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What does it mean for someone to say they are "fluent" in Java (or any language for that matter) versus saying they are "intermediate," "proficient," "experienced," etc.

Is there some standard set of terms with an actual meaning? Or is it all BS?

Scott
 
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Scott Shipp wrote:What does it mean for someone to say they are "fluent" in Java (or any language for that matter) versus saying they are "intermediate," "proficient," "experienced," etc.

Is there some standard set of terms with an actual meaning? Or is it all BS?



No, as with most words in the English language there isn't a standards body which codifies and polices their usage. But that doesn't mean that we're living in a postmodern dystopia where words have no meaning either. If you say you are "tall" that doesn't mean that your height is between X and Y metres, it means that you are taller than many of the people in the group you are implicitly classifying yourself in at the moment you say that. Those terms you asked about work similarly to that. Of course it's also possible for people to stretch those categories or to outright lie about their abilities.
 
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Paul Clapham wrote:Of course it's also possible for people to stretch those categories or to outright lie about their abilities.


@Scott: Although it tends to happen more at the lower end of the scale. Have a look at the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Winston
 
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Yup...confirms what I stated earlier . . . sounds like a bunch of BS.

But what do you mean "as with most words in the English language"....we have a dictionary for those. Not to mention educational curricula, professional journalists and writers, publishers, etc. who do attempt to draw lines and boundaries. If we didn't draw lines we wouldn't have definitions, and so to claim someone is lying is impossible. What would they be "lying" about? They'd just be using their own definition so you'd have to agree to disagree or say 'tom-ate-oh tom-ott-oh"...

Thanks for that link on Dunning-Kruger. I am familiar with this one, but had forgotten all about it, even its name. I think it's hilarious. One of those funny because it's true things.
 
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Scott Shipp wrote:But what do you mean "as with most words in the English language"....we have a dictionary for those.


Dictionaries aren't rule books - they are simply a snapshot of how a language is used at a given point in time.
Dictionaries change - not because they think a new word needs to be introduced or because they think an existing word needs to be used in a different way - they change because these new words are already in use and existing words are being used in a different way.
Dictionaries react, they don't innovate.
 
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Scott Shipp wrote:But what do you mean "as with most words in the English language"....we have a dictionary for those.



Let me go back to my "tall" example. Suppose the grandmother says to her 4-year-old grandson "Wow, aren't you a tall boy". Is the dictionary going to chip in and point out that the kid really isn't tall, so the grandmother is full of BS? Of course not, the dictionary doesn't provide precise documentation for what a word means. For example if you look up "blue" in the dictionary it doesn't give you a precise algorithm for determining whether an object is blue or not. Reasonable people can disagree on whether a particular object is blue or green.

It's true that sometimes a dictionary includes a fairly specific definition. I haven't looked but I expect that dictionaries are pretty specific about "helium", for example. But the words you asked about are all in the category which don't have precise definitions.
 
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I get it and have heard that all before. I have a BA in English and minor in Publishing and Printing Arts where we learned the Chicago Manual of Style like the back of our hand. Nevertheless, what I'm saying is in the writing industry, they do quibble about words and point to standards even though those standards may evolve over time, as y'all rightfully pointed out.

But in the software industry, there is (apparently) absolutely no attempt to define levels of expertise in a standard way? I know about SWEBOK and various certification levels within each language/technology/platform. But any Joe can put "expert" java developer on their resume when they apply and who is going to call them out on it?
 
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Scott Shipp wrote:But any Joe can put "expert" java developer on their resume when they apply and who is going to call them out on it?


Any interviewer worth his or her salt.
 
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We had a similar(ish) chat about this a while back in this thread last year. At the time I was reading "Pragmatic Thinking & Learning", one of The Pragmatic Programmers series books, and it discussed the "Dreyfus Model" which is a measure of a persons skill in a particular area. It defines the stages we must pass through on our journey from Novice to Expert.

  • Novice
  • Advanced Beginner
  • Competent
  • Proficient
  • Expert

  • There's a sample chapter here --> http://media.pragprog.com/titles/ahptl/chap2.pdf which talks a bit more about what each stage means. This chapter alone is an interesting read but I would recommend the book in its entirety if you can get your hands on it.

    Elsewhere in the book it talks about that "Dunning-Kruger" effect too, which is also referred to as "second-order incompetence" or "unskilled and unaware of it".

    Edit: Grammar failure
     
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    The software industry has always resisted that sort of classification. For years -- decades -- there has been the idea that you should be able to qualify a "software engineer" in the same way you can qualify an "electrical engineer". But that hasn't ever come to pass. What we have instead is a motley collection of certifications, like the ones which Oracle and Microsoft and Cisco give out for their products. These at least have the virtue that somebody who has a MCSE, for example, has passed some exams set by Microsoft, so you can hope that they are reasonably competent at whatever it is the MCSE claims to qualify you for. But if you ask them a question outside of their certification, then all bets are off. There are very few certifications for generalists, so like Bear says you just have to get the interviewers to find out whether they are any good.
     
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    Tim--I really like the Dreyfus Model. I think I was reading some things about the Software Craftsmanship movement when I came across this link How to Become an Expert: A Roadmap. Very exciting stuff!

