Nothing beats experience

by Volker Weber

If you want to advise others about software, you need to be able to make software. You can't just sit there and look at it. Be very afraid of architects or consultants who don't code. If you want to be a swimming coach, you need to be able to swim.

One thing I would recommend, to anybody and everybody: start coding. Whether you are a tech reporter or a blogger, I recommend you write at least one piece of software. You will have a better understanding of what you are writing about. Did you know you can get all the tools to write an iPhone or an Android app for free?

It does not really matter what you develop. Maybe a script that deletes your old tweets every night. Or some code that assembles a newsletter or your website? A Windows program, an elaborate iOS shortcut? Do something, anything.

It's not hard. As everything in life, you have to learn it. Whatever you are able to do today, you have learned everything. Coding is just one more thing.

How do you learn to code? You copy others. Want to build an iOS shortcut? Look at other shortcuts, tweak one of them a little bit, write a new one from scratch. Fail, learn, get better, excel.

Being able to code is quickly becoming a required skill, much like basic math or being able to read and write.

Nothing beats experience. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger had clocked more than 20000 hours flying when he became famous for landing a plane on the Hudson River. Just a few hundred hours makes you more experienced than a passenger.

Nobody will let you fly an aircraft without proper training. Coding however is more like playing an instrument. You might as well start practicing today. If you have a computer, the instrument is free.


Well put. Nothing annoys more that criticism from someone who hasn't done it, whatever "it" is.

Mick Moignard, 2019-01-14

You do not have to use drugs to be an expert on drugs

Christian Henseler, 2019-01-14

I think, this depends on the form of expertise, Christian.

Nina Wittich, 2019-01-14

Ja! Das kann ich nur unterstützen! Ich bin jetzt beruflich völlig aus der IT raus, aber allein die Tatsache, dass ich mal selbst programmiert habe und auch sonst weis, wie die tollen Maschinchen funktionieren, ist heute in allen Bereichen wichtig!

Irgendwie hab ich das Gefühl, wir züchten gerade eine Generation groß, die ganz toll Schuhe auf dem Smartphone bestellen kann, aber wenn das Gerät mal nicht so läuft, wie es soll, sind sie alle hilflos... :-(

Klaus Schneider, 2019-01-14

Being an IT architect myself, I see coding experience as a necessary basic tool of trade for this role. As an IT architect you don't have to code larger parts of an application (and in my opnion you shoudl avoid this), but at least you have to be able to explain to other developers how to approach the coding of the application. And nothing beats experience in this.

Christian Rosner, 2019-01-14

Christian Henseler, let's dive into your argument.

If you want to be an expert drug dealer, it helps to have been years in the business of selling drugs. If you want to be an expert drug runner, you really need the experience to outrun the authorities. If you need to create new legal drugs, you need an education, experience and follow certain procedures. If you want to be an expert in solving health problems from drug overuse, you need to be a doctor. If you want to be an expert in solving the social issues that come with drug overuse, ... you get my drift.

What kind of drug expert without experience were you thinking about?

Christian Rosner, I think we agree that any IT architect or tech lead needs to be an expert developer. Not one that could do it on principle but one who has done it thousands of hours.

Volker Weber, 2019-01-14

I'm so happy you nailed the fallacy within christian Henseler's bit of sophistry.

Andrew Magerman, 2019-01-14

Sorry, I can tell this only in german, but here's a really good translator:

Also das einzige was ich jemals programmiert habe, war damals am C64. Das waren aber ganz einfache Programme. Die komplizierteren haben wir damals aus irgendwelchen Zeitschriften abgetippt.

Jetzt war/bin ich Projektleiter bei der Einführung von SAP in unserem Unternehmen. SAP wurde 2013 eingeführt. SAP wurde sehr stark für unser Unternehmen angepasst, auch durch viel Programmierung und Customizing.

Hat mir das Basic was gebracht? Ich glaube nicht.

Karl Heindel, 2019-01-14

An understanding of coding is an advantage for sure.
But what i actually expect from people in todays world is an explorative approach to new devices and applications. From my experience there are users who, once they get a new app, go through all its features/menus/settings and actively try what each does. And then there are others who just learn to use the minimum steps required for using app. They don't look for more on their own but call for assistance whenever they need anything new.
In the past i thought that this was a generation problem. But its not. I have met elderly with an open mind and without fear and millenials who can barely use a fraction of the features of their smartphones which they are staring at all day.

Hynek Kobelka, 2019-01-14

I'm with Christian.

There's a difference between _using_ (ie taking) drugs and _knowing_ a lot about them or business related to then. I'd even argue using/taking drugs is counterproductive to be good at the latter.

Correct, to be a good drug dealer you need to know a lot about drug dealing. But there's no need to actually take them. On the contrary, taking them is probably going to make you worse, as you're more likely to make mistakes or take risks you shouldn't to avoid getting caught.

Armin Grewe, 2019-01-14

Armin, as an exercise, you can create more fallacies. Template: you don't have to ... to be an expert ...

1. Stab people - knife-maker
2. Rob a bank - detective
3. ...

It's quite easy. You had heart surgery. Did you ask a doctor for advice or somebody who does not have any experience actually performing a surgery?

