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It’s not @jnozzi’s fault!

My last post was about how we don’t use evidence-based techniques in software engineering. If we don’t rely on previous results to guide us, what do we use?

The answer is that the industry is guided by anecdote. Plenty of people give their opinions on whether one thing is better than another and why, and we read those opinions, combining them with out experiences into a world-view of our own.

Not every opinion has equal weight. Often we’ll identify some people as experts (or “rock star thought leaders”, if they’re Marcus) and consider their opinions as more valuable than the average.

So how do these people come to be experts? Usually it’s through the tautological sense: we’ve come to value what they say because they’ve repeatedly said things that we value. Whatever opinion you hold of the publishing industry, writing a book is a great way to get your thoughts out to a wide subset of the community, and to become recognised as an expert on the book’s content (there’s a very good reason why we spell the word AUTHORity).

I noticed that in my own career. I was “the Mac security guy” for a long time, a reputation gained through the not-very-simple act of writing one book published in 2010.

In just the same way, Joshua is the Xcode guy. His book, Mastering Xcode 4, is a comprehensive guide to using Xcode, based on Joshua’s experiences and opinions. As an author on Xcode, he becomes known as the Xcode guy.

And here’s where things get confusing. See, being an authority and having authority are not the same thing. Someone who told you how a thing works is not necessarily best placed to change how that thing works, or even justify why the thing works that way. And yet some people do not make this distinction. Hence Joshua being on the receiving end of complaints about Xcode not working the way some people would like it to work.

These people are frustrated because “the expert” is saying “I’m not going to tell you how to do that”. And while that’s true, we see that truth is a nuanced thing with many subtleties. In this case, you’re not being blown off, it can’t be done.

So yeah, the difference between being an authority and having authority. If you want to tell someone your opinion about Xcode not working, talk to someone with the authority to change how Xcode works. Someone like the product manager for Xcode. If you want to find out how Xcode does work, talk to someone who is an authority on how Xcode works. Someone like Joshua.