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Re: [ontolog-forum] SME (subject matter experts) and Ontology developeme

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Thomas Johnston <tmj44p@xxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 17 Mar 2015 08:44:54 -0700
Message-id: <1426607094.38856.YahooMailNeo@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

You wrote:

"....  I would emphasize that really good SMEs who can articulate
the implicit assumptions in their expertise are rare.  The few who have
those abilities are in high demand and can command high fees for their
work.  Since your employment at Shell gave you access to experts in the
industry, you had a luxury that is rarely available in most projects.."

I have worked for, consulted for, or contracted with twenty-four enterprises over the course of a forty-five year career in commercial IT, a third of them Fortune 500 companies (and a third of those Fortune 100). I can't speak for how much value companies put on the (extremely rare) articulate SMEs you refer to, since they are on the business side of the house. But I can comment on how much value companies put on BAs who can extract ontological commitments from relatively inarticulate SMEs (which are most of them), who can clarify the SME's initially fuzzy requirements statements, and who can design databases that are ontologically well-founded. 

That value is -- nothing. Every company I have worked for has regarded BA work and data modeling work as commodity tasks, as empty cubicles (or contractor "pits") which can be filled by anyone who can impress an interviewer (who usually doesn't know how to interview). The determining factor is always money, because the hire decisions are made by low- to mid-level management for whom ten dollars an hour less on a one-year contract is quite a big deal.

This is not sour grapes. When my rates were forced down by the fact that hiring managers had no understanding of the added value of my skills as BA and data modeler, or when I lost out to novices who could just about get the definitions of the first three normal forms right (about all the expertise a hiring manager could recognize), well, there were some sour grapes back then.

But I just want to dispel the myths that management, in any commercial enterprise, can differentiate experts from the rest. They can't. There are occasionally non-management personnel in commercial IT who command remuneration that busts the upper limits that HR sets for the job title they have. Some of them are pretty good, but none of them are that good. Most of them have a personal style that a senior manager -- VP or even C-level executive -- has been impressed by. Most of them are distinguished from the rest of us by nothing more than that.

I don't think that much can be done about this. Hiring managers in IT departments are where they are because of the Peter Principle, and so the notion that they would or could ever recognize the value of a BA or data modeler who had a real facility with uncovering implicit ontologies, is nothing but fantasy.

Again, I have attempted not to exaggerate. I have found things to be really this bad. I would be interested in hearing from anyone else with real world commercial IT experience, especially anyone whose experience is different than mine.


Tom Johnston

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