Thursday, September 15, 2005

What defines a professional?

Have you ever worked with someone afraid to make a decision? How about someone happy to decide but clueless about the consequences?

I've come to a personal definition around professionals vs amateurs. Professionals understand the risks of whatever they are doing and choose which risks to take and which risks to protect against. Amateurs don't understand the activity and take too many risks. Experienced amateurs understand the risks and seek to eliminate them all.

No, that doesn't mean we should all be insurance agents. Here are some examples to make my point.

Military Example
  • Fresh out of boot camp soldier is gung ho and doesn't understand that he'll probably get shot charging that hill. - Amateur
  • Soldier who charged a hill and lived, decides not to charge so forcefully next time. He'll be in the last row. - Experienced Amateur
  • Veteran Sergeant with combat experience, calls in air support, then artillery, then charges the hill. - Professional.

(Yeah that last one was pithy but I couldn't resist)

IT Example

  • IT Director runs wide open WIFI. Company gets hacked. - Amateur
  • IT Director locks down PC's tight. So tight that users can't work. They can't get to programs they need. Work doesn't get done but the work not getting done is secure, IT Director gets fired - Experienced Amateur
  • IT Director identifies IT risks and reduces, not necessarily eliminates, them. IT Director communicates to management, in non-geek, what the risks are, what risks are being mitigated and what risks are being accepted. IT Director gets promoted. - Professional

Real World Example

  • New Floridian has never been through a hurricane. She raises hurricane deductible on insurance to $25,000 to reduce her bill - Amateur (or very rich)
  • New Floridian goes through hurricane with severe damage. Subsequently reduces hurricane deductible to $0. She buys a whole house generator for $20k and leaves house boarded up year round. Annual hurricane premium now more than the cost of replacing her house. - Experienced Amateur
  • Floridian has hurricane shutters or plywood handy, generator and a gas grill. She has made prior arrangements to visit relatives up north should hurricane come. She goes to the beach and will deal with hurricane when it actually arrives. - Floridian.

Manager Example

  • Budget request - Automatic yes - Amateur
  • Budget request - Automatic no - Experienced Amateur
  • Budget request - what's the ROI? - Professional

Yeah there's some humor in there somewhere but I've met all three types. Amateurs and Experienced Amateurs are just as dangerous but Amateurs are more fun. To go back to IT for a second, Amateurs will blissfully, accidentally wipe out your data, but their eagerness makes you feel sorry for them. Experienced Amateurs will sourly lock down your data so tightly that you'll never see it again. You'll be pissed off. Professionals make it all seem like magic that just works. You'll take them for granted.

There are far too many experienced amateurs out there masquerading as professionals. So dig a little next time you're looking for a pro.

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