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Ask Slashdot: Is Tech Talent More Important Than Skill?

samzenpus posted about 9 months ago | from the two-sides-of-a-coin dept.

Programming 277

snydeq writes "Taming technology is sometimes more art than science, but the difference can sometimes be hard to discern, writes Deep End's Paul Venezia. 'You've probably come across colleagues who were extremely skilled at their jobs — system administrators who can bend a zsh shell to their every whim, or developers who can write lengthy functions that compile without a whimper the first time. You've probably also come across colleagues who were extremely talented — who could instantly visualize a new infrastructure addition and sketch it out to extreme detail on a whiteboard while they assembled it in their head, for example, or who could devise a new, elegant UI without breaking a sweat. The truly gifted among us exhibit both of those traits, but most fall into one category or another. There is a difference between skill and talent. Such is true in many vocations, of course, but IT can present a stark contrast between the two.'"Assuming Venezia is correct, which do you think is more important?

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277 comments

Neither (5, Insightful)

Quinn_Inuit (760445) | about 9 months ago | (#44442629)

Hard work usually wins the day.

Re:Neither (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442731)

No way.

Someone who's willing to spend 12 hours a day trying their best, but not actually getting anything done is far less useful than someone who slacks of 7 hours of the day and gets a monumental amount done in the 60 minutes they are actually working. Usually the people doing that are pretty skilled and pretty talented - and have the bonus that when the shit hits the fan, you can usually get weeks worth of work done in surprisingly short time spans.

Re:Neither (4, Insightful)

Skapare (16644) | about 9 months ago | (#44443189)

This so often depends on what the task is. If management chooses to let you decide how to go from problem to solution, this kind of thing can happen for a lot of people. If management is already dictating specifics of the solution, then it is most likely to end up as a disaster (except people with the special unique skill of knowing how to deal with idiot managers).

Different Jobs (5, Insightful)

sycodon (149926) | about 9 months ago | (#44442745)

What is described is two different jobs.

Sadly true (3, Insightful)

bensyverson (732781) | about 9 months ago | (#44442975)

That's true, and it's sad. People overspecialize these days, and underestimate themselves as a result. If you can optimize integer math, you can think big picture, and vice versa. Creativity is creativity.

Re:Sadly true (5, Insightful)

Dahamma (304068) | about 9 months ago | (#44443357)

If you can optimize integer math, you can think big picture, and vice versa.

Actually, after interviewing literally thousands of software developers over my career, I can tell you that is absolutely NOT true...

Perhaps, however... apk (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443179)

Ok - I know plenty of guys that can do both ideals described, & I've seen it over a professional career as a developer from 1994-2009 fulltime. I've been fortunate to have been exposed to, worked with, and spoken to such folks thru academia right into the professional world... they ARE out there. They are BUILT, not born, most of the time. Field's TOO big for 'natural intellect' (skill via nature) to be the sole determinant.

I'm talking guys I saw go on WAY past where I was, & were better @ the game when I knew them professionally (going to MS, Symantec, & others + excelling)...

They didn't do it on natural skill alone.

They kept @ it, almost 24x7... why? Most loved it.

(Their motivator wasn't money alone)

On talent & intellect: A few BLEW MY DOORS OUT totally on both fronts, admittedly & probably still do.

(Yes, nobody "knows it all", & it takes time to say, learn not only to be a developer/coder, but also a DBA, webmaster, & even business process analyst/system analyst too - hence why specialization & teams exist + help - since no man is an "army of 1", especially on larger projects with gigantic business process logic behind them).

That's just my 2 cents though based on my personal experience & observation: Not "the biggest sampleset" statistically of course. However, the 'power' of great people, is that they provide examples & can 'inspire' YOU to be "that better man" (it's their greatest talent). I am thankful to have even KNOWN such folks in my life in athletics, academia, professionally, or even online.

Still - I think a human being is a marvellous machine, especially when properly motivated - & that yes, our minds (and bodies) are what I call "plastic": Meaning you can BE anything you like, or DO anything you like, minus say, natural constraints in physicality or "mental strength" for lack of a better expression... takes all kinds to make a world, & some folks yes, are NATURALLY thru gifts of nature/God/genetics etc., 'superior' (for a while @ least) to others for certain tasks too!)

We ARE "built to work" & when pushed? We improve, in just about anything.

APK

P.S.=> I'll still stick by the experience is the best teacher and hard workers rule I posted earlier... you can have all the natural talent in the world. but imo @ least & experience? It's NOT enough!

E.G. #1 of 2-> I've seen it as an NCAA athlete (1985 Letter K http://www.lemoynedolphins.com/sports/mlax/history/mlaxletterwinners [lemoynedolphins.com] ) in the physical world (e.g. guys that outright SUCKED their 1st year, e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Olshey [wikipedia.org] (hey Neil, if you SEE this? Assist 'behind the back' vs. University of Buffalo to you per "yours truly"), lol he is an example of that, could barely play 1st year, but good athlete, in the end he rocked) but came back later like gangbusters via training hard & focusing - others 'coasted' on natural talent & those benchwarmers took their jobs from them in fact in SOME cases)

Alongside

E.G. #2 of 2 -> Where 'intellect rules' in computers (same basic deal, folks CAN improve if they're motivated & love what they're doing which imo is the MOST important factor)

I've seen it, & on many a level in this field and others in fact.

