a companion discussion area for blog.codinghorror.com

Are You An Expert?


I now see The Towering Inferno in an entirely new light. Off to Netflix!


Jeff -

Cubanx’s driving analogy is a good example of part of the problem. Being able to drive while fiddling with the radio does not mean one is an expert driver. At what level would you put someone who drives professionally (40+ hours/week) - couriers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, long-haul truckers, etc.? At what level would you put instructors in defensive-driving classes? At what level would you put Mario Andretti or Michael Schumacher? Most of the radio twiddlers actually belong in category 0 or 1, depending on whether they understand their own incompetence or not. This means you (well, statistically, most of you).

Never Ask My Brother’s Lawyer Anything. Nick Anderson Makes Bloody Lovely Ale. You might run a contest, give away a tee-shirt.

  • Lepto


can you read these 6 letters ?

If you copy the image, drop it into paint and zoom it to 400% it is almost readable.


Your post brings to mind two other things:

  • Gladwell’s Outliers, and others, debunking the notion of talent as something innate and intrinsic, instead of as simply the natural side effect of practice and experience
  • Karate martial arts ranking system, where (according to Wikipedia) ‘shodan’, means literally the first/beginning step…black belt is not the end of training but rather as a beginning to advanced learning: the individual now knows how to walk and may thus begin the journey.


Are you an expert? No, even after 25 years of programming, the more you know the less you know. You donít know what you donít know.

Btw, are there any ìhumbleî programmers out there? Based on some of the comments on this blog (and the author himself) one has to wonderÖ


I couldn’t help but think about House M.D. while reading this entry. He’s clearly well-experienced, but as it was shown in season 4 after his team quits, he’s pretty useless alone. He needs other people he can ask questions and get ideas from.


Dadgummit, I ben havin plenty trouble already rememberin all them syntax rules class hararkies such, and now yall got me ta thinkin I done still need ta larn bout experts such, an all them ifs, ands, ur buts bout experts.

Dang, if my noodle ain’t spinnin’ like after drinkin two mucha Jake’s Garonteed Powurful Jiminy-Juice (that there be mooonshine fur yall younguns nevah heard a it.)

Life jus too doggone complee-acated! Time ta go a fishin! Ain’t no experts thereabouts ta git yur dander all up in a spittin match!


Well I must say, any expert should immediately realize that this article is the epitome of irony. Most everyone here is agreeing with an expert in the field of computer science about how you can’t be an expert, simply because the expert said so. Yes I realize Jeff doesn’t think himself an expert, but that’s why people are agreeing with him, because if not for that perception, they’d see right through the ridiculousness of his logic.

Jeff, I realize you don’t think yourself an expert, but others do. And they blindly follow you without critically thinking about the words you type. Only a while back you were pointing out that it takes on average 10 years to become an expert in a given craft.

@Mark Smith - yeah I believe you’re not an expert, you’ve been writing in delphi for 10 years. Try picking up a few more languages and you’ll begin to realize why.

@Jeremy Rishel - Thank you for posting some sanity high in the list, being an expert in something is not impossible, and you ABSOLUTELY CAN AND SHOULD hold a higher bias towards experts, while at the same time deconstructing what they preach in a manner to maintain an internally consistent logical model of the world. Otherwise you’d spend your entire life double checking the research of others and both you and society will never advance past the basics of math. Should you verify Newton’s theory of gravity, or Diophantus’s exploration into early Algebra? Or should you trust them as experts in their field that took them a lifetime to achieve and move on?

@Jeff - The links you reference and your criticisms apply to NON-EXPERTS pretending to be experts. When you meet a real expert in the field, (who’s not a d*ck) then you’ll realize they exist and that you will (not should) evaluate their remarks as truth. Because they can explain and rationalize their statements with evidence and examples. Not because they say so. Wikipedia does that because they have no way to vet the skill of contributors, not because they hold little or no regard towards true experts. Yes, experts can get it wrong sometimes, they’re human, but that doesn’t mean we should chastise the term or think of anyone who considers themselves an expert as a novice with ego issues.

