I can’t know everything, and I often need to bring experts on board. Many people have asked me for a way to validate experts. How do you see through the smoke? So I started paying attention, and here’s what I found.
Let’s say I have to bring someone in for an AI specialty task I know nothing about. First, I do some basic research and find terms unknown to me. Then I backfill my knowledge gaps, the things I don’t know that stand out. Like, what’s “gradient descent or linear regressions”? So I look it up, and it’s actually simple but sounds like a buzz word. Now, when I interview the candidate, I’ll ask for an explanation. If I get a clear answer in simple terms, then I’m probably talking to non-idiot, which is an excellent start.
Can’t fake it
If they stutter around and reach to make up something, I notice. Reaching is different than not knowing, and I’m not sure how to express the difference in words, but I can feel it. If they don’t know and they say, “Hey, I’m not sure, but this is what I do know. This is what I’m aware of…” Now that’s professional. The medical consultant that never admits knowledge gaps can be very dangerous to patient outcomes.
If they can explain the path of progress simply, that’s what I’m looking for. Then, at some point, I’ll challenge them to go deeper. They should have a firm grasp on all parts of the plan. If not, they haven’t done it before.
Richard Feynman won the Nobel Prize in physics, and Albert Einstein and Bill Gates are considered some of Feynman’s biggest fans. He’s been referred to as the Great Explainer. How did this intellectual giant explain things? As if he was teaching a child. He dedicated his whole life to explaining complex things simply, and he has mastered it as the Feynman Technique. When I can across this I was surprised because this is what I had been doing. And I even had my own method for it which I called Reduce, Refine, Repeat.
What do I say?
I’ve been validated tons of times. Sitting in a board room full of experts in their own fields, the grilling begins. If someone is validating me, they’re thinking, “Do I want to take this guy to the ball?” And so the dance begins. In some cases, they might just ask me what I would do about a certain application. If it’s a vague “rewrite-a-system” process inquiry, my response might sound like this:
“First, I’ll check how well the business objectives line up with your code. Are there 20 different features but only one truly benefits your business? If so, we’ve identified bloat, technical debt, lack of customer centricity or a number of other words that mean the same thing, bad.
After comparing the source code to business goals, I’ll help you decide: rebuild or continue with what you have. Then we’ll set up a roadmap, a week by week plan. I’ll provide you with constant updates, and you’ll sign off on everything. Don’t know much about testing? We’ll it’s really important, and I can show you how to monitor it easily.
I’ve been writing code for 17 years. I only work with the best people on my teams. I know exactly what I’m asking people to do, how long it should take them to do it, and how to evaluate quality….”
And so on…
You see, I can explain it forever in down to earth language. The reality is that I typically only get a quarter of the way through my monologue before questions come up. I have no problem getting interrupted to drill down into detail. I give them a full menu of topics to choose from, and the answers get served up piping hot.
Experts love being validated
The other day I had a guy come over to my home to fix a gas leak. While we walked around the house, I peppered him with questions to validate him. The guy just oozed knowledge about his trade, and he even looked the part in his overalls and all. He could talk about gas lines and ovens all day without missing a beat. There was no doubt the man was an expert.
Watch how smoothly they respond. Give them a platform to share their experience. If they get defensive, they’re hiding holes in their experience. If they respond with passion, enthusiasm and an abundance of knowledge, then you’ve got your expert.