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People like me (was "experts")

My initial reaction to this thread was similar to Marcus Carr's - if we 
don't want experts designing our systems, who should design them, amateurs?

I think the real point that Simon is making is that systems should be 
designed by:

- People with relevant real-world experience
- People who are "like me" - where I suspect "like me" means like Simon, 
when he is writing.
- People with common sense

It's hard to argue with any of that, and I'd be glad to have someone like 
Simon on most Working Groups I have been on, but it's also important to 
realize that the meaning of each of these phrases is relative to the 
problem that is being solved.

What is relevant real-world experience? Well, suppose you were putting 
together a group to write an XML query language. I would want some people 
who have used SQL on a regular basis, some people who have used full-text 
systems, some people who are well versed in XSLT. But I would also want 
some people who have designed type systems, query optimizers, parsers, XML 
repositories, etc. I would like a few people who are just really good at 
going out and figuring out what the potential users really want. Suppose 
you were designing a schema language. I would want a similar blend, but 
instead of people who have used SQL, I would want some people who have 
designed lots of DTDs and schemas; similarly, expertise in query optimizers 
would not be particularly helpful, but experience in designing systems that 
infer useful information from DTDs or schemas would be very relevant. Some 
of these people are "like me", others are quite unlike me. In general, I 
don't think it helps to try to come up with an image of the prototypical 
person who should be working on standards - we need a real blend of very 
different people. It is very easy for me to overrate the importance of what 
I know, and underrate the importance of what these other people know. After 
all, I may not even have any idea what it is that they know! And on any 
Working Group, I spend some frustrating time trying to explain to others 
why the part that I understand is also important.

As for common sense, I think it is important to remember that it has two 

1. Native good judgment; sound ordinary sense.
2. The set of general unexamined assumptions as distinguished
from specially acquired concepts: Common sense holds that
heavier bodies fall faster than lighter ones.
-- The American Heritage Dictionary

You want to keep good judgement as you acquire new knowledge and 
techniques. It doesn't hurt to know physics, though, and there are times 
that common sense is wrong. Or more frequently, common sense might 
reasonably lead to more than one conclusion, and some method is needed to 
decide between them.

I love quotes on common sense, and I can't resist including a few after my 


"Common sense is the most evenly distributed commodity in the world, for no 
man finds himself to lack it."
-- John Stewart Mill

Common sense is judgment without reflection which is shared
by an entire class, a people, a nation, or the whole human race.
-- Giovanni Battista Vico

Judging by common sense
is merely another phrase for judging by first appearance...
The men who place implicit faith in their own common sense
are, without any exception,
the most wrong-headed and impracticable persons.
-- John Stewart Mill

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18.
-- Albert Einstein

Perception is based, to a very large extent,
on conceptual models, which are always inadequate,
often incomplete, and sometimes profoundly wrong.
-- Lyall Watson

A doctor says:
(to a patient who recovered due to unorthodox treatment)
Sir, it would be better to die according to the rules
than to live in contradiction to the faculty of medicine.
-- Molière

Every start upon an untrodden path
is a venture which only in unusual circumstances
looks sensible and likely to be successful.
-- Albert Schweitzer