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Knowing About vs Knowing


I have a coworker who knows a lot about a lot of technical things. Ask him a question, and he will answer it. The answer will never be "I don't know." Ask a question in a meeting with experts, and he will answer the question. The answer from the experts will be different. Ask a question with him nearby, and he will likely answer it. The answer may not be actually relevant, but he will answer it. Look in Slack for the answers from other employees encountering similar problems that you are experiencing, and you will find answers from this coworker. The answers may or may not be relevant, may or may not be accurate, may or not be complete enough to actually be useful, but he will have responded to the question.

Which would be absolutely wonderful if his answers were correct, tested, useful, and accurate.

Said coworker knows a lot about a lot of things, but he doesn't actually know things.

He knows where to look for answers, but he hasn't actually implemented most of the code, library, packages, software, APIs, solutions he suggests you try.

He has heard about someone else talking about this problem, and tells you to try some solution, too, without knowing if the solution is applicable or actually worked for the other someone.

He cannot demonstrate mastery of the tools he tells you to use. He cannot help when you run into the next problem when following his original answer. This is key.

Knowing about something is reading the teaser on the back of the book and thinking you know the plot. Knowing about something is watching a movie trailer and thinking you know the plot. Knowing about something is listening to a marketing pitch and repeating it back, having never actually run the product. Knowing about something is watching a 30 second tiktok video and arguing with your cousin about the merits of some foreign policy at Christmas dinner because you think you understand the nuances. Knowing about something is copying documentation from a service's API into a Word document and thinking you have an RFC, having never tried to connect to the API or write a small program using the API. Knowing about something is partner programming with someone, manipulating the partner into doing all the work, and thinking you could have implemented the solution, having never actually written any of the code.

Watching a 2 minute video does not and cannot give you the knowledge sufficient to understand the nuances of pretty much anything. Reading a headline deliberately written to outrage you does not and cannot convey the nuances of history. Copying and pasting documentation from a service's API into a Word document does not create a RFC. Spending 2 minutes on a 4 page change request review does not improve the code.

People listen to my coworker because his answers are said with confidence. Unearned, misplaced, inappropriate confidence, to be sure. Say things with confidence, and people will think you know things. Stay with those people long enough, however, and they will figure out you know about those things, but you don't actually know those things.

Working with this coworker, this kind of people, is unbelievably frustrating. Working with someone presenting competent and actually being incompetent has to be one of the biggest professional disappointments.

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