up arrow Dunning–Kruger Effect

the dumbest man on the internetsYour JoeDog once worked with a programmer who couldn’t program. Now you’re probably thinking, isn’t programming an important qualification for that position? Not in a large corporation. To succeed in that environment, you need buzzwords and cliches. If you have them, managers just  assume you know what you’re talking about.

This particular non-programmer — or Ouch! as we liked to call him — was hired to build a Intranet site. It took him a year and a half to construct something that looked like your eight-year old nephew slapped together in a weekend. It was slow, poorly marked-up but at least it had a confusing layout and design.  Ouch had a parry for its shortcomings: Microsoft. “IE is a horrible web browser. It violates standards and ActiveX has a mind of its own.”

An appropriate response would have been, “If that’s true, how come all these non-Ouch sites look fine and work well in IE?” Instead, he received an award.

Because Ouch could steal someone else’s files and alter their markup to render the company’s text and images, we concede that he had some skill.  Armed with a comprehensive understanding of his craft, Ouch would have also known: 1.) How to work around a browser’s weaknesses by 2.) Stealing  the javascript, too, as it probably fixed those weaknesses but then he would have known too much and realized 3.) He was in the wrong profession.

While Ouch was laboring over his Intranet and ankle-deep in Cold Fusion, we were building an enterprise site with J2EE. And while Ouch didn’t know much, he did know this: in nerd hierarchy, Cold Fusion falls way below java.

So Ouch told everyone — and I mean everyone, his peers, his managers, the cleaning crew that he should be programming in java. To prove his point, he got the java logo tattooed on his bicep … which he showed to everyone.

Here’s the thing: Ouch wasn’t smart enough to know he couldn’t program in java. And management wasn’t smart enough to know he couldn’t program in java. The next thing you know, Ouch was stealing O’Reilly code — including the copyright notice — and attempting to implement the usecase. As far as I can tell, in one year in that position he didn’t release a thing that wasn’t immediately rewritten by somebody else.

Eventually Ouch was sacked but not for incompetence, he called his immediate supervisor the c-word. Management never considered him anything but a fine programmer. The buzzwords he used matched the ones they read in trade rags. How could he be anything but brilliant?

I didn’t realize it at the time but Ouch and the managers who considered him competent all suffered from the Dunning–Kruger Effect.