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InfoQ Homepage News Presentation: Developing Expertise: Herding Racehorses, Racing Sheep

Presentation: Developing Expertise: Herding Racehorses, Racing Sheep


In this presentation made during QCon London 2007, Dave Thomas talks about expanding people's expertise in their domains of interest by not treating them uniformly as they had the same amount of knowledge and level of experience.

Software is written by people, not by tools, processes or methodologies. Dave tells how the number of bugs per 1000 lines of code has remained roughly the same over a period of 25 years despite the fact that the tools have greatly evolved. The number of bugs have remained the same because the people are the same, and we are perpetuating the same mistakes, he says. "Herding Racehorses, Racing Sheep" refers to the very common practice of treating the team's members the same, expecting enlightening answers from a novice or treating an expert like a beginner.

Dave presents the Dreyfus model which shows there are 5 levels of expertise among people, making comments along the way:

  1. Novice: little or no experience. They need to be told what to do, and they need short term goals.
  2. Advanced Beginner: they have more experience, they have started to observe patterns in their own activity, have started to put some things together on their own, but they still need to be told what to do.
  3. Competent: they know what to do, and they can plan their own activity. They are good in their domain.
  4. Proficient: they have discovered there are other domains out there, not just their own, and they start exploring them.
  5. Expert: they are the wizards of their teams, they can give you all sorts of answers in many domains, and they are interested in trying out different things just to see if they work. One piece of amusing advice: "Never let an expert to choose the architecture of a new project." They are just curios to see if the solution works.

Most of the people are at the Advanced-Beginner level, according to Dave. We should try to move them up to the competent level by promoting competency in our companies.

Dave's humorous presentation lasts 1 hour.

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Community comments

  • Nice..

    by Julian Browne,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Worth watching. It bookends well with Dan North's article on InfoQ earlier this year on why the Dreyfus model indicates there's no such thing as "Best Practice". We played this in an office meeting and agreed to try and put some of this into practice.

    Funny too. You often see tech presentations being described as humorous and they rarely are (unless you like lame tech jokes). Dave Thomas though has a good line going in comic effect.

  • Presentation doesn't play through

    by Srivaths Sankaran,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I have tried to view this a couple of times and both times it stopped abruptly after about a few minutes. It stops around the time Dave Thomas is talking about a taking flying lessons and reading a "duffel bag full of books".

    If I try to play again, it starts over from the beginning. And yes, I have tried to drag the progress bar to about where it left off; that doesn't work either.

    I am viewing this page using FF 3.0.1.

    Any suggestions?

  • Re: Presentation doesn't play through

    by Lalit Kale,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I am facing the problem too...same as above mentioned...Could somebody fix this from Infoq team..
    I had also tried on IE 7

  • Great use of an hour for your development.

    by Gishu Pillai,

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    Thank you Dave for showing me a different perspective of looking at it. Although it kind of mirrors the ShuHaRi idea from Alistair Cockburn's books.

    Also for clearly stating things like 'Don't depend on your org to train you' - this is something that most people grasp after losing too much of their 'receptive' life

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