What makes you an expert?
It's a tricky question we've been thinking about as we consider definitions for what "expert" means in the My developerWorks
community. It's one of the things I think makes My developerWorks so cool - you can find developers who know things, who've already done things, and you can learn from them. But one of the questions that comes up is what it means if we say someone is an "expert".
It's possible to be too vague about it. For example, I could declare myself to be an expert at making desserts (because this is something I know too much about!) But what does this self-declaration actually mean? Without definition it could mean anything. Does it mean I've made a certain quantity of desserts? Does it mean I've mastered certain techniques? Does it mean I have a broad scope of dessert expertise - that I've made a wide variety of international desserts? Does it mean I've graduated from a culinary school?
But it's also possible to be too specific about defining an "expert". I could say I can't declare myself to be an expert at desserts unless I meet a complicated set of criteria. There could be various levels and subcategories of expertise and specific criteria and tests for each one that have to be tested and judged by an impartial third party.
As we think about defining the word "expert" in My developerWorks, we struggle between these two extremes. Should we leave the definition of "expert" loose and undefined risking it being meaningless? Or should we define it within an inch of it's life and make it near impossible to achieve? We don't have the answer yet, but in the meantime, this got me to thinking about expertise itself. Having talked to some (very humble, in my opinion) members of My developerWorks, they have said "Well, I'm not an expert... I don't have anything to share with the community... I'm not that advanced... I like to watch and learn from other people who know more than me." I understand and can relate to this feeling at times!
But what happens if you start to think of expertise as a continuum, instead of a definitive label? You might be reluctant to declare yourself an "expert", but if you think about it as a continuum you may have more to share than you realize.
For example, I've spent countless hours over many years working on Lotus Notes, word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications. If you asked me if I was an expert, I might cringe and say no. But I've actually picked up many tips and my own personal ways of working with these applications to make things faster and simpler in the work I do every day. I might not be a textbook or manual on these applications, but when it all comes down to it, I have alot of simple things I can share with other people using them. After all, that's how I learned many of them - from another user who was willing to share what they knew! When I think about it, I've learned alot more about technology from people than from reading manuals.
Maybe what you know is more important than attaching a label to it. Maybe if you think of expertise as a continuum, you have more to share than you think. So I'm happy to declare, I may not be an expert, but I have a lot to share!What do you think? What does "expertise" mean to you? If you're looking for an "expert" in My developerWorks to help you with something, what kind of expertise are you expecting?