Jens Oliver Meiert

Get 15% off on select books on Gumroad—use discount code “testdrive”.

Expertise and the Inverted Parabola

Post from July 18, 2008 (↻ June 12, 2021), filed under .

I’m not a mathematician but it looks like applying one’s experience and expertise resulted in an inverted parabola of effort to be exercised. So knowledge or its use, respectively, seem to mean that beginners don’t know what to do and thus don’t do much, while true experts do less as they know what to leave out.

An inverted parabola.

Figure: My favorite parabola.

This is not a new “less is more” pleading but rather something I feel reminded of when, for example, observing HTML markup in the wild. So HTML novices create documents or sites using the 10 elements they know; after some time they use 25; at the zenith, having gained considerable experience, they go for all 77 elements of XHTML; at some point they discover that this might be excessive and make things simpler, likely for the sake of maintainability; one day, they wake up and throw everything out that is not needed, at all.

In other cases, designers decorate the hell on everything they find without adding any value and rather distracting from what is important, right after they struggled getting anything done at all and before eventually discovering that form should follow function and that design is not art is not decoration.

Same for the first website: Getting it out is the first objective, squashing everything in that is in range is next, normalizing the site might mean the next iteration, almost taking it off in order to focus on the relevant stuff eventually proves the learning process.

The accessibility élèves know the same deal: Add the first alt text, add input placeholder text, add “skip” links, add this, add that, then do the first test and remove some things again, as some techniques impose more problems than they solve, or aren’t our problem at all.

This may all be just logical, but I find it interesting regardless. There is no shortcut to gain expertise, and the beginner’s “not doing much” does not equal the experts’ “not doing much.” However, I wonder if beginners aren’t sometimes better off than the intermediates. After all, not knowing about something or not doing anything at all must not be a bad thing…

About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead—currently manager for Developer Experience at LivePerson—and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on I share some of my views and experiences.

If you have a question or suggestion about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message. Thank you!

Comments (Closed)

  1. On July 18, 2008, 11:08 CEST, Robert said:

    After all, not knowing about something or not doing anything at all must not be a bad thing …

    This, dear master, is the definite proof that you might not be a proficient mathematician but well on your way to true Zen enlightenment 😉

  2. On July 18, 2008, 12:36 CEST, Stefan Asemota said:

    Come on Jens, only a true mathematician could have calculated the 😉 … really enjoying your thoughts. See you all at the bottom of the curve ! 😊

  3. On July 18, 2008, 16:23 CEST, Jens Oliver Meiert said:

    Robert, Stefan, haha, thank you! 😊

Read More

Have a look at the most popular posts, possibly including:

Looking for a way to comment? Comments have been disabled, unfortunately.

Cover: The Web Development Glossary.

Get a good look at web development? Try The Web Development Glossary (2020). With explanations and definitions for literally thousands of terms from Web Development and related fields, building on Wikipedia as well as the MDN Web Docs. Available at Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play Books, and Leanpub.

Stay up-to-date? Learn about new posts by feed or on Twitter.

Found a mistake? Email me,

You are here: HomeArchive2008 → Expertise and the Inverted Parabola

Last update: June 12, 2021

Professional frontend developers produce valid HTML and CSS.