Email is still important in spite of the influx of numerous other communication tools. I’d contend that written communication, email specifically, has become even more important with the increasingly remote and distributed nature of our work as Java Developers. Email helps us clarify our thoughts, provides crucial context, allow for more productive meetings, and leaves a paper trail. All things that benefit us, our work, and protects our precious time.
Clarify Our Thoughts
There is some bit of magic that happens when we write things down. I don’t know the psychological reasons for it, but the act of translating concepts from our minds to a physical medium enhances understanding markedly. This is especially true with the complicated nature of issues that we deal with in the development world.
How often has this happened to you? You start writing a work email and halfway through you realize you’ve missed a crucial use case. Sometimes a vexing problem’s solution becomes crystal clear just by writing about it. If you’re like me, it happens way more than we’d like to admit. A Drafts folder full of half-written emails is a good sign. It means you’ve solved a number of problems by the mere act of writing an email and never had to hit send.
It Provides Crucial Context
Having a common context in which to examine a problem is tremendously useful. It’s also one of the biggest potential benefits of email. It’s a shame that email is too often neglected for this purpose and so often used for other trivialities.
Many complex topics we deal with daily require time to digest and fully mentally explore. You surely can come up with more thoughtful insights and questions on a topic you’ve had time to think about. Instead, we too often have to consider complex matters in real time in a meeting setting. This is of course far from optimal and easily remedied.
It Makes for Better Meetings
How many meetings have you sat through whose supposed purpose was some nebulous topic like “Business Requirements?” Those are usually the most useless because nobody took the time to write a good email to lay out exactly what that means. Even if requirements in the email were wrong or incomplete, it would barely be less beneficial. At least everyone would be starting with a common context in that scenario.
A good precursor email to a meeting can vastly improve the outcome, reduce the duration, or even negate the need for the meeting altogether. Every one of those situations is a big win, not only for us Devs who avoid having our souls destroyed, but also for management and the company’s bottom line. Multiply each meeting participant’s calculated hourly rate by the duration of the meeting in minutes/60 and there you go.
It Leaves a Paper Trail
I remember when I started my first programming job over 15 years ago there was a Team Lead who’d been with the company 30 years. One day she was annoyed because the Email Support team had told her she was running out of space on her Lotus Notes email account. She had saved every email she ever sent. Naively, I asked her “why,” and she proceeded to give me a much-needed lesson in the art of CYA in the corporate world.
Any of us who’ve worked in the corporate world for any length of time will have experienced some less-than-ethical characters at work. Keeping email chains of correspondence is just common sense in any significantly large organization. Sending emails and saving them are also great ways to prevent unsavory characters from attempting any chicanery in the first place. It’s much better to prevent these problems than try to deal with the aftermath.
As Developers we must protect our time. Emails are a great way to do this.
They let us:
- Take the time to perform our knowledge work on our own schedule.
- Share our insights with others so we’re all operating from a common context.
- Help keep a meeting focused and on-task to prevent a huge time sink.
- Protect ourselves from unscrupulous corporate goblins.
**Cross post from my blog here: Email is Still Important