@everyone - Start thinking for yourself. Sure there are bad examples of every type from programmers to librarians. But there most certainly are truly great experts in this world. Teachers, scientists, programmers and even politicians. They are rare because it’s a difficult path. They embody honesty and humility because they’ve been proven wrong and have been humbled by it while traveling that path. But they are most certainly experts, and they do know it. They don’t stop learning, but they do move on to different topics in which they learn because they have mastered previous ones.

Nobody can know everything there is to know about the future of software, but that isn’t the definition of an expert. You can know 95% of what is currently collectively known about software, at which point you’re AN EXPERT.

And I assure you, the technologies you’re working with and the methodologies you use were devised by experts. Amateurs don’t architect frameworks, very few amateurs ever reach such greatness, yet people grip on to figures like Einstein to think they too can become legends in their fields. Not all experts get their frameworks right, but I guarantee you almost every single amateur will write a terrible framework in their career, if they even attempt one to begin with.

If you found Jeff’s post to be insightful and so true, then you missed the contradictions, straw-man logic constructs, and down-right idiocracy-like prophecy in just about every sentence. If you make amateur and mediocrity your goal you will get there, you’ll get there fast (which is gratifying for some) and you’ll never move past it because you will have convinced yourself that’s where you needed to be. And when you get a mass of others telling you the same including perceived figureheads like Jeff, you’ll have completely rationalized it as truth.

oh and @Mitur - Be careful of what conclusions you draw from studies. Your Cornell study only indicates that incompetent people tend to misjudge how stupid they are because the don’t possess metacognitive abilities. Nowhere does the report indicate smart people think they’re stupid (or even less than what they are.) The studies do show a few percentage points off in their estimations and their results for the top tier participants, but the margin in no way provides enough to counter the margin of error you get when you test 140 Cornell students. The social stigma of being a nerd with little self confidence alone is enough to justify those margins. And remember these are Cornell students, of course they’re going to think highly of themselves… they’re 20 year old’s who were accepted to Cornell! Not only that, but you make the conclusion that it’s because they know how much they don’t know - which would mean they know how much they do know (because they have higher metacognitive abilities,) so they should be accurately predicting their results.


Saying the right words is a sign of being intelligent, asking the right questions is the sign of being wise. - Anon



No worries, Jeff! At first I thought you were a l337 dev expert by sheer reputation, but after reading your blog and tweets for a while and watching you screw up features on stackoverflow.com (ever heard of asking users what they want first?), it’s pretty obvious now that you’re just another amateur - but a very interesting one! Keep up the good works!

I’m very glad to see that you haven’t made the number one killer mistake of hubris: thinking that you’re smart, when you really just got lucky - that actually makes you smart!


@Breton, don’t be ridiculous. I’m not being hysterical. I’m sorry if logical arguments offend you.

No need to be sorry. They don’t offend me. though I fail to see what this has to do with the current situation.

You’re whole tactic is condescending ad hominem. I may be guilty of saying something about you which you find offensive. However my argument was not premised on that statement, so I don’t think it qualifies as a logical fallacy. Furthermore it was a true statement, but for sake of clarification, it’s true insofar as you do remind of of a hysterical political pundit, in fact, the more you write, the more you seem to resemble the religious sort of person you’ve kind of brought up out of nowhere. However, I never stated that you actually WERE that sort of person. I am obviously in no sort of position to make such a judgement, internet communications being what they are. so this line of argument is really nothing more than an irrelevant distraction from the real conversation at hand. We can put it to rest here.

I’ve only criticized the view that contradiction for the sake of it has any positive value

Yes I suppose you did, scrolling back, here is your argument, in total:

That’s just stupid. If that’s true then the blog is little more than a farce. If that’s the case, it is a childish way of deflecting criticism and goes against the scholastic notion of presenting ideas cogently, thoughtfully, and sincerely. I’m not saying your wrong, but perhaps your evaluation of it as a good thing is a bit silly.