Still what I saw? Is if/when you don't work @ it + keep at it (not bad if you love what you do though), you atrophy or will NEVER make it on inborn talent alone - that can be the biggest shame waste though - wasted talent... apk

Re:Neither (4, Insightful)

hibiki_r (649814) | about 9 months ago | (#44442793)

A programmer with no talent that is a hard worker will still have tons of trouble doing anything new. And if the work is not new, do I really want someone to write more boring code?

Now, there's such thing as a developer that spends the entire day goofing off, and those won't do any good. But after you pass a very basic level of dedication, it's the smart developers that have a clear advantage.

If there's anything that the question is missing, is social skills. A very good developer that sits by himself is valuable, but if he can help others be better, and can communicate with users and people in other disciplines properly, he'll be far more useful.

Agreed, 110%: 1 modification... apk (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442833)

User feedback - it's a HUGE part too: You *may* think you "know it all" & can find any + all bugs or moreso, useability issues, but users are key here... especially on the latter.

* I'd "done the job" fairly successfully as a pro 1994-2009 fulltime, & learned that pretty quickly!

However - you learn ANOTHER thing too: You can't please everyone, & sometimes (which is why I steer clear of 3rd party libs etc. beyond the base API for said platform you code for that is, no avoiding THAT really) faults occur in the very tools & compilers you use (that's when it gets tougher - maybe toughest of all & YOU have to "deal" then, hoping the vendor fixes it etc.).

APK

P.S.=> I learned another thing thru the "the University of Life/School of hard-knocks" - there is NO "greatest programmer": Only harder workers more focused on a particular task learning more tips/tricks/techniques for their playbook-spellbook as time & experience passed. You concentrate on the code, the data, & objective process - becoming 'expert' in it thus - hopefully having the time (or budget) to refine & further improve you wares...

... apk

Re:Neither (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442911)

> Hard work usually wins the day.

Smart work wins the year. With only a day's actual work.

Re:Neither (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443015)

I've seen 'America's Got Talent'.... and after cringing my way through the show and never EVER wanting to watch it again, I'm gonna have to argue in favor of skill lol!

Re:Neither (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443063)

Computers and robots will replace hard workers way before smart workers.

Who will feed you then? The State?

More important is having a leader who can figure out which paths to take and who is bullshitting him. The tech talent maintains the car or even makes it better - but someone still has to pick good destinations.

Otherwise you end up driving around in circles and into dead ends.

true for jobs other than programmer, though ... (5, Insightful)

raymorris (2726007) | about 9 months ago | (#44443343)

Working hard and smart at the same time is normally a winning combination.

It's been aid that laziness is a popular characteristic of a good programmers. a programmer's JOB is to make the computer work for you. Hard work in programming sometimes means writing 18 different classes in one day, to handle 18 different columns. a better approach is to write one abstract class and a couple of subclasses that handle the different columns is polymorphically.

Many times I've deleted a hundred lines of code and replaced it with four lines that do the same task more reliably and more elegantly. My predecessor worked hard. I worked smart.

That said, reading a 1300 page book to learn HOW to do it in four lines was "hard work". I suspect programmers should listen to the old advice about sharpening the axe and spend a lot of their mental energy learning how to accomplish more faster, rather than producing more lines of code per day. The number of bugs is proportional to the number of lines of code, so the person who writes more lines per day really just creates more problems per day.

Re:true for jobs other than programmer, though ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443375)

18 different classes in one day, to handle 18 different columns. a better approach is to write one abstract class and a couple of subclasses that handle the different columns is polymorphically.

And then you have the really smart *and* really lazy programmer, who realizes something that routine has probably already been done 1000 times, and just finds code on the Internet that does what he wants already.

Huh? (4, Insightful)

Edward Scissorhands (665444) | about 9 months ago | (#44442631)

I don't understand the difference. Who cares? If someone can get the job done, that's what counts.

Re:Huh? (2)

mooingyak (720677) | about 9 months ago | (#44442655)

I don't understand the difference. Who cares? If someone can get the job done, that's what counts.

It sounds to me like the difference between tactics and strategy. One (skilled) is good at getting things done, another (talented) is good at design.

Re:Huh? (2)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about 9 months ago | (#44442701)

The difference is one is a learned skill and the other is instinctive. If someone has the latter they just have a knack for fixing/creating things without a full understanding of the underlying mechanics.

Re:Huh? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442803)

The two are not mutual exclusive.

Just like a "sports star", someone could have instinct for the technology and a great affinity for learning new skills. So in the beginning of the career, the talent dominates while the learned skill/experience becomes more and more relevant.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442725)

I think he's comparing learned abilities ("skills") versus natural abilities ("talent"). I don't agree with the choice of terms, but I think it's what he means. If so, I'd say "talent" is more important, because "skills" can be learned, while inherent abilities can't.

Re:Huh? (5, Insightful)

Gorobei (127755) | about 9 months ago | (#44442775)

I don't understand the difference. Who cares? If someone can get the job done, that's what counts.

Ah, grasshopper, as you gain respect and seniority, you will find the success of your project becomes more and more dependent on other people.

If you want to continue to succeed, you need to understand these peoples' strengths.

