On many job postings or role definitions, a number of years of experience is often one of the many cited requirements for the position including, knowledge of languages, degrees and certifications. Why is that? In many ways it feels obvious, so obvious that most of us don’t ask the question: what are they trying to measure? What are the real requirements there?
I think there are three major components to an individual’s competence.
Talent, Intellect, Ability
The first is the talent, intellect, or ability. We call it many names. It often gets ogled over the most but in reality it is the least significant. Most of the time when we think of talent, we think we are at the mercy of what we have been dealt. That is simply not true. What we do with our talent, how we refine it, is often more significant than any difference we may have begun with. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Next is the knowledge of an individual. In software development, this is knowing the languages and frameworks. It can also be very important to learn language or framework independent principles like design patterns, consulting techniques, and agile processes. This area is often easiest to demonstrate, but is far too heavily focused on, both in professional development and interviews. Especially in today’s rapidly changing technologies, being an expert in a field today does not mean you will be an expert tomorrow.
The last component is often labeled as experience, but I would prefer to label as wisdom. I believe this is the single most important component to any individual’s ability to contribute successfully. Now, it is very difficult to measure, which is why the industry uses years. But experiences and even years of experiences do not ensure that an individual has grown in wisdom.
To me, wisdom is knowing how to apply the talents and knowledge you have appropriately to the given circumstances and challenges you face. It’s kind of like in poker; you got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. It is all about making the best decision for the given information; perhaps even whether to act or to look for further information.
This is so critical to making good decisions and consistently producing successful outcomes. This skill is not stumbled upon but needs to be sought after. Just like it is no guarantee that lots of experiences breed wisdom, you do not have to wait for years of experience to begin pursuing it. It’s a daily process. There are opportunities for growth from every person you meet and every experience you have. Take advantage of them.