And well, aside from the fact that I hadn’t evaluated it as either good or bad, there’s really not much here to sink one’s teeth into. You’ve jumped from X is true, then Y, without really anything inbetween to sort of argue why Y MUST follow from X, you know? So it ends up prematurely jumping to a conclusion. In your subsequent posts you’ve focused on superficial details without really addressing this essential failing of your original argument.

while you retort by saying you love the meta-theatre, which is little more than a vacuous, cliche, meta neologism Yet, you act as if I have not addressed anything you have said and ask me to count to ten. Can you not read what you’ve already written?

I can read what I’ve written. Apparently you can’t, because you honestly haven’t addressed anything i’ve written. Well aside from an inconsequential half insult that wasn’t particularly consequential to my argument. You have that bit SOOOO covered.


so to sum up, You think the contradictions in Jeff Atwood’s articles are Just Stupid, a farce, childish. I’ll throw away the silly remark because you only applied it to a strawman.

Do you have anything to add to this stirring critique?


To anyone watching, I hate these huge drama threads. But I just can’t resist a good game of name the logical fallacy. It’s like a sudoku puzzle. Apologies for the mess.

To those who doubt the usefulness, legitimacy, or long history of being insincere in a scholarly setting, I suggest looking up Socratic Irony. Perhaps on wikipedia. It’s quite fascinating.

Also see the series of worse is better articles which have probably been quite inspiring to Jeff’s writing style, judging from the fact that he’s talked about them, linked to them, and written about how inspiring they’ve been to him.


Interesting post. No where else other than the software engineering profession would we have an introspective of what it means to be an expert and the disclaimers and warnings associated with anything handed out from an authority. In any other field, there would be no discussion when someone is thought to be an expert gives an opinion.

I would define an expert as someone who has experience with the subject. And someone who has undergone the pain of dealing with a problem(say a software problem) and has solved it. Therefore when solving problems, an expert who has previous experience in that domain can provide an useful opinion. For example, a novice programmer designing a system would definitely want to heed someone with 10years of experience building similar complex systems. To not do so would be foolish.

Having said that, the problem unique to software is that irrespective of whatever expertise someone might have or how many years they might have under their belt, the new problem that one is facing is unique and different from any other one that the expert might have faced. So it is impossible to take an experts opinion and follow it blindly. Good judgment is still required before deciding if the opinion is valid in this particular scenario.

Experts are important to get some perspectives, but ultimately each decision rests with the actual person working on the problem.


recently i came across http://torjo.com/ and ran away

haha he is really a wanker! haha*

*Own personal comment.


Experts are just former spurts.

And yes, the implication is that this means an expert used to be growing quickly and no longer is.

Because once you think you know it all you stop learning.

Whole post summed up! Woohoo! :slight_smile:


Isn’t this article a little hypocritical? I mean in the Real Ultimate Programming Power http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000856.html you just told everyone If it can’t be explained on a single double-spaced sheet of paper, it’s a waste of your time. That doesn’t sound like an amateur talking…


@Steve M: Sounds like you think of yourself as an expert and are offended that people don’t think too highly of people who call themselves experts.

Think of it like this; if someone were to say to me, I hate stupid Americans. I wouldn’t get offended at all because I don’t think of myself as a stupid American, in fact I would agree and add that I hate all stupid people. So when people say they hate experts what they are really saying is they hate fake experts; no one is arguing that the accumulation of knowledge is a bad thing. If you’re not a fake then you have no reason to get upset.

If you are offended it probably means you think of yourself as a fake and since you got a little pissy and hostile in your post it tells me even if you know a lot I wouldn’t want you around because you’re already displaying that expert mentality that we find so offensive.

I think most of us get it but no one seem very good at conveying it simply so here goes:

People that CALL themselves experts usually aren’t.
People that ARE expert DON’T usually call themselves experts they just are.


Hmmmmm, questioning everything to arrive at a most basic truth then building from there…this somehow sounds very familiar…


This would have a bit more weight if Wikipedia wasn’t painfully inaccurate.

The problem with everyone being able to change wikipedia, is that most people are [expletive] stupid - and I’ve given up trying to fight with them.