Your 20 Years Doesn’t Mean Shit!

A popular book to quote is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The book is a study of elite athletes and professionals and what it takes to raise to the top in their field. The book asks the question: Is it really natural skill or can anyone become an expert in their field? In the end the book comes to the conclusion that it takes ~10,000 hours of practice to become an elite athlete or professional.

10,000 hours

This statement was taken by the media and twisted in all sorts of ways. The most common was that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. Then it was 10,000 hours to learn something new. As a life long learner this was pretty disheartening to read. But you can see where I am going. The real coincidence here is that if you do a little math you can get a little bit of correlation. 10,000 hours equals 40 hours per week for 5 years.

If you look at most job postings for “Senior” level jobs you will notice that they require 5+ years of experience. Coincidence? Maybe, but I really don’t think so.

I heard it all the time from former students as well. They would interview for a job and be a really good fit, but they would get passed over because “we are looking for someone with more experience”. Then why the hell did you interview me? Would be my first response. Usually the follow up question is: “How am I supposed to gain experience if no one will hire me?” I would have to agree to that one.

How does one obtain experience if they are not given a chance? That is for another post. This one is about playing the “20 years experience” card. I have ran into this everywhere I have worked. The pompous ass that says, “I have xx years experience so blah blah blah…”. Nothing infuriates me more than someone who states this line.

Humans seem to use this time calculation for experience to quantify being an expert in their chosen profession. Which to quote another great philosopher “correlation does not equal causation”.

A classic example would be; I am applying for a networking job with ABC company. I can tell you I have been in IT for 20 years ( I haven’t but lets just go with it for now) but if I only work on development and not networking then I don’t know shit about networking. Simply because I have stated that I worked in IT for 20 years you might assume I know what I am doing when it comes to networking.

Just because you have worked in a field for xx years does not make you an expert in that field. Practice and learning does. Following the experience calculation point we as humans don’t really have a concrete way to quantify an individuals actual expertise in a given field. I can say that I have networking experience, but in most cases without a job working in networking that I can document all the hiring manager has to go on is my word. One real way is for me to demonstrate that experience but that also is another post.

10,000 hours to learn a new skill, is bullshit. 10,000 hours to become and expert, is bullshit. 10,000 hours to become an elite athlete and win gold at the next Olympics, hell yeah! 20+ years of experience in a field does not make you the expert. I can Google the hell out of your experience.

With the amount of data we have access to today, being an expert is really a passing fade. Companies are still looking for that expert in their field, but Google really has leveled the playing field. There is always someone who has had that same exception or situation and blogged about it. Where I, even as a noob, can do a quick search and find an answer that will suit my needs and get me out of a jam.

One final point to think about. If someone has 20+ years of experience and is extremely knowledgeable also doesn’t mean they have run into every scenario possible in that field. Someone who has that many years working in a particular profession should understand that anything can happen. Continued learning in your profession will teach you that there is always more to learn, new problems to overcome and new situations that will happen.

OK I am not going to belittle some one who actually does have a ton of experience and really does know what they are talking about. The bottom line is if you don’t know, then say so. Admitting you don’t know, but are willing to learn with you will gain more knowledge and make you look more like a hero than saying you have xx years of experience and should be treated as the expert.