Gurus, wizards, and just plain smart people

Rick Strahl wrote about being described as a guru by colleagues.  Aside from finding the description to be somewhat embarrassing, Strahl says:

I also found this statement rather ironic, because the developers I’m working with on this assignment are particularly sharp and have an interesting and well designed application and architecture.  Working with them has been a joy because of their skill level and the architecture which is extremely flexible. It’s allowed us with only very minor modification to build a new front end Web application interface of an existing desktop platform. So what business have these guys, who are obviously top notch at what they do, calling anyone a guru?

Strahl’s post prompted me to consider what the choice of the word reflects about both the speaker and the subject, and what the choice may say about how technology consumers have matured.

The choice of guru implies something different from the description wizard, commonly used in the past, for anyone with skills in computer technology. Have we matured from slavishly accepting magic from wizards to learning from gurus? When we called technologists wizards, we were admitting there was specialized arcane knowledge beyond an ordinary person’s grasp. Wizardry is a calling only a special few can answer. If technologists were wizards, then users were acolytes, and is it any wonder IT departments seemed to so often become self-serving, autocratic, and moribund?

When we call someone a guru, we communicate the same awe we feel for wizards. However, the choice also says that we expect the guru to teach us. Learning may be painful, but it is possible. Wizards are not expected to teach, certainly not just anyone.

Teaching separates Strahl from other smart, capable people and from wizard status. Strahl has freely shared his knowledge for at least eight or nine years that I know of. He’s made his expertise available to anyone, not just his customers. That alone doesn’t make him a guru, in my opinion. The top quality and significance his information, is the extra “oomph” of guru.

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