1. No skill, no talent: avoid these people, have them write doc or something.
2. Skill, no talent: give them designs or procedures. They will execute well if they understand what you want.
3. No skill, talent. Mentor them and watch them closely. You will get a Scala engine running 20 lines of code in the middle of your Java app if you don't pay attention.
4. Skill & Talent. Just chat will them about what you need. You'll get what you need in no time.

Re:Huh? (1)

dyingtolive (1393037) | about 9 months ago | (#44442927)

In its own way, writing documents well takes skill too.

I don't generally write documentation, but I've seen the difference and it can be painful.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443033)

Actually, it takes talent as well. The English language is not logical, and if don't have a talent for English, I don't want to read your documentation.

Re:Huh? (1)

dyingtolive (1393037) | about 9 months ago | (#44443061)

Whoops. This is the talent vs skill discussion. I could agree to that. English, language really, is not exactly a trade; you're either good at it or not.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443045)

Isn't that the truth. I document my process's only to assist those covering for me on vacation, if something can wait or doesn't need to be covered, I don't doc it. I tried having them document it while I show them exactly how to do it and the end result was atrocious.

Re:Huh? (1)

dyingtolive (1393037) | about 9 months ago | (#44443139)

Generally, people have always been good enough to sort out what to do if I'm out for a while to get by until I get back.

In addition to that, I have a binder melodramatically labelled "In Case Brad Gets Hit By a Bus" that I have told my immediate management and a few of my peers about. It's hardly complete, but it's the best effort I've had the time to produce in case the inevitable comes sooner than I think, including backup schemes, recovery processes, and root passwords. I'm not sure I could document my job well enough for anyone to take over if anything went to hell, but I've made sure enough people know what to do that no major fuckups should happen... hopefully.

Re:Huh? You think docs are unimportant? (4, Insightful)

satch89450 (186046) | about 9 months ago | (#44443065)

OK, I have QA training in my background as well as programming skills, so apply appropriate amounts of salt: some of the most interesting blunders in design, and blunders in implementation, are exposed when a good technical writer tries to makes sense of what s/he sees, and fails. In the process of trying to teach others how it all works, all the warts, cracks, crocks, and kludges are exposed in all its glory. What doesn't make sense in a manual will most likely not make sense in the real world. Think of it as scaffolding for the mind. "According to the specification, when I do THIS then X is supposed to happen; instead Y happens." And so forth.

When I was in a large programming group in the 70s, I was the guy sitting at a Wang word processor, banging out design specs and cursing some of the square-heads that couldn't seem to design their way out of a paper bag. When my company decided they wanted to build their own replacement computer for one they had been buying for years, they turned to me to "reverse engineer" the computer -- including all the proprietary extensions and additions -- so the hardware group would have something to design to, and the SQA people to test the implementation against.

Actually, it's an old story in Engineering. When you try to explain something, you see holes that you were blind to for days, months, even years. It's an "Aha!" generator.

Re:Huh? You think docs are unimportant? (2)

mooingyak (720677) | about 9 months ago | (#44443191)

Actually, it's an old story in Engineering. When you try to explain something, you see holes that you were blind to for days, months, even years. It's an "Aha!" generator.

Talk to the duck [wikipedia.org]

Re:Huh? You think docs are unimportant? (1)

cas2000 (148703) | about 9 months ago | (#44443283)

this is one of the main reasons i participate on mailing lists and forums, and write readmes, tech notes, and documentation - the act of writing (or speaking, to a lesser extent) to explain something to someone else, or to solve their problem forces me to put my own thoughts and knowledge in order and ends up increases my own understanding.

usually it's just a fairly minor incremental increase, but sometimes it's a major "aha!" moment of insight, completely overturning my old understanding and opening up new knowledge and techniques. Those occasional moments are priceless.

and, as you say, it's also a damn good way of debugging a problem - write it out, send it, and 5 seconds after you hit Send, you'll realise exactly how obvious the solution is.

Re:Huh? You think docs are unimportant? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443315)

I [heart] our tech writer for just this reason. She'll come to one of us with "I'm not sure how this is *supposed* to work, can you explain it?", and then after one or two minutes of attempting to do so, you think "wow, this is really not intuitive at all". I've learned to not be happy until she's happy.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442925)

Wouldn't you prefer someone who is capable of informing you of fundamental errors in the assignment?

neither (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442645)

It is all about who you know(blow)

"Ideas people" are worthless (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442649)

There's only room for people who can actually get work done. Visualization of the problem is meaningless unless you can actually put in elbow grease to get the problem solved.

In silicon valley right now there is no room for ideas or the people who can't actually get their ideas into practice. Ideas are what kill profits, whereas hard work and skill will bring in money.

Re:"Ideas people" are worthless (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442669)

You would hate academia.

Re:"Ideas people" are worthless (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442965)

Speaking as an "ideas person" myself, I can tell you than alone, I am indeed nearly worthless, however, I am very rarely alone. I inevitably become the most valued member of a team. It simply works out that way.

To be effective, I do indeed need to be paired or teamed who are skilled and motivated, but lack vision. Fortunately there are plenty of such people, but fewer people like me. This is always a negotiating advantage when it comes to money.

Re:"Ideas people" are worthless (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443001)

PS: I don't live in Silicon Valley.

Re:"Ideas people" are worthless (2)

tdelaney (458893) | about 9 months ago | (#44443095)

As a non-"ideas person" myself, I largely agree with the parent. I'm both talented and skilled at software development, but I'm not much good at coming up with the initial concept. I need someone to point me towards a goal in most cases (at least if it's not scratching my own itch).

