Common wisdom, and self help books, says that anyone who completes 10,000 hours (10 years) in their chosen discipline will excel. This is part of the rationale for Code Kata and Coding Dojos from the Software Craftsmanship movement. But the 10 years equals expert formula isn’t true.
Here is an example of self-help tendency to encourage practice, from no less an authority than Captain Picard of Star Trek fame:
Picard artistry tip: Lacking innate talent at a skill doesn’t mean you should stop. On the contrary, it means you need to practice.
Picard Tips (@PicardTips, 30 July 2014)
Although I follow and enjoy Picard Tips, this tip isn’t one I agree with. I believe practice doesn’t help unless you have talent. Even the magical 10,000 hours of practice won’t help much. And my belief is now backed by research.
A study by Macnamara, Hambrick and Oswald (2014, 1 July) found there are plenty of people who work very hard in their chosen area yet fail to excel. Dr Jeremy Dean explains that:
The results [of the research] contained a surprise, but first the obvious news: practice was important. People didn’t generally get good without practice.
The surprise was that practice only accounted for 12% of individual differences in performance across all the different areas.
- Games: 25% practice.
- Sports: 18% practice.
- Education: 4% practice.
- Professional performance: less than 1% practice.
In a software context the last one “Professional performance” seems most relevant. Practice makes “less than 1%” difference to professional performance!
For me this reinforces my belief that you should hire on talent rather than other things like qualifications, knowledge or personal attributes. And certainly not on time served / hours of practice. So keep doing Coding Kata and attending Coding Dojos if you enjoy them. But they won’t help too much unless you already have the talent for coding.
Sorry Captain Picard, I think you’re wrong.
Dean, J. (2014, 3 July). The 10,000 Hours Myth: Practice Predicts Only 12% of Performance. PsyBlog.
Macnamara, B. N., Hambrick D. Z. and Oswald, F. L. (2014, 1 July). Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions – A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Science.