Should you call yourself an expert? And what does it take to be an expert?
One day on SQLCruise Alaska I gave a two hour session on Isolation Levels in SQL Server– one hour was slides, one hour was demos, and over the two hours we had lots of input and questions from the cruisers.
After that session we had a breakout panel on brand building. In the course of talking branding, the question of self-description came up: who should describe themselves as experts? And how is that interpreted?
What is an Expert?
I’m pro-expert. I believe that if you have rich experience in a defined area and you’ve done the research and the legwork, there comes a time when you should step back and assess if you’ve progressed past proficiency into the realm of the expert. So if I’m at the point where I’m presenting to Senior level DBAs and database developers on a cruise ship about Isolation Levels, I’m going to call myself an expert in that area.
But the term “expert” can be off-putting to some people. Some people were more comfortable with the acronym SME, or “Subject Matter Expert”. To me, this is too jargon-y— I don’t think there’s any arrogance to simply saying, “I am an expert in this area.”
Experts Don’t Necessarily Know Everything
Saying you’re an expert means you are an authority on a topic. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the only authority, and it doesn’t mean you constantly generate new material that’s never been discovered before.
For example, I know experts in problem resolution. These people have mastered triage, identification, research, and troubleshooting methodology. They’re like dive masters– they’re comfortable in scary places not everyone goes, and they can help you learn to go there.
Experts learn all the time. Experts can still be humble.
Researchers can still be experts, but these days they are not the only game in town.
Where Do You Stand Out?
Here’s a thought experiment: imagine yourself in a room with 100 other smart, technical people who work as engineers across a vast range of technologies. You must describe what type of problem you most love to solve. What would you say about yourself?
Think about this problem, and understand that your skills are quite unique across a broad pool of engineers. Think about where you are in your career path– are you a beginner, are you proficient, or have you moved further in your path?
Don’t be Afraid to Be an Expert
Don’t be afraid to recognize yourself as an expert. You don’t have to put “Expert!!1!1!!!11″ in your email signature or on your business card or even describe yourself that way to anyone else. But assess yourself fairly, and put yourself out there as an authority when it’s appropriate by blogging, answering questions online, and giving presentations.
One thing you can do right now is to sign yourself up for the RedGate Exceptional DBA Awards. The contest is a chance to think through your strengths and accomplishments and write them down: that’s a great starting point to map out goals to move your career forward.