Volker Weber, 2019-01-14

Ja @klaus das ist ein riesiges Problem. Es wird gegengesteuert durch verschiedene schulinitiativen, die aber erst nach einer gewissen zeit greifen und evtl nicht mehr fuer die aktuelle schülergeneration.

Ingo Harpel, 2019-01-14

Speaking with news anchor Katie Couric after the plane crash, Sullenberger said:
"One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I've been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal"

Make the deposits.

Craig Wiseman, 2019-01-14

I think you're missing the point. There are different types of expertise and being exposed to something

To be an excellent heart surgeon you don't need to have experienced or have a heart condition yourself. What you need is expertise in performing surgery, in how the heart works etc.

To be a top level football manager you don't need to have played professionally, let alone have been an international player. You need to have managerial skills, motivational skills, tactical skills, teaching skills, many of which are actually different from the skills you need as a player.

Many top players where people thought they would be good managers actually turned out to be bad managers or at best mediocre ones. Simply because their playing experience was something rather different than the managerial experience they needed.

Plenty of great sales people with lots of sales experience move on to become rather bad sales managers. Again, because it's a different experience and skillset required.

Yes, experience is important. But experience in one area isn't necessarily the basis for success in a related area or the next level. It can help, but doesn't have to.

Armin Grewe, 2019-01-14

Armin, I can tell you with authority that to become a writer you need to read. A lot. I have met people who would do everything to hide the fact that they cannot read. Even to the point where they would argue you don't have to take drugs to be a drug expert.

If you cannot code, learn to code. It is an essential skill, like reading or simple math. Especially if you want to be an expert in this trade.

If you are old enough, you can ignore my advice.

Volker Weber, 2019-01-14

The counterexamples are striking in the area of feeling. "I don't have to be an expert at using drugs to know how to use them" simply alludes to the experience in feeling the effects and that you don't have to know all the effects to be an expert in drug knowledge. We find the same in comparison with the surgeon and the experience with heart pain. Again, the comparison refers to a feeling.

Neither has anything to do with programming. It's not about "you have to feel the process of programming to feel the suffering of the programmer" (and yes, this certainly works better if you've experienced the pain yourself), it's about evaluating the execution of a job.

And that you can estimate better if you know what has to be done should be clear to the old.

Nina Wittich, 2019-01-14

Informationsfrage: Wenn ich beispielsweise lernen möchte, wie ich mir Scripte programmiere, die Websites nach bestimmten Infos absuchen - was sollte ich mir dann ansehen, was für eine Scriptsprache lernen?

Nils Michael Becker, 2019-01-14

Nils, I would suggest Javascript or Python.

Volker Weber, 2019-01-14

I have no idea whether you NEED to be a coder to write about coding. I know that I am more likely to take you seriously.

But aside from that, why not learn some coding? It is one of the most entertaining new pursuits of the modern era. I learned an instrument with no plan of being a musician or writing about it, because music is fascinating and I had the opportunity. I've learned about any number of areas which shall never provide me a living (including a major in Latin American Studies), because I had the opportunity. I've spent a lot of time learning to draw, learning to how to make videos, learning all sorts of things... because I could!

Why on earth would you avoid learning more about this incredible, transformative technology if you can do it for nothing more than some time and energy, especially if you are interested in writing about it? I simply don't understand.

Ben Langhinrichs, 2019-01-14

First thought was a full ack. But then a client came to my mind who wrote some scripts when being a student and now also has a son who learned some php and knows how to do some "magic" with a view lines of code and some library calls.

Unfortunately this "expert" has now become responsible for the software department. Can you imagine the hard times the developers have discussing reasonable budgets with him?

Sometimes it is more important to know what you don't know instead of actually knowing.

Lucius Bobikiewicz, 2019-01-14

Why not? Beats me, Ben.

Lucius, you cannot fight ignorance with more ignorance. A little learning is a dangerous thing, but it gets better.

Volker Weber, 2019-01-14

Wasn‘t it actually here where I also read something like „If an experienced engineer tells you something will work believe it, if he tells you it won‘t, try anyway“? its definitely paraphrased but the meaning was that experience can also hinder you because you are stuck to what you learned over time that it works and usually do not revisit what you did not have working before.
So I do value the inexperienced architect who is asking the „dumb“ questions and trying the things when his senior colleagues are pushing back instead. And yes, I saw them more than once make it work after all.

Martin Hiegl, 2019-01-15

Ich hab's mal eine Stunde lang mit Installieren und Basteln in Python probiert und verstehe jetzt schon mal prinzipiell, wie ich hier per Script die Überschriften raussammeln könnte. Und damit durchaus auch besser, was Volker sagen will.

Nils Michael Becker, 2019-01-16

I couldn't agree more! Started programming in the early 80ties at age of 12 in 6502 assembler and Atari Basic. Since then I regularly kept my programming skills fresh with Python in the 90ties, Visual Basic/Script, JavaScript and nowadays with Openhab.

In my professional life I am always wondering how a PM, Architect or Scrum Master could believe to guide a team and oversee a project without ever written one line of code or even w/o understanding the basic concepts of coding!

Project teams are quite clever and get instantly a feeling if there is someone who has a basic understanding of what they do and if they can build up the trust to follow!

My daughter turns 11 in March and I will then start to introduce her to coding.... Now we have to go thru her YouTube addiction first and see that her Youtube channel gets more subscribers... ;-)



Bodo Menke, 2019-01-26

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I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.


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