Local Expert

Twice in my working life I had the epithet “expert”or “guru” bestowed upon me, in both cases unwarranted as far as I’m concerned.

The first time was at Iscor when I was given a project to study hydrogen embrittlement in steel, and as a start I performed a literature survey which I issued as an internal report. The second part, which was supposed to be the practical part, with a number of trials attached to them never came to much, and the report for the second part was never written. Nevertheless, from the moment I had done the literature survey, I was referred to as “our expert on hydrogen embrittlement” – when I questioned the use of the word “expert” I was told that no-one else knew more about the topic than I did, so that made me the local expert.

That was my first encounter with this definition of the word “expert”, and it made me realise that, unless you’re a globally recognised expert, the word only has a relative merit, one that could easily be toppled by someone coming into the company who knew more about it.

The second time was in Corus and later Tata Steel, when I was gradually building up a reputation for being able to handle databases and building useful websites, which earned me the title of “IT guru”. Granted that this time round the reputation was grounded in somewhat more solid foundations, but even then people tend to forget how large a field IT is and how being an advanced user in one part does not imply being an expert in all IT areas.

The number of times I had to let people down who approached me with the words “you’re our IT guru, so can you help me with Excel?”. In fact, concentrating on database design and web development makes it far more likely that you won’t need all those “advanced” Excel features because you know a more clever way to store, handle and display data.

But even when sticking to the normal IT tools and programming languages, my exposure was limited. A reasonably good knowledge of SQL in a number of flavours, a decent knowledge of Visual Basic, Java and C#, and some exposure to WebFocus and iWay Client, and in the end a good feel of how to build information systems and structure them using a combination of the above tools. It might make me employable in the IT market (even though I’ve never tried and am not likely to), but I’m very much aware of my limitations, such as a total lack of knowledge of other programming languages such as Python or C++, or my failure to have kept up with recent developments on JavaScript and JQuery.

So in the end, if someone is introduced to you as “our local expert”, you’ll have to put this statement into context, and only time will tell what degree of expertise is covered under this banner.


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