    Paul Clapham wrote:The software industry has always resisted that sort of classification. For years -- decades -- there has been the idea that you should be able to qualify a "software engineer" in the same way you can qualify an "electrical engineer". But that hasn't ever come to pass. What we have instead is a motley collection of certifications, like the ones which Oracle and Microsoft and Cisco give out for their products. These at least have the virtue that somebody who has a MCSE, for example, has passed some exams set by Microsoft, so you can hope that they are reasonably competent at whatever it is the MCSE claims to qualify you for. But if you ask them a question outside of their certification, then all bets are off. There are very few certifications for generalists, so like Bear says you just have to get the interviewers to find out whether they are any good.



    You should look into the work that has been done around SWEBOK if you are not familiar. Perhaps read Steve McConnell's Professional Software Development. I found them both very compelling, personally. I know this puts me at odds with most software developers, who are resistant to professionalization. Nevertheless, I think the benefits outweigh the risks, but it is all too much to go into here.
     
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    Scott Shipp wrote:Tim--I really like the Dreyfus Model. I think I was reading some things about the Software Craftsmanship movement when I came across this link How to Become an Expert: A Roadmap. Very exciting stuff!


    But I'm not quite sure how it helps. You seem to be expecting the language (or us, as an industry) to come up with definitions for things like "expert" and "proficient". Has engineering? Has journalism? Has art? Has teaching?

    No. You're gauged by what you've done - Chief Engineer, Head of Department, Editor, Pulitzer/Booker Prize winner, Tate Gallery exhibitor - not by whether you think you're an "expert" or not.

    If you really want something like this to come about, I suspect you would:
    (a) Have to come up with a list of generic "proficiency adjectives".
    (b) Bribe someone in government to introduce a bill that requires all industries to come up with definitions for them.

    And even then you won't have achieved what you want, because there are always "rain men" out there, just as there are Mensa members riding garbage trucks.

    Winston
     
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    Winston Gutkowski wrote:

    Scott Shipp wrote:Tim--I really like the Dreyfus Model. I think I was reading some things about the Software Craftsmanship movement when I came across this link How to Become an Expert: A Roadmap. Very exciting stuff!


    But I'm not quite sure how it helps. You seem to be expecting the language (or us, as an industry) to come up with definitions for things like "expert" and "proficient". Has engineering? Has journalism? Has art? Has teaching?

    No. You're gauged by what you've done - Chief Engineer, Head of Department, Editor, Pulitzer/Booker Prize winner, Tate Gallery exhibitor - not by whether you think you're an "expert" or not.

    If you really want something like this to come about, I suspect you would:
    (a) Have to come up with a list of generic "proficiency adjectives".
    (b) Bribe someone in government to introduce a bill that requires all industries to come up with definitions for them.

    And even then you won't have achieved what you want, because there are always "rain men" out there, just as there are Mensa members riding garbage trucks.

    Winston



    I think we are thinking alike, actually. My motivation for asking was out of a bit of ire over companies that still put these words in job postings and look for them on resumes. When it's pointless and meaningless (hence me calling it "BS").

    In other words, it seems like "the industry" is stubbornly married to the idea of asking for devs to self-identify under these terms....not me.
     
    Scott Shipp
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    Oh...and regarding the Dreyfus model of course it helps because it actually provides a meaningful framework for thinking about moving from where you're at to expert level.
     
    Paul Clapham
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    Scott Shipp wrote:In other words, it seems like "the industry" is stubbornly married to the idea of asking for devs to self-identify under these terms....not me.



    We could have a very interesting discussion about the... dysfunctionality? idiocy? of software industry hiring practices, I think. I have little practical experience in this area, having mercifully avoided having to ever get a new job, but I've seen a lot of posts here which make one wonder about how the whole mess even holds together.
     
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    Scott Shipp wrote:Oh...and regarding the Dreyfus model of course it helps because it actually provides a meaningful framework for thinking about moving from where you're at to expert level.


    I find a good rule of thumb is to always work with people who are smarter and/or know more than you.
     
    Winston Gutkowski
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    Scott Shipp wrote:My motivation for asking was out of a bit of ire over companies that still put these words in job postings and look for them on resumes. When it's pointless and meaningless (hence me calling it "BS").


    I wonder if it might be related to the idea (probably garnered from a Tony Robbins seminar, or some other such rubbish) that saying you're an "expert" shows confidence. I'd say that it's much more like to indicate delusion myself, but then maybe I'm a victim of D-K...

    I've been doing this stuff for 37 years now, and about the only thing that I claim to be an "expert" on is bash; and that's simply because I used it for 15 years as a sysadmin from Bourne, through Korn, to bash itself, and I've written my own toolkit that includes automated "javadoc"-type documentation.

    As for the rest (including Java), I'd rate myself as a "good journeyman". But, as you say, it's all BS - or, as we'd say in England: b*llocks.

    Winston
     
    Scott Shipp
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    chris webster wrote:

    Scott Shipp wrote:Oh...and regarding the Dreyfus model of course it helps because it actually provides a meaningful framework for thinking about moving from where you're at to expert level.


    I find a good rule of thumb is to always work with people who are smarter and/or know more than you.



    I like that!
     
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    I've always thought people where hired at or promoted to their level of incompetence...meaning, they are incapable of reliably handling any more responsibility. They've hit their wall (for the time being at least). Before they can go any further they must learn additional skills and/or improve those they already have. So any adjective describing their proficiency is relative to the moment. Just as the "tall" person is relative to his or her group at the time of being labeled.
     
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