From Novice To Expert: Rating Your Skills

Luka Giorgadze
5 min readJul 19, 2020

Mind map blog inspired by Pragmatic Thinking and Learning by Andy Hunt.

The skills section of the CV has always been a pain for me, specifically the process of rating my skills. Do I put intermediate or do I put novice? If I haven’t practiced a skill in a while, but I was really good at it a year ago, can I still call myself proficient at it?

Discovering the Dreyfus model gave me a very clear guideline on how to rate my skills. It is a widely used skills assessment model, which defines 5 stages of skill mastery, from novice to expert.

Let’s take a closer look at each level.

1. Novice

This is the beginning of the road for everyone. At this stage, we require very precise guidelines/rules on how to achieve what we want and struggle to make heads or tails of what’s going on or how to approach the issue. All we care about is solving our problem, the bigger picture does not cross our mind.

I was once working on synchronising our platform’s users with Intercom. Intercom is a whole ecosystem for customer support, marketing and sales, but I really did not care about all the great features that it provided and all of its possibilities — all I needed and wanted to do was to synchronise users. I learnt just enough to do that and that was it.

2. Advanced Beginner

After getting some bumps and bruises, we gain a better understanding of the rules and have better judgement when to apply them. The big picture still does not bother us, but we start to develop a feel for the context of the situation. We are still driven by the desire to solve our problem as quickly as possible, but the problem and the subject area do not feel as alien anymore.

Going back to the Intercom example, after some time I needed to integrate more events into Intercom. While I was still heavily relying on the documentation and examples, I already had an idea about where to find the information I need and in which direction I should go.

A surprising fact is that most people, for most skills, for most of their lives, never get any higher than this stage, the advanced beginner.

3. Competent

At this stage we develop conceptual models of the subject area and apply those effectively. Our approach becomes much more structured, planned and deliberate. We can troubleshoot problems on our own, and use our experience and knowledge to solve novel problems.

It’s interesting that people of this level are very good at teaching novices and advanced beginners since they can still relate to the approach employed by them. Proficient practitioners and experts use professional feeling or intuition, which makes it more difficult for them to explain their decision-making process.

I rate myself as a competent UI (user interface) developer — I have several years of diverse experience in this area with a solid understanding of UI development and several mainstream frameworks. I can solve any problem I encounter without assistance and in general feel very comfortable developing the UI solution from scratch. However, I might not choose the most efficient approach when solving a problem and would need a more proficient professional to guide me towards the best practices.

4. Proficient

Our experience becomes the primary guide, rather than the guidelines/rules that we used to rely upon before. We understand the context well enough to be able to make predictions or corrections in order to achieve the desired result. Moreover, we can improve our own past performance by reflecting on our approach and revising it for the better. And we absolutely need to grasp the big picture.

In this phase an individual experiences the biggest shift in thinking on their path to mastering a skill.

I consider myself proficient at Java programming language — I have many years of diverse experience with it, and I continue to gain knowledge by observing the latest developments, learning from the experts in the field, and reassessing my work, looking for better ways to do things. However, I do not have any influence on which direction Java is going, nor do I have a significant contribution towards big open source Java ecosystem projects, therefore I do not count myself as an expert.

5. Expert

At this stage we look like magicians to the lower level practitioners. Our professional intuition becomes our main compass. Many actions and responses become second nature, and are usually difficult to explain to others — they just feel right without much contemplation. We have the ability to differentiate between irrelevant and important details, based on the context. Following the rules is actually detrimental to our performance.

We contribute and help shape the big picture by proactively looking for better ways and better solutions.

I strive to become an expert in Java, and I believe I can achieve it by contributing more to open source projects and sharing my experience and knowledge on bigger stages, while continuing to get a lot of hands on experience with it.

From Novice To Expert

There are 3 most important changes that happen when mastering a skill:

  1. We move away from strictly adhering to rules to using intuition
  2. We improve at perceiving the context and identifying the relevant details
  3. We shift from being a distant observer to being a part of the system

The journey to being an expert is quite straightforward — learn about the subject area, keep practicing consistently, get diverse experience. However, before you set out on this journey, wouldn’t it be great to pack the best available tool with you? That tool is knowing how to learn better, which starts with uncovering some of the inner works of our brains.

And that’s what we will focus on in the next article.

--

--

Luka Giorgadze

Developing software by day, sharing my experience by night (or vice versa)