Professionalism = Knowledge First, Experience Last

I am an entrepid troll. I am also an idiot, stupid and an *ss. At least, that's what I've been told this week. And I'm sure that most of those qualifications are quite accurate. You see, I posted an article last week on AgileSoftwareDevelopment.com, that got me into a position where I was attacked and bitten so badly, that I am surprised I still got all my fingers left.

Here's what happened: I was a little irritated!

When I interview a professional project manager who claims to have "10 years of experience" managing projects, I don't want such a person to give me a blank stare when I ask her to name some agile project management practices. And when I ask a professional software developer, who is supposed to have "8 years of experience", to tell me something about unit testing, or source control strategies, then I don't expect him to start sweating and remain silent about these subjects.

I expect professional people to know what modern techniques and practices are. And if they don't know, then I'm not at all interested in their "X years of experience".

So I wrote a little post about this, gave it a thought-provoking title, posted it on ASD, and got my ass kicked so intensively (here and here), I will have trouble sitting for weeks.

Yes, I am stupid and an idiot, and so on. But not for the reasons that people mentioned. It's because I never saw it coming! I honestly thought that this was just another harmless thought of mine that I was digitizing into an innocent blog post. Well, apparently not…

But, dear readers of mine, please judge for yourself. Here's the dreaded post, unmodified and uncensored. And I will submit to your verdict…


Do you trust a doctor with diagnosing your mental problems if the doctor tells you he's got 20 years of experience? Do you still trust that doctor when he picks up a knife and ice picks, and asks you to prepare for a lobotomy?

Note: A lobotomy, or leukotomy, which involves the cutting of connections to and from the prefrontal cortex, was used on many thousands of patients all over the world in the 20th century. These days it is seen as "one of the most barbaric mistakes ever perpetrated by mainstream medicine".

Would you still be impressed if the doctor had 20 years of experience in carrying out lobotomies?

I am always skeptic when people tell me they have X years of experience in a certain field or discipline, like "5 years of experience as a .NET developer", "8 years of experience as a project manager" or "12 years of experience as a development manager". It is as if people's professional levels need to be measured in years of practice.

This, of course, is nonsense.

Professionalism is measured by what you are going to do now…

Are you going to use some discredited technique from half a century ago?

  • Are you, as a .NET developer, going to use Response.Write, because you've got 5 years of experience doing exactly that?
  • Are you, as a project manager, going to create Gantt charts, because that's what you've been doing for 8 years?
  • Are you, as a development manager, going to micro-manage your team members, as you did in the 12 years before now?

If so, allow me to illustrate the value of your experience…

Zero

Photo by Gaetan Lee

Here's an example of what it means to be a professional:

There's a concept called Kanban making headlines these days in some parts of the agile community. I honestly and proudly admit that I have no experience at all in applying Kanban. But that's just a minor inconvenience. Because I do have attained the knowledge of what it is and what it can be good for. And now there are some planning issues in our organization for which this Kanban-stuff might be the perfect solution. I'm sure we're going to give it a shot, in a controlled setting, with time allocated for a pilot and proper evaluations afterwards. That's the way a professional tries to solve a problem.

Professionals don't match problems with their experiences. They match them with their knowledge.
Sure, experience is useful. But only when you already have the knowledge in place. Experience has no value when there's no knowledge to verify that you are applying the right experience.

Knowledge Comes First, Experience Comes Last
This is my message to anyone who wants to be a professional software developer, a professional project manager, or a professional development manager. You must gain and apply knowledge first, and experience will help you after that. Professionals need to know about the latest developments and techniques. They certainly don't bother measuring years of experience.

Are you still practicing lobotomies?

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