Once I have that goal however it's a totally different situation.

Whichever One I Have (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442651)

Assuming Venezia is correct, which do you think is more important?

Whichever one I've got, with justification to follow.

Talent, obviously (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442663)

Skill can be acquired.

Re:Talent, obviously (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442847)

Yep. Talent is a thoroughly underrated commodity compared to skill when it comes to employers. Most of the alphabet soup on job listings can be picked up very quickly. I've even seen job software engineer ads that put a chatty emphasis on git or github, like it was some amazingly, cool, new complex technology instead of something you can learn to use in no time. It makes you wonder what's wrong with the people posting the ad.

Talent is a myth... (2)

bensyverson (732781) | about 9 months ago | (#44443129)

...and so is the idea of being "gifted." Pardon this little rant, which is not directed at you, AC, but what we call "talent" is essentially skill plus passion. When a person is phenomenal programmer, or writer, or guitar player, they didn't get that way because it was gifted to them. They either put in thousands of hours practicing, or they had an all-consuming passion for it. So skill wins out in this reductive comparison, because in technology, you must be creative to be considered skillful.

What's more important - velocity or acceleration? (2)

muhula (621678) | about 9 months ago | (#44442673)

It depends on how much talent versus how much skill. You COULD just calculate the area under the curve to get total value...

He's using silly terms to confuse himself. (4, Insightful)

sirwired (27582) | about 9 months ago | (#44442695)

The terms to use aren't "Talent" and "Skill" (those are pretty darn close to synonyms)... If you use those two terms, of COURSE you confuse yourself.

I believe in IT we would refer to the two people as a Coder vs. an Architect. And yes, one person is often better at one of those things than the other. And this sort split is virtually universal across professions; it's not special to IT in any way.

Re:He's using silly terms to confuse himself. (3, Interesting)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 9 months ago | (#44442853)

In IT, at least, they're given two different job titles. I think in other professions it isn't as clear cut. I'm great at visualizing interconnected systems and jiggering logic, but ask me to code and I get stuck in my own personal infinite loop. That's why I'm an analyst and not a programmer.

Re:He's using silly terms to confuse himself. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443037)

I agree with the parent post.

In electrical engineering we also call them designers and architects. Nearly everyone starts off out of school as a designer doing implementation, except for a very select PHD few. Some designers grow into an Architeceture role, and define new products. Some architects are awesome at doing implementation as well. Some are better at marketing side and dealing with customers to help define the products. Some are geniuses at thinking up ideas for products and others have the ability to put all of it down into formal specifications for the design teams.

There is a huge spectrum of abilities, and to try to bundle it into only two categories is a little silly. All talents/skills are useful and having them all makes for a better product in the end. The question of which is more important is stupid. If no one implements anything, you have no product. If no one can decide WHAT to implement you also have no product.

Re:He's using silly terms to confuse himself. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443071)

Sorry dude, if you think 'talent' and 'skill' are synonyms then you must think anyone could be taught to write symphonies like Mozart with a bit of practice and the right teacher.

Huh? I said nothing of the sort. (1)

sirwired (27582) | about 9 months ago | (#44443119)

I didn't say anything of the sort. I simply said that the two words "Talent" and "Skill" have sufficiently close definitions that they might as well by synonyms. It's a lexical statement; nothing more.

I said nothing along the lines that anyone can become talented/skilled at anything they choose to. I don't see how on earth you leapt to that conclusion, AC.

Re:He's using silly terms to confuse himself. (3, Funny)

Princeofcups (150855) | about 9 months ago | (#44443253)

I believe in IT we would refer to the two people as a Coder vs. an Architect. And yes, one person is often better at one of those things than the other. And this sort split is virtually universal across professions; it's not special to IT in any way.

For sysadmins, we call it Windows verses Unix. :-)

Re:He's using silly terms to confuse himself. (5, Funny)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 9 months ago | (#44443255)

Except in modern practice, 'coder' is a monkey who took an 8 week Khan Academy course in Java, while an 'architect' is a guy who knows powerpoint. Most frequently observed alongside 'managers' whose skillset includes Outlook, and 'the rest of the employees' who watch as their companies fold/outsource anything important.

Re:He's using silly terms to confuse himself. (1)

fermion (181285) | about 9 months ago | (#44443363)

Let's look at this from another perspective. I know parents whose kids go to several specialized high school, art, science, engineering, aerospace. In the arts in particular many parent want the school to foster broad creativity, but what they teach is skill. They screen for talent, then the kids who can stifle the talent for a few years and learn skills are the ones who graduate and go off to the major art universities. The other schools generally do the same thing. Look for talent, build skills.

In this discussion the assumption is that some skills are talent and others are genuine skills. In fact there are a number of different talents in software development, and the question is if the person has developed that talent into a marketable skill. One complicating factor is that we are only 50 or so years into this, 10-12 degree cycles, 2 or 3 generations, the guys who made a killing at IBM retired early and are still alive. Even 20 years ago most people could not afford the limited pool of people who really had skills, so they depended on talent. Also the tools we use substantially change every several years. A person with talent and general skills can adapt, and fake her way through the interview for a job looking for someone with 10 years android experience, but if all a person has is skill, that is understanding of how to use the interface, they won't. It is like, and I still don't understand how this is possible, a person who knows how to use Excel but not a generic spreadsheet.

