“Years of experience” = vanity metrics.

When software teams search for new team members to add, most, if not all, such search filters involve “years of experience” and a large laundry list of skills as focal points.

Using this concoction of “years of experience” and laundry list of skills as filter is a tricky proposition. Most tools can be learned to a somewhat effective competence level in a few weeks. Frameworks, on the other hand, take a lifetime to master. Another challenge: years of focus on a platform/technology/tool causes  functional fixedness.

The matrix below attempts to reconcile such skills and application of those skills as a function of experience.

Everyone starts off knowing little (bottom left). From there, the team member can add more skills or not.

H – Some people end up in the vicious cycle of using the same few skills for all situations they come across in their career – aka hammer nail syndrome.

D – A dart-thrower acquires many skills, with expertise in none. The aptitude to use these multiple skills in correct situations is largely based on guesswork.

S – A specialist makes the most of a few skills by applying them in appropriate situations. However, they’re quite limited outside of their immediate area of expertise.

U – Having many skills and using them all in appropriate situations is near impossible because of the numerous inherent cognitive biases humans have. This makes the team member doing this with even a small degree of competency, the equivalent of an unicorn.

Even though these are shown in quadrants, unfortunately for the bottom quadrant denizens – H (Hammer) and D (Dart Thrower), the route to becoming type U (unicorn) is through type S (specialist) – H has to specialize aka learn correct application of few skills and then expand their list of skills, D has to learn to apply some skills in a correct manner and transfer this learning to the rest of their repertoire. Keep in mind, it is perfectly acceptable for someone to continue being a S, so long as their team is realistic aka not expecting an U.

Recommended reading:
1. Circle of competence – investing based blog but on-point take on core competencies

2. Trap of low-knowledge, high confidence theories – reminder on the pitfalls on the path to becoming competent.

3. Web Developer Roadmap of Frameworks – note the amount of tools/frameworks one needs to learn even on a single stack aka the equivalent of an unicorn.


4. Satya Nadella “Don’t be a know-it-all. Be a learn-it-all.” – reminder to keep learning

1 thought on “Experience-as-a-vanity-metric”

  1. […] Experience is not a substitute for skill or certainly not an indication of how well someone can do a job. Experience often makes you rigid to change. With the right mindset and depending on what you learn, you may reduce your blind spots and prevent you from making fatal mistakes. [Read my other blog post on Experience As A Vanity Metric] […]

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