Nathan Roach


Lawyer, Advisor, Investor, Entrepreneur.


Programmers are a commodity… Experts are Not.

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I came across the following blog post earlier today:

A month or so ago I noticed a quite odd advertise on the billboard just outside the department I’m working at KTH, going more or less like this:

C++ junior programmer wanted!
SQL, Javascript and Actionscript a plus
Call 0123 for more info

[Eventually the listing changed to]

Offering internship!
Do you have any experience with HTML/web site building?
Call 0123 if you're interested!

Fellow developers, shouldn’t we all start to charge more?

The author of that blog post is missing the point.

Programmers are a commodity.
Lawyers are a commodity.
Managers are a commodity.
Dentists are a commodity.

Experts are not.

In any given field, probably 80% of the practitioners can do an adequate job and at least complete the tasks required by their position. In my experience, that number narrows to about 40% if the requirement is that the job is performed on time, on budget, and performed correctly the first time.

However, less than 20% of the practitioners are going to be "standouts". And only about 5% will be experts. Getting to the standout stage can be a function of talent, luck, or experience. Reaching the expert stage typically requires all three: talent/intelligence + luck/opportunity + experience.

Experts can justify a premium rate because they deliver premium results. Turning back to the programmer's comment, not every project or every task requires an expert. And experts are only made through experience. So as long as the hiring manager is up front about whether the task requires expert-level skill, I see no problem with providing an opportunity for a less skilled worker to gain experience if the project is of an ordinary nature.

In short, you see these same trends in many professions. Most employees are fungible. But if given time to develop experience, the experts will distinguish themselves. After that point, the question for the employer is simply whether the task at hand requires a "cog" or an expert. Most businesses require both.