Expert In Earshot

ExpertInEarshot Alistair Cockburn


Novices have a hard time developing good habits on their own, so... Keep an expert within their hearing distance.

Indications: Counter Indications: Forces:
Do this: Resulting Context: Overdose Effect: Related Patterns: Principles: Examples: Reading: [1] Training: Day Care. "Your experts are spending all their time mentoring novices, so ... Put one expert in charge of all the novices; let the others develop the system." Cockburn, A., Surviving OO Projects, Addison-Wesley, 1997, pp.232-235.

[2] Pair Programming. "Have two programmers work together at the same workstation, so all product lines of code are seen by two sets of eyes right from the beginning."

[CategoryPattern: ProjectManagementPatterns]

I experienced the third example / anti-pattern from beneath. At the end of the project, the heroic attitude was still not my ideal, but the situation meant that there was little point in looking ahead as the ground was always changing mysteriously beneath one. When we got a new project lead who could be bothered to plan, things improved greatly -- after a certain amount of readjustment.

I also used to be a musician, and my playing improved greatly when I changed to a teacher who used to begin every lesson with a few simple duets. Just trying to blend with that sound once a week did wonders for me. -- anon.

This may be an instance of a higher-level FocusYourEffort? pattern, a la PeterDrucker. Another example of this higher-level pattern would be regular progress meetings (especially with scheduling reuse), where the expert would essentially show people how to solve problems in real-time. I think that this higher-level pattern may be a way to unify ExpertInEarshot with the "Training: Day Care" [1] and "Pair Programming" [2] patterns. -- David Seibert,

I think that study groups employ ExpertInEarshot, though the focus is different. Less experienced people in a study group often learn quite a bit from simply listening to the more experienced people in a dialogue. This kind of learning can be very effective and just doesn't happen in a classroom or by oneself. --JoshuaKerievsky

The pattern is written from the standpoint of team organization, but can also be used by a novice who wants to gain expertise. If you want to improve your skills and knowledge, find the experts and try to work with them and hang out with them as much as possible. Don't be shy--most experts like to have admirers--but try not to interrupt their work or annoy them unless it is clear that they have accepted you as a peer.

When the expert is reluctant to teach, because he may be replaced by the rookies, remind him that he can take care of more interesting things because the rookies are taking care of the less interesting things.

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