How Do We Prove Expertise?

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Today we have a guest editorial from Grant Fritchey as Steve is away on his sabbatical.

Without getting into the politics (please!), there’s a fascinating debate going on about how the concept of expertise is dying. Depending on your point of view, it could be that expertise is perfectly fine, but the internet, social media and changes to society’s approach to expertise means that expertise is trusted less and less. Alternatively, your view may be that the “experts” are just not actually expert in their field, despite having a degree from Prestigious U, thereby earning less trust. Arguments and counterfactuals exist supporting or destroying either point of view. I don’t want to enter the debate, however, it brings up another one.

There is a very long and old debate within the IT community as regards to expertise. For some, there is a single path. You first attend university and get a degree in IT. Next, you get a stack of certifications. Ta-Da! Through all this gathering of knowledge, you are an expert and worthy of being listened to. For others, what matters isn’t a stack of embossed pieces of paper on your desk, but rather a successful track record. You build a database that works. Then you build another. You recover from a disaster. You create expertise through learning and doing things. The necessity of an external acknowledgement of your expertise is unnecessary.

The fact is that the truth is a muddled gray swamp covering both points of view more or less equally. Note, I didn’t say “in the middle.” There is plenty of evidence to back up either point of view. Some wildly successful people have followed the traditional path and equally wildly successful people who didn’t. Also, there are people who have followed both paths that I wouldn’t trust to run a backup on a dev database. To me, the argument is silly because both sides can point to success. No, to me, the real argument is, how do we prove expertise?

See, the question matters, not to us, because we can very quickly tell if you know what you’re talking about or not. The question matters to all those people out there who don’t have a clue what we do, yet, are trying to hire us. For them, this question, do you measure expertise by what people have done or by the pieces of paper they hold, is brutally difficult. Now, I know, raising it at all is likely to throw benzine on the fire. However, I’m interested in one question:

How do we, regardless of our personal path, help both the people who are trying to hire “experts” and the people who are aspiring to be “experts” get together successfully?

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