Think and Write, with Leslie Lamport

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Leslie Lamport is an American computer scientist. Lamport is best known for his seminal work in distributed systems and as the initial developer of the document preparation system LaTeX. Leslie Lamport was the winner of the 2013 Turing Award for imposing clear, well-defined coherence on the seemingly chaotic behavior of distributed computing systems, in which several autonomous computers communicate with each other by passing messages. He devised important algorithms and developed formal modeling and verification protocols that improve the quality of real distributed systems. These contributions have resulted in improved correctness, performance, and reliability of computer systems.


ES: This is 5 Minute Mentor, a podcast where you’ll get advice from prominent engineers, authors, artists, and more in 5 minutes or less.

LL: I’m Leslie Lamport from Microsoft Research. I’ve been a researcher most of my adult life, that means I’ve primarily been a writer and also a performer. I’ve written papers and I’ve performed talks at conferences and other venues. I’ve been successful because I’m a pretty good writer.

LL: Good writing will be crucial to your success. The most obvious reason is because people will judge you by your writing, not just by reports or papers that you write, but also by your emails and texts. What does it tell you about a person, if he sends you email with lots of errors, and with sentences that make no sense?

LL: Learning to write well takes practice. You have to think before you write, and then you have to read what you wrote and think about it. And you have to keep rewriting, re-reading and thinking, until it’s as good as you can make it, even when writing an email or a text.

LL: A less obvious reason to improve your writing, is to improve your thinking. You should think before you write. You should think before you do anything, because it will help you understand what you’re doing, which will help you to do it better. And as someone said, “Writing is nature’s way of showing you how fuzzy your thinking is.” If you think you understand something, and don’t write down your ideas, you only think you’re thinking. To think clearly, you need to be able to write down your ideas clearly, which requires being able to write well.

LL: Learning to write well will improve your thinking. And learning to think better, will improve your writing. It’s a virtuous cycle. You have to write better to think better to write better. And you should start that cycle now, by trying to write better.


Leslie Lamport

Leslie Lamport, Computer Scientist

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