What is an Expert? Am I an expert?

cesarzea Software Development Management Leave a Comment

About the Author

César Zea
Senior Software Engineer
SQL Server expert: 25 y.e.
Sencha ExtJS: 11 y.e.
Java J2EE: 10 y.e.
AWS API. AWS-DMS

About this article

A few years ago, a client referred to me as a SQL Server Expert for first time arguing it in front of his colleagues. I had been conceptualizing and developing software solutions using SQL Server for almost 20 years, with many projects that were already highly complex and demanding on the database, and yet I had never seen myself as an expert.

That he referred to me as a SQL Server Expert surprised me and made me think about it. I discovered a value in my professional profile that I was not recognizing or taking full advantage of and it allowed me to better analyze and define my own professional profile. Since then I have been hired many times as an expert, something that before only happened by chance or because the client already knew me.

For this reason, because many times it is necessary to analyze ourselves and put ourselves in value, I have decided to write this article.

Perhaps it can help someone to evaluate other professionals and himself, thus being able to make better use of their abilities and improving the honesty with which we present ourselves to our clients.

Don't be a fraud or think that you are a fraud. Take advantage of the feedback that your clients give you, analyze yourself and be  honest to others.
The first step to being successful in a contract is to be hired for who you really are.

I hope you like it.

In too many occasions, we see people labelling professionals with two, three, five, ten years of experience, or even without any experience but with a title in their hand that says “Expert in…”, as Experts.

When us seniors, with more than 20 years of experience, see this, we somehow raise some eyebrows. 

In my case, I started being a “nerd” and became obsessed with software development when I was 16 years old with a Sinclair ZX81, like the one in the picture, a memory expansion of 16 Kb and a cassette tape recorder. 

Image

With that computer I learned Basic and Z80 processor assembler before I was 18 years old, with a book I looked for and bought with my savings: my first serious computing book, when I was 16 years old, and which I still keep with affection. 

Afterwards, I studied computing while I was working at a small management software development company. Later, I went on to be part of the software production department in one of the biggest Spanish companies in civil engineering that existed back in the day: Intecsa Internacional, at that time belonging to Grupo Dragados.  

I became the youngest Project Manager in the company, when I was less than 30 years old and 10 years younger than the next one, taking over customer contact, offers, development groups, budgets, and, obviously, software development (a lot of software development), all in first person.   

Already in 1999, when Intecsa International was in the process of being sold from Dragados to Prezasa, they decided to shut off the software production department, as Prezasa did not want that area, and, making the most of the fact that I was the Project Manager that took care of the software projects for the Town hall of Barcelona, and that it would be a too much trouble for Intecsa to serve them after the shutdown of the department, all of their projects were given to me. 

Just like that, I created my own software development company from which I have somewhat learned (only somewhat learned) to manage my company, search for costumers, bid, sell, select staff, direct them, deal with the client, manage the project, control costs, implant, understand and satisfy the client, and billing and collecting uninterrupted throughout these 21 years (until 2020).  

Nevertheless, all that can be seen in other pages where I explain my career path, as well as in my “projects in which I have participated” list. This is also summarized on my LinkedIn profile. I do not uncover anything new here, but what I do uncover in these previous paragraphs is what I have highlighted: with all of that I have somewhat learned, and I can say that, more in some fields than others, I am a professional that has been capable of doing that for 19 consecutive years: that is, I know how to do it.

However, can I claim to be an expert in all of it? No, I cannot.

I know I am not an expert in all of that, even if I have learnt and had all of those years of experience, because I am an expert on something, and this allows me to know if I am an expert on other things. 

Yes, I am a really very good software developer, a development teams’ manager, at customer support, etc., etc., but, to call myself an actual expert, it can only be at one thing: SQL Server, an authority, as some say. I found out that I am an expert casually, when I noticed that my customers said that about me regularly, and even started hiring me in projects, jobs and consultancy sessions where being a SQL Server Expert was a requirement.

And, so that it is understood why I am using myself as an example in this article, I deem it necessary to explain, in addition to what I have already talked about, other relevant things I know as a pure software developer in the main fields, so that I can later explain why you have to be careful with who you are asking questions to, supposing that question was being asked to me in different hypothetical scenarios.   

I have been developing with Java for more than 10 years, can I consider myself an expert? No.

I know everything I do not know about Java, and knowing how big Java, Spring, etc. is, I cannot say I am a Java expert, because I know what I do not know about Java, but I also know there are things I do not even know I don’t know, even if I have developed very big and extremely demanding applications. Being an expert is way more than that.

I have been developing with Sencha Ext Js for more than 10 years, can I consider myself an expert? No.

I know a great deal about Ext Js. I develop with great skill and create great things but, again, I am aware of what I do not know, and I lack some of the necessary knowledge to consider myself an expert, in spite of all the jobs I have carried out in Ext Js. Being an expert is more than that.

I have been developing with SQL Server for 25 years, can I consider myself an expert? Yes, without a doubt.

SQL Server is my passion, at a technological level. I started using it in the first Microsoft version (SQL Server 4.2 for NT in 1993), and have kept using it in all of my developments up until today. I know what I know, and I know what I do not know, though it pains me not to. Yes, what I do not know hurts me. Because it is the technology I like the most. The one I am most passionate about. The one for which, for 25 years, when there is a new version, I can’t resist to start studying its improvements. The one that keeps me awake at night. That excites me. The one that makes solving problems enjoyable, and the more difficult the problem or challenge is, the more I enjoy it. The one that motivates me the most, and it is not that I lack motivation, together with the fact that I have been experimenting and working with it for 25 years.

An expert, in whatever field, is not only someone who knows the rules or the theory. A football expert, for example, is not somebody that knows its rules by heart. Not even a good player who has been in the field for 25 years.

Rather, it is someone who has been a player, of course knows all the rules, has been a coach, and has played a part on the management of a club or a team.

In most cases, if in the working world we assign the expert title to anyone with five or six years of experience, what we are doing is disregard the knowledge that person will acquire over the years.

Is it that, perhaps, that professional with 10 years of experience will not learn anything else throughout the next year? And what about the next 5? Well, then imagine what they will have learnt in another 10 years.

Evaluate yourself and others honestly. And remember that the greatest value we can bring to others is knowing ourselves and showing ourselves as we are, allowing them to decide what they want and what they don't want from us.

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