Expertise in Job

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April 28, 2010 by huionn

I have a colleague talking about expertise in job. He took car mechanic as example. A skillful mechanic can pin point the problem by hearing the sound, for example.


In the book Pragmatic Thinking and Learning, the authors describe the The Five Dreyfus Model Stages ( in context of programming.

Stage 1: Novices

Novices, by definition, have little or no previous experience in this skill area…

Novices are very concerned about their ability to succeed; with little experience to guide them, they really don’t know whether their actions will all turn out OK. Novices don’t particularly want to learn; they just want to accomplish an immediate goal. They do not know how to respond to mistakes and so are fairly vulnerable to confusion when things go awry.

They can, however, be somewhat effective if they are given context free rules to follow, that is, rules of the form “Whenever X happens, do Y.” In other words, they need a recipe.

Stage 2: Advanced Beginners

Once past the hurdles of the novice, one begins to see the problems from the viewpoint of the advanced beginner. Advanced beginners can start to break away from the fixed rule set a little bit. They can try tasks on their own, but they still have difficulty troubleshooting. They want information fast. For instance, you may feel like this
when you’re learning a new language or API and you find yourself scanning the documentation quickly looking for that one method signature or set of arguments. You don’t want to be bogged down with lengthy theory at this point or spoon-fed the basics yet again.

Advanced beginners can start using advice in the correct context, based on similar situations they’ve experienced in the recent past but just barely. And although they can start formulating some overall principles, there is no “big picture.” They have no holistic understanding and really don’t want it yet. If you tried to force the larger context on an advanced beginner, they would probably dismiss it as irrelevant.

Stage 3: Competent

At the third stage, practitioners can now develop conceptual models of the problem domain and work with those models effectively. They can troubleshoot problems on their own and begin to figure out how to solve novel problems—ones they haven’t faced before. They can begin to seek out and apply advice from experts and use it effectively.

Instead of following the sort of knee-jerk response of the previous levels, the competent practitioner will seek out and solve problems; their work is based more on
deliberate planning and past experience. Without more experience, they’ll still have trouble trying to determine which details to focus on when problem solving.

In the field of software development, we’re getting there, but even at this level, practitioners can’t apply agile methods the way we would like—there isn’t yet enough ability for reflection and self-correction. For that, we need to make a breakthrough to the next level: proficient.

Stage 4: Proficient

Proficient practitioners need the big picture. They will seek out and want to understand the larger conceptual framework around this skill. They will be very frustrated by oversimplified information.

Proficient practitioners make a major breakthrough on the Dreyfus model: they can correct previous poor task performance. They can reflect on how they’ve done and revise their approach to perform better the next time. Up until this stage, that sort of self-improvement is simply not available.

Also, they can learn from the experience of others. As a proficient practitioner, you can read case studies, listen to water-cooler gossip of failed projects, see what others have done, and learn effectively from the story, even though you didn’t participate in it firsthand.

Along with the capacity to learn from others comes the ability to understand and apply maxims, which are proverbial, fundamental truths that can be applied to the situation at hand. Maxims are not recipes; they have to be applied within a certain context.

Stage 5: Expert

Experts are the primary sources of knowledge and information in any field. They are the ones who continually look for better methods and better ways of doing things. They have a vast body of experience that they can tap into and apply in just the right context. These are the folks who write the books, write the articles, and do the lecture circuit. These are the modern wizards.

Experts work from intuition, not from reason. Although experts can be amazingly intuitive—to the point that it looks like magic to the rest of us—they may be completely inarticulate as to how they arrived at a conclusion.

The expert knows the difference between irrelevant details and the very important details, perhaps not on a conscious level, but the expert knows which details to focus on and which details can be safely ignored. The expert is very good at targeted, focused pattern matching.

It is emphasized that reflection and self-correction are required to breakthrough to to higher skill levels.

How long it take to be successful expert?

10 years – Pragmatic Thinking and Learning

10,000 hours – Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

If both are consistent, it will take about 20 hours weekly in study and practice on certain subject for 10 years. Those 20 hours exclude repeating old stuffs.

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