Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Illusion of Expertise

Replacing a section of my front
step. Definitely not my area
of expertise.
How much time does it take to become an expert with a new thing?

Let's pick a language.

I mentored a Junior Engineer on a work term who did some Perl development for our project. He then applied to work with us full-time when he graduated. Hey, I must have done something right to have him want to come back.

When reviewing his resume he had listed Expert Perl Knowledge or some such phrase. He wrote 2 scripts for us based off of scripts I had written. I asked him in the interview if he had done more with Perl after we introduced him to it. Nope.

Expert level knowledge? Sheesh!

As a professional developer I get asked to solved problems I have no idea how to solve every day. It's par for the job.

This is no different than many jobs I am sure. I know I have asked building contractors to build or fix something that they've never built or fixed before. So as a professional your expertise comes from being able to tackle these problems without fear. I am paying them for their past experience and ability to successfully deliver; same goes for being a software developer.

What do I mean by without fear?

I have worked with people that say they can't do something since it is outside the realm of their experience? They are asked to add some new functionality to an existing app or script and they say they can't, they don't know that language. I think this is the wrong attitude.

As an Expert, you are expected to step up and say, "Sure, I don't know that language but the program is already written and it just needs some small changes. I can take that on and learn a bit about the language it is written in at the same time. Thanks."

That's how I like to approach tasks outside my realm of Expertise. With contracting, this has become something I have to say more often. Does it slow me down to learn a new language? Sure, I don't know it off the top of my head but with the wealth of information on the web and help within IDEs, there is no reason not to jump in and try out a new language.

If you think you need to be trained in a language or domain to work in it, then you are missing out on being more useful to your team. Being willing to jump in and work in any language is a plus for you in your career that will make you more valuable as an employee.

Don't fear your lack of expertise. Dive in and take on challenges. You grow more from them than staying in your comfortable shell.

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