April 16, 2014 by Kenneth Fisher
Recently Paul Randal had a brief rant on twitter where he complained about the fact that there are no stupid questions. This lead to a discussion on and how experts should and should not react to said questions. I’ve been thinking about what makes up a stupid question and what makes an expert ever since. I haven’t been able to come up with a reasonable definition of a stupid question but I thought I would give a shot at “Expert”.
When trying to define something like this it helps to start with a literal definition. It’s too easy to get tangled up in the words otherwise. So here is the definition of “Expert” as pulled from dictionary.com.
ex•pert [n., v. ek-spurt; adj. ek-spurt, ik-spurt]
1. a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority: a language expert.
So an expert is someone with a “comprehensive and authoritative” knowledge in say SQL Server. That’s still not very concrete so let’s try examples.
Starting at the top there are those who are unquestioned experts with unquestioned comprehensive and authoritative knowledge. Paul Randal, Brent Ozar and really any other MCM as examples. So that’s the top but is it the bottom? How about me? I’m certainly not on that level but in my office I am considered an expert in SQL Server. Am I the bottom end of expert then?
A recent college graduate asks a DBA of 5-6 years of experience a question. (Sounds like the beginning of a joke right?) Is the experienced DBA an expert? To the recent grad he/she is. Next a recent high school grad asks our college grad a question. So is the college grad an expert? Again yes. To the person asking the question they are. In fact when my 5 yo daughter asks my 10 yo son a question she considers him an expert. (So does he, but then he is 10.) Now my 5 yo is probably not considered an expert by anyone except herself.
So what is the result? What makes an expert? In the end (in my opinion) an expert is someone you ask a question with a reasonable expectation of getting an answer. And in fact I’m personally just as happy with an answer of “I don’t know but I’ll find out” or “I don’t know but you could ask this other person”.
So you are an expert. You may say “But I don’t feel like an expert”. Well I’ll tell you what, neither do I. I look at some of the people out there and feel like I have no clue what I am doing. But when someone comes and asks me a question thinking I’m an expert I always do my best to live up to that expectation. And honestly, I think you should too.