So I would say a person who has talent, who can creatively visualize a process is superior to a person who only knows which buttons to press or words to type in to get a specific action, but a person who has never taken the time to learn the skills is not of much use either. From a business perspective it really depends on how much money one is willing to pay. People with skills and no talent or talent and no skills are cheaper than a talented person with mad skills.

There is a difference between talent and skill... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442703)

...but this isn't it. These are just two different kinds of skills.

People who love their job (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442705)

... enough to think productively about it even when they're ostensibly not working, and think it terms bigger than the constraints handed to them by their bosses and current computing environments, and do that for 15 years or more, have a chance to create something.

Is that an exhibit of talent or skill? What difference does it make.

Skill (1)

astralagos (740055) | about 9 months ago | (#44442709)

Talent is the most grossly overrated commodity in the world. I find for most people, there's a point in life that they can reach by coasting; they coast to X, maybe it's high school, maybe it's freshman year in college. Then they have to sweat their asses off to reach X+1. I'm interested in the people who have to sweat their assess off from the beginning, because then they learn to do it as a habit. Spend too much time of your life coasting and you'll find that you constantly seek out situations where you can coast -- it's safer and it feels better.

Re:Skill (4, Interesting)

foniksonik (573572) | about 9 months ago | (#44442907)

I hire talent because I know I can teach skills.

Don't know source control? Let me teach you GIT.
Don't know shell scripting? Let me teach you Bash.
Build server? Jenkins
Build tool chain? Make/Ant/Maven/Grunt
Web server? Nginx/Apache
Reverse proxy and load balancing? Squid
Programming language? Java/C
Scripting language? Node/Python
Data modeling / schema? No/SQL
Design pattern? decorator, observer, module, factory

Don't know what to do with your new skills? Sorry, I can tell you what I want to do with your skills but what you want to do is up to you. If you can't think of anything then you're just a worker bee. You can work on contract but I won't hire you.

Re:Skill (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443099)

Sorry, but that's bollocks. Many talented people are also highly driven. In fact, too driven in some cases, since they exhaust collaborators and burn themselves out.

Skill, talent, and head banging (1)

Latent Heat (558884) | about 9 months ago | (#44443321)

Is there a box to check for willingness to pound one's head against the wall solving a problem?

I had a vanity Web page where I posted a workaround in a once popular programming language/system.

I received a "cold call" in effect interviewing me for a job. I guess there is not a big market for skill in the once popular programming language/system, but when a person needs that kind of developer, that need that kind of developer and cast a wide net.

I guess the solution I posted communicated that I had a lot of skill in that system. The person calling proceeded to ask me a lot of interview-type questions, "Did I know feature X? Did I know feature Y?"

I guess I didn't need to change jobs or I wasn't going to leap at freelancing when I had enough work to do or I may be lacking in some social skills. I guess I blurted out that I didn't know any of those things because I used this system but didn't have that level of skill in it. I explained that I really needed a solution to the problem I had encountered and I didn't let my lack of skills stop me from reading source code to that system to get to the bottom of what was happening and I posted what I came up with should anyone else benefit by that discovery as I am in an academic environment. The finding didn't rise to the level of a publication but it merited a vanity Web page.

A colleague describes that as "banging your head on the wall." Some hardware or software doesn't work according to spec, you can't scrap it, so you keep testing and debugging and searching and head scratching until you come up with a fix. It isn't skill, it isn't talent, it is simply a willingness to do whatever work it takes and not quit.

The most important thing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442749)

is a big wiener. Seriously, whatever skills you may or may not have, in the end you are still a success since birth.

Neither (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442753)

The techies must sell to everyone else to earn a living. The salesdroids, should, if they have half a brain, acknowledge that everything they have to sell depends on techies making it happen. If either disconnects, the symbiosis is destroyed and both starve. Just sayin'. So: TECHIES: pay attention here; it might not be cool, but it keeps you employed. MARKETROIDS / SALESDROIDS: you really ought to listen to the techies, or you'll lose your job for failure to deliver, when you over-promise and under-deliver. After two or three of those gigs, the word gets around. You have no more sales jobs; the techies won't touch your "jobs". You starve or go into politics.

Just because he thinks they're different (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | about 9 months ago | (#44442759)

doesn't mean they are. The dictionary definition of talent is so vague (4. a) : a special innate or developed aptitude for an expressed or implied activity usually of a creative or artistic nature) that it's not much more than something you can do with a degree of competence.

Wrong word choice (3, Insightful)

hurwak-feg (2955853) | about 9 months ago | (#44442791)

I think Venezia is using the wrong words. I think Creativity vs Skill would be a better comparison. Talent in a sense is just a measure of how quickly one can learn a skill. Both talent and creativity are important. Creativity is needed to find innovative and unconventional (can be good or bad) solutions to problems. Skill is needed to be able to understand the problem and actually produce the work. Programming, systems administration, troubleshooting applications, and other IT tasks/roles all have skills and knowledge that one must acquire before being able to accomplish tasks the job requires. Without the skills and knowledge to fully understand the problem/task, the most creative (talented as Venezia puts it) person in the world won't be able to perform the task required of them. The reverse is also true. Someone could have the depth of knowledge to translate something as abstract as Python to machine code in their head, but if they lack the creativity to apply it or consider non technical approaches (which can be better in some cases) to the task or problem, they aren't very useful either. TLDR - Both are important.

