a companion discussion area for blog.codinghorror.com

Are You An Expert?


@Renes Descartes, did not some old dead Greek guy say that? :slight_smile: BTW are you immortal or are you stealing a name? :wink:


@Breton, all right. You’re being childish. You’re just making ad hominem attacks and saying No no, because I really think you are X there is not problem with my attacks. You haven’t really presented a counterargument other than to say in your most cliche coffee shop jibber jabber I enjoy the meta-theater that is contradiction! And then you say I presented no rebuttal while quoting my very rebuttal! Maybe you are enjoying your own vortex of nothingness contradiction meta-theater? Nevertheless, my first post to you is correct. You essentially implied this contradictory jibber jabber is a good thing because it forces you to think for yourself. Of course, no one could possibly think for one’s self without being constantly confronted with contradiction. So I’m done with your stuff. I want to get back to criticizing this fortune cookie Scholar Buccaneer or Buccaneer Scholar or whatever it is!


Your new font is absolutely HORRIBLE!

  1. I think it’s fair to say the web lacks real experts, but there are a whole lot of self-proclaimed experts, and it is the latter we dread. Especially in IT where there are a lot of asocial pricks.

  2. Sentimentally I agree that we should remain humble, but try telling that to HR when your resume is getting screened into the garbage.

All ‘C# expert’ means is I pretty much don’t need hand holding. It doesn’t mean that I’m Anders go-to guy, and it doesn’t mean I have Eric Lipperts insight into the compiler. ‘proficient in C#’ means I know what C# is and I’m able to deconstruct if it I stare at it long enough.

And then, because I have to label myself as ‘expert’ I start to believe my own bullsh*t.


I think being an expert is just a title.
I think sometimes non-experts can provide more value than experts.
If I would consider myself an expert I would feel that there is nothing more to learn… and there is always something new to learn. So I am not sure I want to use the word Expert in my life.


I had an epiphany when I first read about the Dunning-Kruger effect, which anyone should wikipedia if they’ve never heard of it. This post directly relates to it. It applies to everything. You encounter it every day. You are a victim of it yourself – until you see it.

Great post.


There is nothing wrong with being an expert, experts where revered and honored at one time. The problem is political correctness, everything has been watered down. The English language is attack by those who wish to change our culture.

If the guy who picks up my garbage(who makes more than me) has got an engineering degree then he should be called a sanitation engineer, otherwise no.

What makes one an expert? Who decides it? Why should I care if you are an expert or not? These are all good questions one should ask when one is presented an idea that is from an expert.


I like the wikipedia ref. Even if wikipedia’s content were less reliable than an average encyclopedia it would still be a better resource. Why? Because you know its source, because you know it can’t be completely trusted, because you are more likely to read it critically, because you are more likely to double check the information and cross-reference it with other sources. And a resource that encourages critical thinking is vastly more likely to foster the development of rational, well-informed individuals.

As it turns out the information in wikipedia is as reliable as conventional encyclopedias, but that’s just a bonus.


@Breton: Jeff Atwood contradicts himself regularly. I think its his way of driving home the point that you can’t really take him at face value. That would be lazy. It forces you to actually think for yourself.

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.

Nevertheless, I don’t understand the point of this post. Jeff, I have really liked your blog in the past; however, you have posted this cliche notion several times before in various forms. And it is cliche. I suppose it is an obvious response to all the comments from the previous two blog posts, perhaps several of the comments in the past several months.

This is a role for experts and scholars beyond just asking questions in specific problematic situations. I think your notion of that is just plain ridiculous. There is great value in those who are knowledgeable communicating their knowledge in more than just interrogative sentences.

As far as Wikipedia, I’m not sure what your point about that is. To the extent that Wikipedia has quality articles, it is because of experts. I’m not talking about the copious amounts of articles on celebrities but those articles which attempt to mirror those in traditional encyclopedias. However, your point sort of falls down, Wikipedia, in fact, has some very bad articles on scholarly subjects. For instance, many of their articles on philosophical topics are just rubbish; for instance, articles on various Platonic dialogues have wildly strange, unwarranted, and terribly non-standard interpretations. Obviously, the list goes on. Perhaps there are merits to Wikipedia, but I’m not sure what your point is or if there is one, how it is strengthened by appealing to Wikipedia. One minor quibble, I question calling that depiction postmodern and the notion of deconstruction is much more complicated than self-examination.

Anyway, I think the James Bach stuff there, and I really am not trying to be mean, is horribly pretentious. That is just self-aggrandizement taken to rather pedestrian level. Buccaneer Scholar? Really? Perhaps, that is the most pretentious thing I’ve ever read on a software blog, maybe even more so than on the jackets of postmodern tomes. The idea that the love of learning is muzzled and yoked by institutions is either pompous on conspiratorial. I hardly think that’s what universities are doing. It is one thing to nod to the Invisible College but doing so in such meaningless way devoid of any content is rather sophomoric. It’s the same as the whole cliche of I don’t need school, it stifles me. Then the children like to quote Mark Twain; inevitably these people are never a Mark Twain or similar to that famous lowly German patent clerk they also tend to cite.

