The Presidential campaign this year has me thinking about the topic of experience. The Democrats have nominated the relatively inexperienced Barack Obama for President, and now John McCain has selected the even more inexperienced Sarah Palin as his running mate. It has me thinking about how I evaluate experience.
The approach is the same regardless of whether I’m deciding who to vote for in an election or which programmers to bring in for interviews based on their responses to a Craigslist ad. I see experience as a relatively primitive criteria for making decisions.
If I am looking at two programmers, and the only thing I know about them is that one has ten years of experience and the other has only one year of experience, my initial assumption will be that the more experienced programmer will be more capable when they start the job. Nobody competent would stop their evaluation at that point. Generally speaking, I read the résumés, Google them to see if they blog and to see what kind of things they’ve posted to online forums, and if they seem promising, bring them in for an interview.
What I really want to see in a programmer is desire, curiosity, intelligence, talent, and knowledge, probably in that order. Experience doesn’t tell me a whole lot about any of those qualities, what it mainly demonstrates is that they haven’t given up.
The nice things about political campaigns is that the media exposure given to candidates enables us to judge them by criteria beyond their level of experience. We learn how they’ve used their time in office, what they did before they entered politics, how they respond to the pressure of the campaign, and their knowledge and insights into the issues of the day. (Or at least what their political sense tells them to say they think about the issues of the day.)
Right now people are talking about Sarah Palin’s level of experience because we don’t know a whole lot more about her. But by November 4, we’ll have seen enough of her to be able to make judgements based on other, better criteria. Sadly we’ll have to listen to people on all sides prattle on about experience as though it’s highly indicative of something the whole time.