Hairdressers and Programmers

We’ve all had to learn new ways to do things during the pandemic. Before the hair salons re-opened, many people decided to cut their own hair. Youtube has about 50,000 matches for the search “cut your own hair during lockdown”.

Of course, Youtube also has a few thousand videos about disastrous lockdown haircuts. Because it takes more than a few videos to build competence.

Looking for experience?

If you look at almost any job opening for a developer, it will include a phrase like: “minimum 5 years experience”.

Why? You want someone who will get up to speed and produce code as quickly as possible. A novice can’t do that. So you insist on experience. But why 5 years? Why not 4 years? Or 6 years? And here’s the real question:

Is experience the right test for competence?

Because that’s the flaw in the argument. Doing something for longer doesn’t necessarily make you any better.

Available: one very experienced, but incompetent, hair stylist

Years ago my husband decided it was a waste of time to go to a hair stylist or barber. It’s more convenient for him if I cut his hair — especially as he is not fussy about the results. So I have cut his hair for the past 20 years. 20 years! I am definitely a very experienced cutter of hair. But am I any good at it?

The answer is no. I am just as bad as I was 20 years ago. I may be faster, but definitely not better. After cutting his hair about 100 times, my skills have not improved. I’ve only become more proficient at cutting hair badly.

A real-world example

Some years ago, I was presenting the Introduction to Programming Course. I was very surprised when one delegate introduced himself as a senior C++ programmer. Why was he on the course? I thought there might have been a mix-up in the paperwork. So I phoned his manager to check. The manager insisted that the delegate was on the right course.

During the next few days I understood. Regardless of his title and years of employment, this person could not write code. He did not understand how loops worked or when to use them. I don’t know what he’d been doing at work, but he certainly wasn’t any good at programming.

Have experience, need training

Experience is important, in work and in life. But that’s only if we learn from our experience. Otherwise we match the old definition of insanity — “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Even experienced hair stylist attend seminars to improve their skills. So I am dismayed when prospective clients tell me that their programmers don’t need training, because they only employ experienced people. (Please, allow me to offer you a free hair cut…)

Learning never ends. There is always more to learn. There are always new ways to think about problems. And that’s a good thing. That’s how we grow and become more skilled.

Avoid insanity

If you want the same problems with systems and projects and deadlines — keep doing what you’ve been doing.

But if you want better systems, faster development and fewer bugs — do something different. Send your developers on training. Give them the chance to learn better ways to do things.

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