Programming "Experts"

Browsing Amazon's recommendations the other day, I saw "97 Things Every Programmer Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts" by Kevlin Henney. Oooh, I thought, someone's managed to glue together a selection of blog posts (97 tips in one book aren't exactly going to be deep). As Amazon has "Look inside!", I did, and skimmed the table of contents...

I recognised several names. No, it's not a star-studded line-up. They've just contracted at my workplace. This is where the definition of "expert" comes in. They are, indeed, experts at discussing programming. They spend a lot of time at conferences, and networking with each other. They may know some language lawyering tricks. When it came to actual programming (or even design) I saw nothing setting them apart from most other seasoned programmers.

This is unfortunate, as in other domains I've met what I would regard as real experts. People who not only understand a subject backwards, but also have great and incisive ideas. This covers both proper academics and really effective business people. Those guys are a pale shadow of this.

This is not to denigrate the book - I suspect there are plenty of useful, non-controversial pieces of wisdom that deserve to be spread around and some of the contributors may deserve the title "expert". I guess I'm just complaining about my own naivety.

Posted 2011-05-21.