It’s something I’ve noticed throughout my career: compared to the layman I’m an expert, however, compared with the real specialists I’m anything but.
Take for instance my initial profession as a metallurgist. I have a reasonable understanding, and sufficient knowledge to work myself into a new topic should the need arise, but if someone asked me “you’re a metallurgist, can you help me with such and such?”, chances are that I can only give general pointers and fall short of really being helpful.
That was brought home to me when I went for an interview with the Welding Institute. Asked the question on the role of manganese on the properties of steel, I could give the general rule of thumb of its contribution to the carbon equivalent, but not the in-depth metallurgical structures behind it. [it turns out that manganese lowers the temperature at which pearlite forms, meaning that the lamellar of cement it ends are closer together, and hence increase the steel strength]. I’m sure that this lack of in-depth knowledge cost me a job offer.
Also, when I was one of the local IT experts during my time in Llanwern / Port Talbot, I was very much aware of my limitation: I doubt whether I would have lasted long as a developer in the big bad world of the open web – just not sufficiently security-conscious to build really secure entry systems. Also, while in the end I was OK with .NET, my lack of familiarity with JQuery or php probably would have meant that the pages probably would have lacked the fluidity and user-friendliness of modern-day webpages.
Likewise now that I’m retired, and my involvement as a committee member of both the South Wales Geologists Association and the South East Wales RIGS Group: compared with the layman my general knowledge of various aspects of geology is good. However, compared with a real geologist I clearly fall short of being able to help out with the real geological nitty-gritty.
So how did I manage to make a relative success of my career ? I’d say it’s a matter of being a jack of many trades, and being able to combine a middling knowledge in two separate fields into a joint capability that’s worth having around. Especially the fact that I could be a web developer who at the same had a good appreciation of the metallurgical processes that my systems were supposed to be supporting gave me an edge over someone who lacked either of those two fields of knowledge.
Likewise for my involvement with the geologists: being more IT-savvy than most members there gave me an advantage in trying to become the publicity officer in a social media environment. And even the limited combination of HTML and CSS in WordPress.com is often sufficient to have an on-line presence, and definitely better than no presence at all.
Am I trying to make a virtue out of my limitations ? Probably. Still, it worked while it lasted.