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Is expecting expertise unreasonable? (blog.sidu.in)
34 points by rohitarondekar on Dec 5, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 14 comments

I'd just like to note that sometimes people present physicians as an example of people who don't need to work on their field outside of work. These people are horribly informed.

My extended family gatherings are like a medical convention. Both my parents are physicians. Unlike computer science there isn't a question of "do I need to work on medicine to continue to be on the top of my game?" The answer is yes. Period.

As far back as I can remember my parents have always had heated medical discussions on new cases over dinner while my sister and I shared blank stares. When I was 6 or so I remember gathering all the copies of the New England Journal of Medicine, Modern Pathology, and the Journal of Clinical Pathology and using them to make a fort in the apartment. The high ceiling fit me and my sister quite comfortably. My mom spends her time thinking about how things could be done better and more efficiently in her practice and my dad is constantly innovating and forming companies.

So do programmers have to like programming? Do they have to keep up with it outside of their job requirements?

Yes. Period.

'Unlike computer science there isn't a question of "do I need to work on medicine to continue to be on the top of my game?" The answer is yes. Period.'

Perhaps the difference there is, who wants to go to a physician not at the top of their game for anything beyond a routine physical? Whereas a programmer not at the top of their game can do some useful things and won't kill anyone barring exceptional circumstances.

In a competitive world, if you want to be on top in any skilled discipline you are going to have to put the time in. My family is primarily auto-related, and while they may not spend every spare hour tinkering with cars in their 50s, they can still do it and have certainly booked many thousands of hours not at work doing it. That industry supports even more people who don't really care.

Well, yes, I was talking about people in both domains that are good.

There are many bad doctors too, trust me (my parents rant all the time).

A Cobol programmer using twenty year old knowledge can still make good money and be useful. A physician using twenty year old medicine knowledge - not so much.

I do not think that is accurate. A guy using fifty-year-old technology can still be useful (COBOL, for example). Knowledge (of the problem domain) should definitely be of more recent vintage.

I'm a systems developer so I'm used to working with "dead" languages but I'm skeptical that someone still programming like they're in the 1980s will do anywhere near as good a job as someone who has continuously updated their skill set. For example, semaphores have been around for 45 years but anyone using semaphores like they did in 1970 would be in for a rude surprise. Any modern kernel developer worth his or her salt knows about working around course-grained locking to avoid slowing their kernel to a crawl.

I'm about to finish my PhD in CS, so my perspective is perhaps different than a professional programmer, but I define free-time as time not spent on CS. There are no predetermined "work hours" or "work days"; every hour is potentially a work hour, and every day is a work day. With that perspective, the hours of the day I choose not to work on any aspect of CS is my free-time.

I'm of the opinion that most workplaces do not provide adequate opportunities to become an expert in anything beyond the very narrow niche job you're paid to do. Often it's knowledge of of their business domain that trumps programming skills. A few are lucky to have research jobs that allow for spreading your wings, but you're typically already an expert in something before you can land a job like that.

I'm also a corporate drone right now, and my experience is that most of my "corporate programmer" peers check their programming skills at the door when they go home. Adequacy and personal development mean nothing to them so long as they remain gainfully employed. These men and women also tend to be the most boring people to converse with, not because they lack passion for programming, but because they have no apparent passions at all. Any personal improvements are due to system constraints that force them to learn something new to prevent failing a task. The few who strive to improve on their own, learn another language besides Java, have side projects or businesses, or run a blog or whatever...they're the ones who also do interesting non-programming stuff. I attribute it to having a personal drive or being a self-motivated person or having some mental itch that needs scratching. Something that just prevents a person from being happy by just sitting around watching TV.

>I also find the 'if you study, you have no life' argument something of a cop out.

I think it's more of a pre-emptive excuse, as in : "I don't have time to study outside the office, since I have a life."

I agree with the article, however I would like to note two things: 1. In software engineering companies (especially smaller ones) tend not to provide any training to employees assuming it is their own problem. 2. Expecting expertise more often than not implies "specialized expertise" and there is such thing as "too specialized". It is more important to look at the problem-solving skills and work ethic than mere list of skills and technologies.

I don't understand the constant assumption that if you choose to study in your spare time, you have no life.

Maybe I run into the wrong people, but I've not run into this assumption much (outside of college where kids don't know much about life anyways).If someone chooses to study, be engaged in their domain outside of work, have 'intellectual' hobbies, that's usually a plus in my book.

I'm curious where people have run into this?

Perhaps it's more prevalent in programming?

  Me: 'So, do you have any personal projects that you'd like to talk about?'
  Candidate: 'Not really, no.'
  Me: 'None?' 
  Candidate: 'No, I prefer to have a life.'
I hear some variation of this nine interviews out of ten.

It properly has to do with the assumption that you can't finish you allotted work in the time everybody else has, like the kid who struggled to finish the test with just a few minutes left.

Yes, it often is. Most time mere adequacy will do just fine, which is a good thing because that's frequently all you will get.

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