One of the things I found getting more and more difficult is to explain to other people what I do for a living. To my family and the odd man in the street it is easy: “He does something with computers.” As much as this is inaccurate, I am OK with that. Trying to explain software design and all technologies and processes involved to non-IT people is simply too much and too complex. So I a not surprised when they state inaccurate things about my work such as “Erno works for Bill Gates.” or “Dad plays computer games for a living.” I don’t care. I don’t know either what is actually involved with bookkeeping, car mechanics or book publishing.
What really bothers me is the hard time I have explaining my job to (potential) customers and other people of the same industry. For a while I have been thinking about this and to get to grips with it I came up with The X-Factor Syndrome as an appropriate name for it. Let me explain.
When someone (let’s call her Jill) watches a program such as The X-Factor it is not that hard for Jill to get the idea that she would have a very good chance of winning it. Surely she sings better than these amateurs, even her boyfriend says so. And Jill is not alone. Millions of viewers consider themselves having a pretty good chance of winning the show. A subset of this group auditions for the next series and those that pass the primary auditions find out that the actual job of a singer is a bit different than they expected. For those 5 minutes on stage you study and practice fulltime and everything you do apparently has an effect on your chances of winning. Whether it is finding it very difficult to memorize the lines of the song, losing those extra pounds the jury so rudely kept on pointing out or having your past detailed out in the Sunday papers by an ex-boyfriend from many years ago. Jill is finding out that the smiles on stage are fake, that when you sing the same song a gazillion times the words lose their meaning and dancing is nearly impossible when at the same time you need to stay in key.
For some reason (most probably that the jury expects to make a fortune by cashing in on Jill’s current popularity) Jill wins. She becomes an instant pop star and her world adds yet another dimension. Traveling many miles from gig to gig, singing the same song again and again to people that are (getting) drunk and throwing beers at you. Jill gets home early in the morning, sleeps most of the day only to get back in the car and do the same routine again. Oh, such glamour… Jill, despite the fact that she’s been off the radar for a while now due to the fact that her faithful audience has switched attention to yet a new series of X-Factor, gets an invitation for a TV show where she will sing with one of her greatest idols. Rehearsals for the show take more time than expected and this allows Jill to see a bit of the life of her idol. And this comes as a shock; Jill notices that her idol has a sense of control, dedication and passion for performing that Jill had never seen before. And when they sing (or try to sing) together Jill’s voice is struggling to stay in tune and have the same power and control. As Jill drives home later that day she realizes that while she is singing songs her idol is living the life of a performer. Her idol dedicates all effort to have a maximum performance and at the same time makes it look so easy.
Jill thinks back to when she watched the show on TV. The reason she thought it was easy to win X-Factor was simply this: her idol made it look such an easy job, her idol made it look like so much fun and the X-Factor provided a shortcut.
Everybody works with computers these days. Software and tool publishers made it their job to create shortcuts: lots of websites, tutorials, books, SDK’s, free IDE’s, programmability everywhere and within reach. The professionals make it look so easy when performing or when giving a master class. You can easily sit back and believe that it is easy, you can do it too, have fun and be the best at it. So you learn a language, read the “Design Patterns”, spam some blogs and forums as a would-be expert and your boss, well, he is so happy with what you do because you are way cheaper than those contractors. You have made it. Until that day that you have to hook up with a contractor and you notice that he knows his trade. All he does fits the purpose and when you look at his code you know that he understands fully what he is doing.
You have met a professional.
That is what I do: be a professional developer and trainer and although the word ‘professional’ is easily used I hope you now have a good idea of what I mean by that. I am not a developer or trainer by accident or by thinking I am one; it is my job to be a professional.