit 4 drafts for this portfolio. The key to succeeding at this assignment is to follow the classic motto of Silicon Valley: Fail Fast and Fail Often. In program development, this idea is critical because it encourages a developer to try out multiple different ideas and choose the one that works best for accomplishing his goal. For this essay, I went through three different first drafts before selecting the one that I could support the best with personal details and vivid descriptions. Then, I needed the courage (and motivation) to scrap my first draft and rewrite the whole paper with the same ideas. After several iterations of the paper, I finally felt confident in my final draft. Applying the mantra of Silicon Valley helped me to work through the numerous editions I had to write for this paper, and it made me comfortable with the process of building with multiple iterations. I was later able to apply my new skills to programming for a project in which I had to manage multiple versions of code the same way. Unit 1 was an extremely helpful portfolio that helped me to understand the importance of multiple drafts in both writing and programming.
Unit 2 Mantra: Don’t Repeat Yourself (DRY)
Responding to a text was the concept for Unit 2, but the real challenge centered on providing a unique perspective in an engaging and focused way. The coding lesson you should apply for this project is the first mantra you ever learned when you began to program: Don’t Repeat Yourself. This is a simple message, but it is extremely important in programming. In writing, the mantra can be generalized to be: Don’t Repeat Others. The main idea for this portfolio was to generate distinctive responses to the points made in a personal essay written by a professional author. This assignment was not a summary; there should be no repetition of words from the original essay. When writing this essay, I brainstormed a substantial list of possible response topics before selecting the few that I had strong connections with. I made sure that my points were related to the topics that the original author made, but the ideas that I provided were completely my own. Reflecting back on the assignment as a whole, I feel that this portfolio had the least impact for me. I was not particularly interested in the piece I was responding to, and I think that showed in my final paper. Because I was not interested in the topic, I think this was also the hardest paper for me to write. I would have appreciated the ability to select any essay to respond to for this paper, not merely the sample of works contained in Opening Conversations. However, this portfolio did allow me to employ the Don’t Repeat Yourself or Others mantra in my writing.
Unit 3 Mantra: Descriptive and Meaningful Phrases (DAMP)
In programming, extracting the most information possible from every line is essential for detailed and expressive code, and the same principle applied for my research paper. Descriptive and Meaningful Phrases is one of the most important mantras in programming, and it heavily relates to the research paper for Unit 3. Every line in a piece of code is extremely valuable, and each line needs to be treated with as much weight as any other. I applied this same principle to my research paper for Unit 3. I chose to write about the merging of Kinesiology and Computer Science at the Physical Activity and Health Lab at UMass, which is an exceedingly interesting topic for me. As a result, I found that this unit was actually the easiest of the four, and it had a monumental impact in furthering my development as a research writer. While conducting research, I read numerous publications and conferred with multiple members of the lab to gain as much data as possible. Transferring all this knowledge to the essay required me to imbue every sentence I wrote with clarity and cohesiveness. When actually crafting my draft, I focused on bringing the most content and information out of every sentence. Ultimately this portfolio was the most impactful for me as a writer because it combined all the previous skills I had acquired over the course of the semester.
Unit 4 Mantra: Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS)
The final portfolio for 112 involved transforming the academic level research paper into an evocative and understandable presentation for my classmates. Unfortunately for me, my research paper delved into complex and high level topics in kinesiology that required a background that most of my audience for this presentation did not have. The fourth and final coding mantra, Keep it Simple Stupid, had a significant impact in shaping my Unit 4 experience. In order to convey the main ideas from my research paper to my audience of classmates, I reoriented the focus of my presentation to center around the importance of skillfully diverse teams in science, with the UMass Health Lab as an example. This allowed me to simplify the language of my presentation, and use relatable and applicable examples of effective teams to easily convey my main ideas. I am usually a confident public speaker, and I believe the delivery of my presentation was both engaging and informative for my classmates. While I do not feel like I improved as a speaker as a result of this portfolio, I certainly benefited from the practice of preparing a presentation for an audience with a minimal research background.
By applying the mantras of coding to my writing throughout the semester, I found that writing made me a better programmer, and programming made me a better writer. These four simple coding mantras helped get through each portfolio, and ultimately I believe that my writing has improved significantly with each unit. I now feel comfortable writing multiple drafts for an assignment, writing a complex and in-depth research paper, and transforming my research into a presentation that anyone can understand. As my skills grow as a programmer throughout my academic career, I know I will grow as a writer as well.