In short, I just don’t see the point. Perhaps it’s just a self-aggrandizing defense of the previous posts or something but I don’t know. I hope it’s not the cynical thing I quoted at the beginning of this rant.


One thing’s for certain, I sure hope your doctor is an expert.


There are two types of experts, those who know a lot about their subject, but will not admit they don’t know it : they cannot be trusted, and the humble expert as above who does not know everything, and will admit it, but knows where and how to find the answers

Wikipedia is a good resource if you treat it carefully, it is never an expert on any subject, it can be wrong or mistaken, but it’s a good starting point (but never an end point…)

Some subjects are well covered because many people know a little about it, and some are experts who know a lot, some subjects are terrible simply because most people know nothing, or next to nothing, about it and there are few if any experts editing it, most of the Philosophy subjects, and similar esoteric subjects suffer from this

Wikipedia’s anti-expert attitude was shown to be rather worthless when the subject of a biographical page attempted to correct errors about his own life

Wikipedia has a policy about this…it says don’t do it

The problem is that the subject of a page will know more than anyone else but will be biased, will not be able to cite sources, and almost certainly be unable to prove they are who they say they are …what is to stop me claiming to be a celebrity correcting my article and citing myself as the source

Wikipedia is not anti-expert, it is anti-non-humble-expert, if you can cite sources that are available to others your edits tend not to get overruled, the problem is lazy experts who correct a page, with no citations, and then complain when it is undone because they did not cite (they think they do not need to because they are an expert) on Wikipedia an expert is just another user, the only advantage they have is better knowledge


Great post Jeff. +1 :slight_smile:

I first became an expert when the marketing people said so. It was news to me.
I prefer just trying to suck less everyday (although many days I suck just as much as the day before), comfortable that at least I know enough to be scared every now and then. Expert, hell no.
The day I start believing that is the day I should look for a new job.

I have met and worked with a few experts, but the real ones never talked about it or even thought about it, they just did it, and everyone who had their brain open learnt something.


I don’t understand how you can say that you can only be an expert if you are a fireman.

I mean, that is just so out of touch with reality, you clearly don’t know anything about anything. This article is total garbage and the only reason you posted it is to drive traffic to stackoverflow and make more money for yourself.

I think I did that right, pick something Jeff didn’t say or mean and argue against it, criticize Jeff personally, make some blanket idiotic statement, and then question Jeff’s motives.


My favourite definition of an expert has become

The person with the greatest patience will always be called the expert

This is a bit inspired from the number of times I have had to come and troubleshoot at a development project :slight_smile: You just know you don’t know what the trouble is any more than any one else, but at least you-re willing to ‘besiege’ it and keep asking the (right) questions until you finally do find it.

The ‘non-expert’ will simply give up. Not necessarily because he/she didn’t have the right questions, but mostly because most of them will be intimidated, lack the confidence to pursue.


PS.just recalled the related and excellent title (I mean, just the title!) of a book by Joel Spolsky: Smart and gets stuff done

The and gets stuff done part is underrated!


Mr. Green on experts: If there is one thing I have learned about experts, they’re experts on fuck all.


Definitely disagree with this article.

Experts are people who trained to know better on a specific topic, having both conscious and unconscious understanding of it. Sometimes, their knowledge is greater than yours. Accept it !

This is not to say that authority arguments should trump facts or dispense everyone else from trying to get an understanding of things. But unless something is at the core of your preocupations, you can take experts’ opinion for a best practice to adopt, as long as you make sure that experts’ advices are not guided by their personal agenda.

The advice from a software vendor expert to install their product on your system being an obvious example of a biased expertise.

But on other circumstances, you should listen to expert, more carefully than you listened to the random guy. And more importantly, you should listen to experts far more than you listen YOUR EGO

So to sum things up

Your research ans solid fact checking
peer’s opinion
your ego
random opinion
biased expert (aka Sales rep)
Jeff’s opinion on expertise :slight_smile:


… an expert, as someone who has already discovered everything there is to know about a given topic …
Jeff, you don’t have your terms right. An expert is NOT someone who has already discovered everything there is to know about a given topic. An expert for a given topic knows that he/she does not know everything. Above that: The correct term for someone who thinks he/she has already discovered everything there is to know about a given topic is idiot or even dangerous idiot.


Great post Jeff!! I plan to re-read this one on a regular basis just to keep myself in the right perspective.


Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately, the money is good), I became an expert. That appellation was the judgment of my peers; my own assessment was more realistic - I make a lot of mistakes. Even small errors (in the eyes of others) seem large to me, the expert. Hopefully, the standard deviation of my errors is sufficiently smaller than those of my peers - otherwise I should move on to some other line of work.

(Never Aggravate Mutated Bloodstock Ligature Anti-venin)