Are you an expert?

Guru. Ninja. Rockstar. Expert. These descriptions are all over the place. (*cough* Twitter bios *cough cough*)

Done learning. This is what I hear.

Here’s the deal. Calling yourself an expert sounds like you think you’ve got nothing left to learn. How can you be an expert in web analytics, or social media? These fields have been around for all of about forty-five seconds. (And they’ve changed twenty-seven times since then!)

My $0.015:  Don’t ever call yourself an expert, a guru, a rockstar. (And don’t just replace it with samurai or swami. You get my point.) Someone else may call you that, but let’s be honest, even then you should shrug it off.

The most appealing trait is a desire to learn, improve, to continue honing your skills. Focus on that. Let your work and development prove yourself. Not a self-appointed noun.

12 thoughts on “Are you an expert?

  1. Amen to that! I’m kind’off getting sick of all the crap in social media and in our little field of analytics. I can’t agree more with you and in fact, it was my #1 recommendation in “WAA Certification – three advices and why I’m doin it“:

    Advice #1: don’t put fancy suffixes to your job title

    You can’t pretend to be an expert, you can only be recognized as such. And to be recognized as an expert, Malcolm Gladwell states in his best seller Outliers, you need at least 10,000 of real experience – over 5 years full time! Guru is so… v1.0, while “ninja” is v2.0 but so over rated


  2. @exxx is a Web Analytics Fairy – I’m not sure what I mean by that but I know that I wouldn’t have the brass cahonas to call myself an expert in anything.

    Except perhaps mashed potato. About mash, I am in fact a guru. 🙂

  3. LOL, you are so right! You made me go and change my Twitter bio (rest will follow shortly). I had the tune of ‘Scrubs’ in my head where the last line is, before the TV show starts, ‘I’m no superman’. How ironic to read this post soon thereafter.


  4. Hello Michele

    I can’t agree with you here. I call myself a Web Analytics expert, not a Quantum Physics one, not a Plumbing one, but Web Analytics, yes. I really don’t see what is wrong with that word because I believe it is true in my case (if not, I’d be bragging!). But to your point, to me expert does not mean “done learning”, far from it.

    I believe I am constantly learning, and I guess “Web Analytics Student” would better describe what I do, but would fare poorly on a business card. I won’t accept the term “guru” though, because it is an empty one, and calling oneself that, or letting others do so about oneself, has more to do with egomania than usefulness.

  5. One has to have a big ego to call him/her a guru 🙂 For me it doesn’t sound serious.

    I think one can pretend to be a “specialist” if it has some (proven) experience and if it is his/her full-time job.

    I tend to agree that “expert” sounds like you say, nothing more to learn, been there – done that. I think that only a few out there in the WA community deserve that title.

    Now, in some companies, “expert” is an official grade…

  6. Rudi – yeah I’m a big fan of junkie. I think I like descriptors that speak to your enthusiasm for a field (which normally means you strive to be good at it!) than self-professed skill.

    Stéphane, Jacques, Michael – I’ll absolutely concede there are probably a few rare folks in our industry who could rightfully call themselves an expert and have the hours of experience to back it up. But I also think things change so fast that most of them don’t profess expert status too loudly since they know in five minutes, there’ll be something new to get immersed in. The irony is that the few people could rightfully call themselves web analytics experts are probably not the ones out there with a ridiculous Twitter bio or Linked In job title.

    I will say however – while I agree with Gladwell’s 10,000 hours (give or take!) I personally tend to think of expert as “been there, done that, nothing else I can learn.” I know that’s not the standard definition, but mine is a little harsher I suppose. (I do typically judge by high standards!) Perhaps you can be an expert in civil war history (after all, you could theoretically get your hands on and review and interpret pretty much every known historical record) but web analytics changes so fast, you always have something new to learn. Just as you said Jacques – we’re all web analytics students.

    Emer – what time is dinner? 😉

  7. @jacques: I can call you an expert, you can call me an expert (if you want to! LOL!) but I will never claim myself to be one.

    Side note: Avinash not only talks about ninja in his presentations, he now even makes the moves to! As witnessed yesterday at The Art of Marketing conference in Montreal 🙂

    But Avinash is Avinash so we can excuse almost anything he does. he! he! 🙂


  8. Stéphane – now that’s what I’m talking about! Let others focus on calling you an expert. You spend your time on giving them a reason to.

    Love it.

  9. Well being an search professional I know that “expert” is a keyword frequently searched. This is one of the motives behind it but you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t do your keyword research lol

  10. Michele,

    Interesting post. I have certainly been called a number of things in my career. Jim (Sterne) used to refer to me as “one of the gurus of web analytics” — a term that made me very uncomfortable, honestly.

    At this point I don’t consider myself an “expert” per se, but I do have expertise in a variety of measurement- and analysis-related fields that I am able to convey to my clients. I let them determine the value of my experience, with the evidence being new projects and ongoing renewals.

    All that aside I figured how to to determine who the ** real experts ** are in web analytics: Go to the Analysis Exchange and look at the list of Mentors who have average project participation scores greater than 9.0: (requires you to be a member of Analysis Exchange)

    The Mentors listed are people who A) are willing to commit their valuable time to something greater than themselves and B) are so good at what they do they are able to teach these skills to others. If that isn’t a good definition of “expert” than I just don’t know what is.

    As an example, have a look at Emer Kirrane’s Analysis Exchange biography: We all know Emer is awesome (a fairy princess I believe) but her scores prove it!

    Anyway, neat post.

    Eric T. Peterson
    Senior Partner, Web Analytics Demystified

  11. Michele,
    Good post.

    Expertise cannot be assigned unless one also strictly defines the context surrounding it. An ‘expertise’ in tool does not make you an expert analyst. Or vice versa. So from that perspective, folks that say they are general experts in social media, analytics, scrm etc. are all misusing the word.

    More importantly, we by default tend to generally assign expertise to domains – which imho need not be the case. One could have expertise in information synthesis or situational analysis (similar to the Chess Grandmasters who are good at evaluating future consequences by thinking 10 moves ahead).

    I do agree with you that an ‘experts’ have to be acknowledged by those around them to be of value. I would rather be a ‘go-to’ person in case of a challenging situation than an ‘expert’ that no one cares about.


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