Perhaps you've been hectored recently about learning to code. Everyone should understand at least a little bit about computer programming, a host of high-profile leaders have been loudly and continuously insisting. But here's the thing--that doesn't mean you don't have to be able to write proper and engaging English as well.

That's the message former Microsoft engineer Mike Borozdin (he's now senior director of engineering at DocuSign) delivered when he spoke to Business Insider recently. Solid tech skills are great, Borozdin insists, but even if you're a top programmer, you're still going to need to express yourself clearly in writing.

Writing code is not enough

"I would advise folks in software to do one thing and that's write," he insisted. "Learn how to write ... It's actually useful. You need to know how to express yourself. And it's really tough for a lot of engineers to step up and do public speaking." Borozdin goes on to explain that being able to communicate in writing will help technologists not only get credit for their ideas but also explain their creations to others.

"Once you create a successful piece of software, you're probably going to be writing English as much as you're going to be writing Java or Objective C," he tells fellow programmers.

Entrepreneurs, I'm looking at you ...

But it's not just techies that are sometimes letting their writing skills slide--and not just Borozdin that's warning against it.

"Even in this age of videos and text messages, the quickest way to kill your startup dream with investors, business partners, or even customers is embarrassingly poor writing. Being very visible in the startup community, I still get an amazing number of badly written emails, rambling executive summaries, and business plans with one paragraph per chapter," startup adviser Martin Zwilling has written on Forbes.com.

The problem runs deep, according to entrepreneur Rob Leathern. "There is a youth writing crisis in the United States," he points out on Medium. "At least, that is what the data suggests--only 27 percent of 12th-grade high school students perform at or above the 'proficient' level in writing, according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, with only 3 percent being classified as 'advanced.'"

Which might be why some of America's top CEOs are insisting that their teams flex their writing muscles. Jeff Bezos famously forces executives to pen long-form memos outlining their thoughts before meetings, for example, while Evernote CEO Phil Libin gives job candidates a serious writing test.

So before you tell yourself it's OK if you can't really compose much above a 140-character text because of your exceptional tech skills or mind-blowing business abilities, be warned that career success still means being able to write well--no matter what else your résumé has to offer. (P.S.: Developing a regular reading habit is probably a good idea too.)

Do you agree that too many would-be business leaders neglect their writing skills?

Published on: Oct 23, 2015