A Different Take on Expertise

Saw a great post, Today’s Noise, Tomorrow’s Dinosaur on General Musing.

One of the points I make in Driving Technical Change is that expertise constantly decays. Every piece of technology out there today is evolving and changing. If you stop paying attention to areas of your knowledge, then you will lose expert status.

The author disagrees with me. He states:

I think this is a sweeping generalization which I believe is wrong, and I know is wrong for me. I regularly go on sabbatical for 3-6 months where I don’t or hardy use a computer, with hardly I mean I checked my mail once after 3 months. In this time due to the fact that I’m traveling I don’t read computer books or magazines. Coming back after this time I notice one important thing, nothing has changed except the version numbers. New features have been added to old software, new design patterns have been thought up and new frameworks have been created, whole sections of the linux kernel have been rewritten. And with in a week I am at my expertise level, and a week later I have covered most of the important things I’ve missed.

Impressive that he is able to do so. I, of course, think he is an outlier. However, I agree that 3-6 months off won’t kill your expertise, assuming the rest of the time you are working on it.

What I do agree with him about is the idea that there is a lot of noise out there, and following it doesn’t add to expertise. He’s right that following every single release note, or bleeding edge build of your tools won’t help your expertise.

But I still believe you need to keep up to date on expertise maintenance information. I also believe tuning it out for long periods will cause your expertise to atrophy.

The hard part is to judge what is noise and what is signal.

For me, it, like many things, is like pornography, “I know it when I see it.” If I had to categorize what fits that bill for me, it usually comes down to source. Certain sources–bloggers, publications, companies–seem to always put things out that expand my thinking, illuminate choices, and convey tough concepts in easy to understand metaphor.

So, sorry no easy answer, but I can at least tell you it’s not in the release notes.

4 thoughts on “A Different Take on Expertise

  1. This is especially important when one is unemployed and wants to remain in the field. (Or if circumstances dictate that one take a backseat to the working world for a time period, such as women who take the time off to raise children or care for ill family members.) Especially in a high-paced tech field.


  2. It depends on the niche you have in the field. Even those trying hard to keep up as generalists will get behind since many don’t have access to the platforms or systems to use. Just keeping up with Adobe technologies is a full time job.

    One thing I have learned over the years is that technology is a leap frog area. If you were slogging through doing Fortran or Pascal, you may have missed the Java or C++ development skills. The younger folks who grew up with those will eat your lunch for a while, then you can learn the next thing down the pipe and leap frog them.

    If you have tech in your blood (and brain,) you can learn the new stuff. You will never keep up with the tidal wave of information. Even then, it is a job to sift through all the noise to get to the good information.


  3. The mere chance to be able to take a sabbatical like that and still be able to live is still outside of the realms of hope for many of us lesser techs! Guess I’ll stick to doing my joomla cms websites for now lol.


  4. Thanks for mentioning my post. At the point the release notes arrive there have been 15 other points at which signal or noise have been produced. Newsweek had in interesting article on information overload, it mentions:

    “The brain is wired to notice change over stasis. An arriving email that pops to the top of your BlackBerry qualifies as a change; so does a new Facebook post. We are conditioned to give greater weight in our decision-making machinery to what is latest, not what is more important or more interesting.”[1]

    [1] http://www.newsweek.com/2011/02/27/i-can-t-think.html

    My full comments on this article will appear on my blog monday.


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