Re:Wrong word choice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443003)

It is possible that Venezia has no skill or no talent or neither in reading, or writing, or both, English in particular and perhaps other languages too.

Re:Wrong word choice (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 9 months ago | (#44443297)

Talent in a sense is just a measure of how quickly one can learn a skill.

And even that is a skill, in large part.

Which is more important... (2)

Yosho (135835) | about 9 months ago | (#44442801)

My car's engine or its wheels?

Do I need to have a fuel tank, too?

(sorry, I couldn't resist making a car analogy)

Engineering to compensate for mental lapse (1)

Latent Heat (558884) | about 9 months ago | (#44443369)

I have an 18 year old car with 186,000 miles. I drove it a couple miles, parked the car for an hour, and then I proceeded to drive home.

The engine had trouble shifting out of 1st gear. I pull off the road, turn off the engine and restart to "reboot", drive off, and it shifts, but the engine labors.

I pull into the garage at home, and I am starting to trail smoke. Turn off the motor and the car smells real bad. Oh oh, the transmission just gave out and time to call the scrap dealer.

Curiousity takes over and I pull the transmission dipstick, and the fluid looks clean and smells fresh. Hmmm.

I start the car up thinking that an alternator or water pump is frozen, but the belt runs OK and no burning smell. I take the car up the road and pull over. It shifts OK but is running kinda sluggish. I had a problem with stuck brake calipers so a spit real good and touched each rotor.

The front rotors are cold. A back rotor is hot. Is that brake acting up again, just had the back brakes done. The other back rotor is hot. Is the parking brake dragging? Open the driver's door and, dang, I had left the parking brake on.

The brake light doesn't light anymore, and I parked in a public lot on a slight incline, so I set the brake. I put a sheet of paper over the steering column as a reminder. I had got in the car, pulled the sheet, and promptly forgotten what I had done so I drove away. No car problem -- I have a brain problem. Pop spent his last days in long-term care and I am age 56.

Re:Which is more important... (1)

gnupun (752725) | about 9 months ago | (#44443377)

While all three of those parts are necessary, which is most important? IMO, it's the engine. There is little variation or complexity in various tires and fuel tanks. Engines, however, have a big impact on your driving experience and therefore, cars are priced largely on the characteristics of their engines.

Similarly, talent is more important than skill because skill can be developed with practice but no amount of effort will get you talent.

Grow up (3, Insightful)

Alomex (148003) | about 9 months ago | (#44442813)

We used to ask these questions back when we were seven:

Who do you love more, your mom or your dad?

Oh grow up. Both are important and there is absolutely no reason or need to create a linear ordering among them.

No (1)

Dog-Cow (21281) | about 9 months ago | (#44442831)

In grand /. tradition, I am only commenting on the summary, as I have not read the article.

Talent is a great thing to have, but anyone sufficiently skilled to do the job is good enough. It doesn't matter how (easily) they got the skill. On the other hand, someone with talent, but no focus to apply it, is worthless. A super-star programmer who only writes good code is probably not going to be great when things go bad. Unless he only deals with his own code, he has to know how to read bad code, how to debug it and how to fix it without introducing even more bugs. That could also be a talent, but it's not the same talent.

TL/DR: Talent can get you skill, but a lack of skill makes one worthless for the job at hand.

Venezia talking out of his ass--as usual (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442855)

System administrators and ZSH? I don't think so. ZSH is a developer's toy, something to give you a comfy custom work environment. System administrators need to be comfortable in any environment, especially the unembellished ones that are all that's left when the shit hits the fan.

But really, being able to do your job is far too often entirely optional, so it makes no difference whether you have skill or talent with technology. Just look at Venezia himself. He has no technical aptitude. He just makes tech-like noises in a column now and then. Or take all those people propping up the rather (self)important financial industry. They produce a lot of macro crap, expanding systems way beyond what they're capable of handling well, or at all. There are entire departments full of techies that are mainly there to take crap from overheated traders, and maybe fix a thing or other, with another macro. Or take quants, literally paid too much to produce good code.

What, paid too much to write good code? Yes, they have to produce something that delivers then move on to the next thing to deliver; going back to fix up non-showstopper problems is not in the cards, they earn too much, their time is too valuable for that.

So skill? Talent? Mostly neither, if we're talking technology. Yes, it really is that bad.

Skill is temporary, talent is long term (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44442875)

Given the rapidly changing nature of technologies, a person who doesn't maintain their technical skills will have few marketable skills remaining in 10 years.

Certain skills such as "problem solving skills" go deeper, approaching the level of talent. They may be signs of talent.

A talented person has these inner skills in abundance. They come easily. Such a person is very intuitive, and doesn't often think in words - nor necessarily even in pictures. He/she has accumulated a lifetime of fuzzy private logic about how the world itself works, and largely portions of this "logic" are frequently being discarded in favor of something better.

Depends on the problem (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 9 months ago | (#44442877)

If the zsh guy gets a problem with zsh you are golden. However if it's a problem needing some Erlang code to find the minimum feedback arcset you are in trouble.

Different? Sure! But a meaningless difference. (4, Insightful)

Chas (5144) | about 9 months ago | (#44442903)

Skill or talent!

