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the expert and the others

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 1 month, 1 week ago


A page of technology with relevance also to human behaviour


This page is messy. The content is there but the format is unimpressive. If that matters to you, perhaps you don't belong here.  


My personal (and original) definition of an expert is:


someone who has already made most of their mistakes


And note that word "most". 


And that's how they got to be an expert.


Beware the person who has never made a mistake. They know nothing. Be even more careful of the person who thinks they never will make a mistake. They never will know anything.


The unexpert

Let me contrast three sorts of people I have met in computing.

  • The expert. They know what they're doing.
  • The inexpert. They don't.
  • The unexpert. They honestly think they do but they don't. But often they can be very good at posing as an expert to the inexpert... often even quite innocently. They are a subset of the inexpert.


Year ago I was at a party at which someone who later proved (to me at least) to be an unexpert was holding forth about the transaction processing software they were very successfully selling. It did sound impressive, so I asked how their commit process solved the problem of lost transactions.


The answer was "A transaction can't just get lost. Where would it go?" That is word for word.


So I asked "Suppose someone kicked the plug out while the PC was processing a transaction?"


The contemptuous, sneering reply was "Oh, who would be stupid enough to do that?" (again, word for word) and the person walked away.


And yes, I did say that this person was very successfully selling the product. And for all I know, it was a robust and sound product. Or not. But they didn't know either way, or care. And as a result, their customers didn't know either, any more than I do. 


The problem

The software we now have for creating computer codes (in the most general sense) can be incredibly impressive to those who don't know how it's done.


And it's not a new problem. Years ago I regularly saw instances of business units being notionally billed for 20 or more hours for a program that took 20 minutes to write using a report program generator such as Easytrieve, and the results were happily accepted.


And where, you might ask, was Internal Audit? Oh, they were one of the happy, regular victims. That's one of the reasons I became an EDP Auditor, an unusual career choice for a Systems Programmer at the time.


And other techies can be as easily fooled as others and often are. If you're just a few weeks out of date you can easily assume that something that used to be a major task still is, when the latest software has made it trivial. Nobody knows the lot any more. (Yes, I did say weeks, not years. Scary?) 


Science and pseudoscience

A closely related question is, how do you pick pseudoscience?


Here's my personal test. The scientist loves to change their mind. The results that don't make sense under the existing theory are the most exciting ones if they can be reproduced (there is of course the problem of experimental error). The pseudoscientist on the other hand hates to do so. There is a religious fervour surrounding their defence of their position. This is a particularly useful and important test when a scientist in one field ventures into another. Their scientific skills can be very well applied to any field of course. But sometimes it doesn't quite work!


And a word from RD


From Readers Digest marginal thinking department years ago:


The difference between a prejudice and a conviction is, you can explain a conviction without getting mad.


It's not an infallible test, but it's the best yet in my opinion.    



See also 


On this site


My essays at Wikipedia



and watch this space



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