Tuesday, July 05, 2005

There’s no substitute for experience

I’m in the middle of the book “Freakonomics” written by two fellows from the Chicago School, and it brings back fond memories of my work as a Graduate Assistant, helping professors model the real-world by empirical research and spinning hundreds of data tapes. I love the apples-to-oranges analogy on the cover:

In a nutshell, Freakonomics is a study exposing “bad science”, namely, the pervasive pseudo scientists who postulate theories using artificial “proofs” while never bothering to look at the real-world to discover hidden causation.

The authors show how studying the real-world is the ONLY way to tease-out models of behavior, whether it’s a model for locating cheaters or the behavior of computer software. The book shows several wonderful examples of how real-world experimentation disclosed the hidden model and emphasizes the perils of ivory-tower research and making artificial universes.

This is supposed to be "the" Ivory Tower we all talk about.

The proof is in the data, stupid!

How soon we forget. Remember the old saying “The proof is in the pudding”? It derives from "the proof of the pudding is in the eating". This is the ultimate statement about the truth of empiricism:

“the true value or quality of something can only be judged when it's put to use. The meaning is often summed up as "results are what count."”

Let’s face it, there is no substitute for real-world sampling, and real scientists will tell you that “numbers don’t lie” and that “the proof is in the data”.

I’m constantly amazed at the dimwits who propagate the foolhardy notion that “experience” can somehow be derived by research, especially in the database software arena. I feel bad for people who are not allowed access to a real production computer, I really do, and it’s a real Catch-22 that most shops won’t take you unless you already have demonstrable, verifiable experience with real-world systems.

Let's start requiring experience again

Many years ago I got a database certification and I had to get a signed affidavit from my boss verifying that I had more than 5 years of full-time experience. Good idea, right? Yes, a great idea for the certification to have value to the employer, but bad news for the company making money by selling certifications because it eliminated 75% of the possible profits from wannabees.

Today, this vendor refuses to require certifiable experience, I believe, because it lowers their profits. Sigh. . . More on certifications tomorrow. . . .