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

This is essentially a false dichotomy. Creativity vs technical excellence.

Sure, you can have creativity without technical excellence. There's hordes of crappy garage bands out there that can attest to this.

You can also have technical excellence without creativity. Think about some of the ugliest, most painful-to-read code you have ever seen, but that happens to just work.

You do NOT prioritize one over the other (well, you can, but you're a dumbass of Jobsian proportions if you do).

Ideally, you want them to co-exist, harmoniously, in your people. Or, if that isn't happening, you make sure that they can interact amiably.

Huh? (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 9 months ago | (#44442909)

Is this about Architecture vs. Design vs. Implementation? Of course a really good engineer can do all three well and can document them well in addition. But there is no "more" important. Unless all are done well, the final result will suck. If you do not have somebody that can do all or the project is to large, you need to find somebody that does each aspect well.

Skill (1)

msobkow (48369) | about 9 months ago | (#44442913)

I've known no shortage of white board artists who could sketch diagrams in a blinding flash but who were otherwise completely useless to the team. Nor could they explain their white board diagrams in terminology that enabled those who were skilled at coding to be able to implement their grand visions.

Visionaries are a dime a dozen. But without the skill to put those visions in practice, they're just dead weight.

Re:Skill (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443053)

That's not skill, thats called a bullshit artist.

From History of the World Part 1
Dole Office Clerk - Occupation?
Comicus - Stand-up philosopher.
Dole Office Clerk - What?
Comicus - Stand-up philosopher. I coalesce the vapors of human existence into a viable and meaningful comprehension.
Dole Office Clerk - Oh, a bullshit artist!
Comicus - Hmmmmmm...
Dole Office Clerk - Did you bullshit last week?
Comicus - No.
Dole Office Clerk - Did you try to bullshit last week?
Comicus - Yes!

False dichotomy (1)

tverbeek (457094) | about 9 months ago | (#44442981)

This is a bit like asking which is more important: the left side of the brain, or the right side of the brain?

What really counts? (1)

fred911 (83970) | about 9 months ago | (#44442983)

Is the talent to present and convince .. to get it sold. Without colleges support there will be no compensation.

Talent VS Skill (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443005)

Extremely poor word choice, probably intentional to drive hits but maybe I am being cynical or is it skeptical.

Talent in his context means intuitive but I also think it means a strong engineering sense, a deeper understanding that allows someone to 'develop' a solution. A skilled technician is one who is also educated but more towards the operator side of things, they may have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of something but their perspective is going to be as a user, not an engineer.

Most programmers are skilled engineers and similarly most lack true talent but there I go being sardonic again..

This post is talking about... (1)

David Betz (2845597) | about 9 months ago | (#44443017)

...MBTI. And the answer is: you need both (technically, all 16). I'm an INTJ. I do INTJ work. Put me on a job where an ISTJ would excel and I probably won't last the rest of the month... and vice versa.

Re:This post is talking about... (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 9 months ago | (#44443211)

The same persons that shows talent are the same persons able to consider a multi-dimensional problem and provide a new perspective on it.

When it comes to coding it's all about breaking down a "problem" into parts, run it through a good compiler and get rid of all warnings, use some additional quality enhancing tools like FindBugs [sourceforge.net] and take care of the next step. Then perform test runs using Purify Plus.

The ability to refactor code in modern IDEs is also helping a lot.

What difference? (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 9 months ago | (#44443027)

If there is a difference between skill and talent, neither the summary nor the article make the distinction clear.

It probably depends... (1)

artfulshrapnel (1893096) | about 9 months ago | (#44443083)

It probably depends on what their job is. Asking this as an open question is like asking "Which is a better tool, a hammer or a saw?"

If they're your UI designer, Software Architect, or User Experience Designer? It's probably better to err on the side of "talent" (creativity) rather than technical skill. These people don't need to output elegant and functional code, they just need to come up with clever ideas and solutions from a broader more holistic perspective.

If they're your Frontend Developer, UI Developer, or a high level programmer of some kind? They probably need a mix of the two, with an emphasis on technical skill. Their job is output code, but it won't usually need to be perfectly optimized and they will often need to solve new problems in unexpected ways.

If they're your backend dev, production software engineer, or other nitty-gritty code writer? Technical skill will be the more important trait. These guys will usually not be expected to solve the weird UI problems themselves (That's what the UX Designer is for!), but their product needs to be rock-solid from a technical perspective.

Is this whole story a troll? (5, Insightful)

Diomedes01 (173241) | about 9 months ago | (#44443193)

Is this whole story a troll? The false dichotomy proposed between the (poorly-labelled) attributes of "talent" and "skill" is disingenuous. The comparison between acquired knowledge (what the author refers to as "skill") and inductive reasoning about a proposed new piece of functionality/infrastructure/etc (referred to by as "talent" in this bizarre example) is contrived, and somewhat arbitrary. I almost never read or discuss Slashdot stories anymore, and this s a great example of the underlying problem. Now, all you kids get off my lawn, and leave me in peace.

Wrong choice of words (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443239)

What you want to say is execution (day-to-day planning) versus idea (long term planning). The two are important, you need both for your project to be sucesful.

What about thoery / book VS more hands on? (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 9 months ago | (#44443257)

There seems to be an stuff that seems an lot stuff that in theory will work but when it comes to the hands on part people with the hands on experience will say that will not work or it's an bad idea.

