Writing in the Workplace: Jesse O’Connor, Software Engineer at Meltwater

Welcome to “Writing in the Workplace.” This biweekly series will focus on how professionals-in any field of work- use writing. If there are industries you’d like us to spotlight or you’re interested in being featured, we’re only a tweet away!


Jesse O’Connor is software engineer at Meltwater in Manchester, NH. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a BS in computer science in 2013.1424311751731  

What mediums do you rely on for your writing?

Before any idea gets into my code, every possible scenario resulting from its addition must be considered; the easiest way to do this is on a whiteboard (think A Beautiful Mind). When I have a change in mind to help improve productivity for me and my fellow developers, I write up proposal documents and present them at our next community meeting. Outside of the people in my office, I also work with people in San-Francisco and Jaipur, India. With the California team members, I can usually get away with instant messages and a Skype call if I sense confusion; because my Indian coworkers are 10 hours ahead of us and would need to stay up very late to have face to face communication, I prefer to let them sleep and just descriptively email them instead.

Last but certainly not least, the code itself is where most of my writing takes place.

Describe your writing process20140420_162241

Code is a living thing, a manifestation of our product. My team needs to be extremely conscious of the code being let into a given project because there’s always potential for negative ramifications. Planning is the key to our success. When writing documentation, I try to explain whatever I’m saying as if I were teaching someone from scratch. I also try to use concepts that are well defined and can be looked up on Wikipedia: I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel.

What kind of feedback do you seek out for your writing?

I eagerly seek feedback for all of my writing at work, especially in my code. There is a common concept in development culture known as code review. It commonly means that a piece of functionality (code) cannot get into the product before a peer has reviewed it.

What has been your most challenging writing experience?

An instance involving communication between myself and an Indian team member. I was concerned about how she was implementing a feature so I emailed her about it. Emails turned into phone calls, and I found her very difficult to understand. When I would say “What was that?” or “I didn’t understand,” she would think that she needed to repeat what she’d already said using different words: what I wanted was the same content delivered slower and more clearly. After some cultural awareness research and trial and error, I’ve found that my previous confusion can be avoided by being very explicit and simply saying  “can you please slow down.”

What has been your most meaningful writing experience?

Outside of what I mentioned above, I’d say a proposal I had for an architectural change t20140922_152523he code on a project I was collaborating on; it was a mutation that, though small, increased efficiency team-wide.

What’s your favorite way to procrastinate?

Easy: Web surf. If one article is interesting, there’s always a link to another one hidden somewhere. Otherwise, I just like to think. I just started a project with a coworker outside of work; to complete it I need to learn new technologies. It’s extremely satisfying to take a break from work to research these new tools.

Do you listen to music while writing? What kind?

Hell yeah. All day. When I don’t need to meet with anyone and I have no confusion on what I need to do, I am able to just pop my headphones on and float to music land. Coding becomes a pretty absorbing thing. You forget that you’re sitting in a chair typing, and that your looking at an artificial display; you are just building, exploring the rules of the world your building in, and everything is part of the experience, Including the music. Oh, and I typically listen to bluesy alternative. Definitely music with lyrics.

Most important book you’ve read?

I have not read very many books on computer science but I definitely plan on getting around to doing so. There are a few “Grandfathers of Computer Science” whose works I need to read. But I would say the most important book that I’ve read to date in regards to work is titled Effective Communication. It was a brilliant book that helps me spot instances of miscommunication much sooner that I ever could have previously.

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