How do the Experts Become Experts?

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What do you do when something goes wrong with an installation or you see some error message that you have never seen before? Most likely, you’ll ‘Google it’ to find the answer. Often, you’ll find a blog post, article, or forum thread describing the same or similar problem along with a possible solution. It’s surprising that most of the time, someone, somewhere, has already encountered the issue and figured it out. If you don’t find the answer, you can always post your question on a forum or even on Twitter and, usually, someone will provide an answer in a short time. I’ve noticed that the same names show up with the answers, blog posts, and articles again and again for a given subject area. These people are the experts that we rely on. I often wonder how they know so much and how they became experts.

My first thought is that they must have ‘insider information,’ such as some friends at Microsoft. For some experts this is true. I recently ran into a technical issue on Azure while editing an article. It turned out that a recent update had introduced a bug to the functionality I was testing. The author I was working with was able to find out from the Azure team when the bug was fixed so I could continue editing the article. Microsoft does depend on people in the community for feedback and to help drive the direction of their products. Many of these people are answering questions and writing blogs and articles about solving the issues.

Some folks do have insider information through the MVP (Most Valuable Professional) award program. Of course, this type of information can’t be shared with the public until it’s announced by Microsoft, but Microsoft does have a great relationship with the MVPs. I’ve even taken advantage of this relationship as an MVP myself. When writing my 2016 Reporting Services book a couple of years ago, I was able to get several answers from the team about the new features. This helped me out quite a bit since there was not much documentation available at that point.

I’ve also wondered if the experts have a sort of sixth sense when it comes to operating systems, programming, databases, or whatever the topic may be. From the outside, they make everything look so easy. What I realized is that they have spent so much time working with the technology, they have run into many common problems. They may also purposely ‘break’ things to test the limits. One thing I’m sure of, you learn a lot when things go wrong.

In addition to having some friends on the inside, lots of experience, and a willingness to experiment with the technology, these people share what they know with the rest of us. That makes our jobs easier, and for that, I thank them.

Do you have some ideas about how experts got that way?

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