Tag Archives: Skills

You’re Cleverer Than You Think

I often train experienced developers in new tools, and I’ve found that most underestimate what they can do – their actual skill level is higher than their own perceived skill level.

Skill development

This is different from new developers, who tend to overestimate their skills.

The reason this happens to most experienced people is the “loss of control” feeling overcomes the feeling of accomplishment. If you are very skilled with one tool, you are acutely aware that you are not an expert in the new tool – yet you feel that you should be. Cut yourself some slack – you are cleverer than you think.

(The graphic is from my newsletter “Technology That Fits” – for a regular dose of fresh IT thinking every week or two, sign up here)

Why you’re not getting hired

If you’re applying for permanent positions and not getting hired even though you have the skills the organizations asks for, consider whether you are proving your ability to learn new things.

I’m often talking to people who believe their 20 years of experience with technology X or Y should make them shoo-ins for a job. However, they are not getting hired.

The reason is that a modern organization can’t depend on the same skill being useful for the next 20 years. With the speed of technological change, an organization will rather hire someone who has proven his or her ability to learn new skills.

It’s great to have experience. But unless you also have recent experience with some new technology, a developer with less, but more recent, experience will beat you to the job. Learn something new.

DIY Disasters

When people take on home renovation “Do-It-Yourself” projects beyond their skills, disaster ensues. Apparently, this is so common that you can base a whole TV series on this theme – where professionals rescue the disastrous DIY project for the grateful and clueless amateur handyman.

I’ve seen the same thing happen in many IT projects. The people in the organization overestimate their own skills and are unable or unwilling to pay the cost of professional external assistance. Unfortunately, the outcome is often the same as for the DIY home projects above.

A recent example is the still-not-finished Cover Oregon healthcare website. IT World reports that Oregon decided to do the system integration themselves, using software and consultants from Oracle Corporation. They struggle and are blaming Oracle. Contrary to the usual commentary from large IT vendors, Oracle is pushing back strongly, saying “Cover Oregon lacked the skills, knowledge or ability to be successful as the systems integrator on an undertaking of this scope and complexity.”

You need a realistic picture of your skills before you start a major project to avoid DIY disasters. Contact me if you think you could benefit from an independent review of your organizational skill level vs. the task at hand.

How many stars do you need?

The latest Michelin Guide is out, and Copenhagen added another two stars for a total of 15 of the coveted Michelin Stars across 13 restaurants.

In order to reach the exceptional level of a Michelin-starred restaurant, you need to have an absolute world-class chef. And he (almost invariably a “he”) needs a good team around him.

However, most development team does not need temperamental world-class artists. For independent software vendors, who can sell thousands of extra copies of exceptionally good software, might make sense to enter the fight for highly-paid top-level talent. But most organizations are building in-house software that needs to be functional and user-friendly, but not necessarily compete with Facebook and Amazon.

You need a team of competent craftsmen and the ability to call of top-level talent when you need it – to review architecture, mentor your team and solve difficult problems. But you don’t need to hire your own stars.


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The first issue of my ADF Mastery newsletter has just been published (sign up here if you missed it). In this issue, I discuss Oracle ADF skill levels.

If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.

Gerald Weinberg, Weinberg’s Second Law

Too many programmers simply Google for a code snippet that seems like it might solve the problem at hand, and use it without understanding the implications. These programmers are like Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia – he manages to enchant the broom to get him water, but he doesn’t know what he is doing. So of course he can’t stop the broom again.

If you are a programmer, you need to build up an understanding of the technology you use. Otherwise, you will never build quality software.


Pay peanuts, get monkeys

I am often contacted by organizations who wants me to do consulting or architecture work. Some of these inquiries come with a stipulated maximum hourly rate, typically fairly low.

There are two problems here:

  • Paying by the hour creates an incentive for the consultant to solve the problem as slowly as possible
  • The savings from hiring a poor or mediocre architect is completely dwarfed by the additional cost of the poor or mediocre architecture he instigates

Do you think Richard Branson instructs Virgin Galactic HR to “get the cheapest astronaut you can find”?