Becoming an Expert

A post in which I list way too many things that I’m working to improve in my professional and personal life.

Is calling yourself an expert arrogant? It probably depends on the context of the claim. This is a post in which I detail some of the skills that I aspire to improve. Realistically, I don’t think anyone can become a true expert more than a few things, and one might only achieve mastery in one thing after a dedicated and focused journey.

Here’s my self evaluation of skills I am working to acquire. This will be based upon the Dreyfus model of skills acquisition (Novice, Competence, Proficiency, Expertise, Mastery):

Professional Skills:

1. Web Development. I have been involved in web development for over 10 years. I’ve mostly developed with Ruby, PHP, and JavaScript. I have a good grasp on HTML and CSS. During the last 3.5 years, I’ve been working in a non-programming role, so I feel I’m falling behind in some of the latest web technologies, though I read a lot to keep up on this stuff. I have a good grasp of how Angular and Ember work. I have a thorough understanding of HTTP, and proxies (forward and reverse). I’ve used the Rails framework since the 2.0 release. I’ve done extensive work inside of WordPress. I’ve written a few small apps with Node.js, and I’ve created a few things using CoffeeScript.
Self Rating: (High) Proficiency. Perhaps I could put expertise, but because I’ve been out of the hands-on programming loop for a while, I feel I can’t quite put that anymore.
Goal: Expertise, though my current professional responsibilities aren’t going to get me there. Perhaps my goal should be to maintain proficiency.

2. Writing. I consider myself a pretty decent technical writer. The post that gets the most traffic on this blog is a post I wrote over 6 years ago on creating a SOAP server in PHP. The writing is highly technical, and has been referenced by many people as one of the best guides on PHP SOAP on the web. The problem is that technical writing isn’t the type of writing that I aspire to do really well. I’d like to become a great blog writer. Great blog writers have interesting things to say, show some personality, break scholastic writing rules, and are witty. Their content is fun to read. I don’t feel like I fit any of those things…
Self Rating: Competence (technical writing) Novice (blog writing)
Goal: Expert blog writer. I have a long way to go for this.

3. Public Speaking. This is one that I’ve been working hard to improve. I’ve given many webinars and technical presentations at conferences. I’ve sought out a lot of feedback from peers and mentors in this area. Last year, I decided to break out of my shell and try my hand at speaking on topics for a general audience at genealogy conferences. I discovered that I really like those types of presentations and I felt I performed really well. In fact, at the latest RootsTech conference, two of my presentations made the top 10 based on attendee feedback. My mom attended my last presentation, and filmed some of it on her iPhone. Watching myself present makes me cringe and I notice all sorts of flaws in my speaking (stuttering, umms, intonation, etc,). I think the difference between my presentation and my writing is that I am able to build a connection with my audience. I usually tell personal stories and I’m a pretty good verbal story teller. I’m able to incorporate some humor in my presentations.
Self Rating: Proficiency
Goal: Expertise. This will take many years more practice participating in conferences. I’d like to someday be a keynote speaker at a major conference, which would require mastery.

4. Product Management. My role at work has a lot of overlap with product management. I do a lot of defining direction of integration points between major genealogy software products. I’m getting pretty good at creating user flows, product requirements, writing user stories, etc. I’m quite proficient with office tools, agile methodologies, etc.
Self Rating: Competence
Goal: Proficiency

5. User Experience Design. I list this only because I’m jealous of the skills that great designers have. If I had great design skills, I think I could be an amazing web freelancer, which would be really fun. However, it is unrealistic for me to think I’ll ever be an expert UX designer.
Self Rating: Novice
Goal: Competence.

6. Internet Marketing. I’ve read a ton of material on Internet Marketing. I have a pretty good handle on traffic driving techniques (paid vs natural search traffic). I’m pretty good with web analytic tools and analysis of data. I’m not a good copywriter. I have a lot of interest in this skill because this can make or break a startup company. I’d like to ultimately be a founder of a successful startup. I’ve been a part of several failed startups, and this is an area that I believe we missed terribly.
Self Rating: Novice.
Goal: Competence

Personal or Hobby Skills:

1. Gardening. I’m a total newbie when it comes to gardening. This year, my goal is to eat some vegetables and fruits that I grow on my property. Last year, I planted some seeds in some dirt that I attempted to prepare, but only a couple of carrot greens popped up and my kids pulled them when they were wee bitty roots.
Self Rating: Novice
Goal: Competence

2. Fishing. I’ve never been much of a fisherman. My family would occasionally attempt a fishing trip, and would come away with no fish. My friends who do fish love it, and I’m sure it is because they actually catch fish. Yesterday, my son and I caught our first fish—2 small rainbow trouts. Before that, we had gone fishing three times together with no luck. We’re learning from other fisherman at the ponds and starting to develop some fishing skills.
Self Rating: Novice
Goal: Competence

3. Scouting. I’ve almost completed my first three years as a Scoutmaster. When I started, I was completely overwhelmed, but excited at the opportunity. Now, I’m super busy, but I don’t quite feel overwhelmed. I have tons of room to improve as a Scoutmaster, but I can see big improvements in the way I lead my scouts over what I did 3 years ago.
Self Rating: Competence
Goal: Proficiency

4. Genealogy. I’ve been doing genealogy research for over seven years. I’ve attended a lot of genealogy conferences during that time. I’ve watched a lot of training videos, and I read a lot of genealogy blogs. I have a pretty good understanding of how genealogy is done. I believe this will be a lifelong pursuit. I’ll discover new approaches and methods for my genealogy.
Self Rating: Proficiency
Goal: Mastery (lifelong pursuit)

5. Piano: As a kid, I took about six years of piano lessons. I’m grateful for all of the piano lessons and the ability to read music, but I feel like I’ve lost so much as a busy adult. I’d like to begin playing more. Currently, I can only hammer out a few songs from some Journey sheet music. I love Journey by the way. They are one of my all time favorite bands.
Self Rating: Competence
Goal: Proficiency

6. Drumming: I played the drums through high school and college. At BYU, I played a couple of semesters in their steel drum band. I haven’t really touched a drum set in the last 7 years. I’m hoping to buy one as my oldest boy gets older. I think he should learn to play the piano first though. It might be a while before we have a drum set in the home.
Self Rating: Proficiency (dropping to competence)
Goal: Maintain Proficiency

Okay, so I’ve listed a ton of stuff here. I have all of these skills I’m trying to improve, but I wonder if I’m spread so thin that I won’t make significant improvement on very many of these. Is it bad to have high aspirations for these things? I’m not sure, but writing this post has helped me to see what I’ve been juggling around in my mind. Perhaps I’ll come back to this post every few months to see what I’ve done to improve my skills in these areas.