February 16, 2010
Me neither, usually.
As it turns out, someone else noticed, too. I found a very insightful column written by Steve Schwartz, called No One Knows What the F%#* They're Doing. I feel like I should warn you...the language in that article is a bit strong...consistently strong. "Shit" is used 24 times, as far as my word search can tell, but that's not counting the many graphics. I wouldn't normally link to gratuitous language, especially when it's completely useless, but the actual content of the entry is insightful.
The premise is that, when it comes to knowledge, there are three categories. There are things you know. There are things you know that you don't know. And then there are things that you don't know that you don't know. The third type is by far the biggest category, and it's by far the most dangerous.
Steve reasons that while structured education's stated goal is to increase our direct knowledge, i.e. things we know, the real goal is to eliminate things from the third category.
Near the end of the entry, he makes reference to one of favorite (and least favorite, at the same time) cognitive biases, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which stated simply says that people who are incompetent don't know it. Read the wiki entry for that, and then mull over in your mind the logical paradox you enter into.
I flip flop back and forth between knowing that I'm incompetent and thinking that I'm awesome. I'm aware of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. What does that say about me?
Someone asked me, not too long ago, how my knowledge in Linux Administration rated. I said 'expert'. Then I punched myself, because I'm an idiot. Not because I can't administer a linux machine, but because 'expert'? Really? Why would I even say that, when I know that's not the truth? I'm not a liar, but for a split second, I was an incompetent idiot. Then I immediately gained competency (or at least clarity). That's a very brief window in which a lot of damage could have been done.
Larry Wall says that hubris is one of the virtues of a programmer. I've sometimes thought about the role of hubris in system administration, too. Generally, I think it's a pretty common side effect of playing God with the infrastructure. I suspect it's more common in smaller companies than larger companies, but then I've got some cognitive bias of my own going on there.