Talent vs. Skill isn't the whole issue... (1)

VanessaE (970834) | about 9 months ago | (#44443269)

I'd say the bigger issue than talent (or creativity, as one poster put it) vs. skill, since both can be learned with enough effort and training, is a reasonably-congenial personality. That is to say, you might have the hottest c0d1n6 5k1llz in the world, and the actual creative thinking ability to put those skills into practical use, but you're a complete asshole, no one's going to want to work with you - either your coworkers or your next prospective employer - and you'll basically just not get anything done that an employer will be willing to pay you for.

There are good reasons not to have the talent and/or skills to do the work - maybe you can't afford the necessarily schooling, tools, etc. or you have no opportunity - but there's never a reason to be an asshole, whether you are skilled/talented or not.

Silly definitions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443277)

Obviously talent and skill are not mutually exclusive. The way the author seems to be defining the terms is not normal.

Talent is normally defined as "natural aptitude" while skill is "the learned power of doing something competently".

Talent x work/practice = skill

The amount of work/practice required to achieve a given amount of skill varies with talent. There are some levels of performance (skill) you can never achieve without a lot of both (think professional athletes).

So, which is more important? For most things, if you need it done today, you need skill. The skilled person may be talented or not. In the long run you would expect the talented person to gain skill more quickly than the untalented. That being said, for most of the normal performance range, you can compensate for a certain amount (not unlimited) lack of talent with hard work.

Skill is more important (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44443355)

Skill is more important because it gets the job done. Talent never gets the job done. Talent is the good looking secretary who can't type, while skill is the secretary who may not be a looker, but without her your company would go broke. Talent is the useless showoff who has a great set of tools who likes to brag about them, but skill is the often ignored man who knows how to use them.

I don't think there's a difference. (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 9 months ago | (#44443371)

What's perceived as "talent" is a high level of skill. I simply don't believe in extreme differences in native ability between one normal person and another. Aside from physical defects, and impairments, every person starts life with very nearly the same brain. Differences in what we can do well develop over time by the accumulation of skills. The geniuses out there didn't get so good at what they do by being dealt a royal flush. They got there by being interested in certain kinds of activity and pursuing them relentlessly. Through constant repetition, the brain structures modify themselves to do the same tasks more and more efficiently and with less and less effort. The colleague who can instantly visualize and explicate a whole new infrastructure can do so because he has spent a lot of time studying infrastructures. The one who can design a new, elegant UI can do so because he has studied and designed a lot of UIs.

Wayne Gretzky became a great hockey player because he was fascinated with the game from an early age and spent many thousands of hours watching it and playing it and thinking about it when he wasn't not on the ice. Great programmers are like that, but with more code and less skates.

Communication between both groups (2)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about 9 months ago | (#44443385)

A variation on this theme was a two tiered development group. Group 1 came up with every new improvement and product idea. Group 2 finished group 1's ideas. But group 2 didn't answer to group 1 so if group 1 had gone off the rails then group 2 sort of didn't work on it. The recognition was that group 1 was a bit ADD while group 2 was a bit autistic/OCD. The key was that group 1 would not communicate so much with group 2 as that would just end up with blood on the walls but that group 1 communicated with the fairly relaxed group leaders who just herded group 2 into not grumbling and moving forward.

The best interactions with the two groups were when group 2 would get stuck (their faces got closer to their screens) and group 1 would be handed the problem again. Often the solution would be available in 5 minutes.

This way group 2 could use TDD or coding standards, documenting, QA stuff, or whatever they wanted that would have driven group 1 insane. Once group 1 handed it over they could then forget the project existed. What they could often do was insist on certain parameters. 30 fps minimum or whatever they knew was critical to the actual success. Group 2 would then have to obsess over that instead of obsessing over some other religious matter such as excessive logging that dropped performance to 2 fps.

Talent is often really an application of skill (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 9 months ago | (#44443387)

The talent of Tiger Woods really just came from practising his skill as often as possible for many years. He's also done something similar with his golf.

Skill is more important (1)

Bruce Satow (3003747) | about 9 months ago | (#44443391)

Skill is more important because it gets the job done. Talent never gets the job done. Talent is the good looking secretary who can't type, while skill is the secretary who may not be a looker, but without her your company would go broke. Talent is the useless showoff who has a great set of tools who likes to brag about them, but skill is the often ignored man who knows how to use them. Talent is the new hire with a college degree and a 4.3+ GPA with an excellent resume, excellent talking skills, and answers all the questions right, while skill is the guy who solves problems, comes up with the correct solutions to do the task perfectly. I've seen a lot of talented geniuses but very few who had any useful skills in my 20+ years of sysadmin work, but I've seen quite a few skilled workers in my line of work who don't have any certifications or degree who can find solutions to problems and fix them quickly. So in my experience, skill over takes talent, just like wisdom over intelligence. You might have high intelligence, but wisdom is knowing how to use it.

Skill is more important (1)

elashish14 (1302231) | about 9 months ago | (#44443411)

I'm more talented than skilled, but consider skilled workers more important. Talented people will take their talents with them when they leave the job. Skilled workers will leave the benefits of their skill in the work they leave behind - better architected, easier to maintain, more bug-free code than someone without skill. Talented/unskilled people would get it done fast, and produce a trainwreck.

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