How long does it take to be an expert?

Photo by Scott Ableman

Photo by Scott Ableman

Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. He looked at professional hockey players, pianists and composers and said in each case it took them 10,000 hours of practice to get really good.

I’ve always thought practice was more important than talent – I think it looks like you have talent when you like something so much you spend hours and hours on it. The kid that loves baseball, plays every chance he gets and practices on his own. That kid gets good. How good he gets might depend on talent, but either way, he’ll get good.

In Outliers, a book I just started listening to, Malcolm says people have talent but without the 10,000 hours of practice, we’ll never see it.

So how much is 10,000 hours?

At an hour a day, that’s 27 years. At 3 hours a day, it’s still close to 10 years. What do you do for 3 hours a day? If you are like most of us, the only thing you do for 3 hours a day, day in and day out, is something you are paid to do. (So make your job something you enjoy doing!) Although I’d guess there are some free software developers out there who put in a lot of hours “practicing” coding every week regardless of whether they get paid for it.

How long does it take someone with a job to get really good at it? Say you got a job writing code – and you’ve never written code before – and you actually get to code 40 hours a week. (40 hours of coding, not email or meetings.) And you only took two weeks of vacation a year. After 5 years, you would have the potential to be an expert developer. (In the book, Malcolm talks about how people like Bill Gates and Bill Joy got their coding experience – he thinks experts are people that got the opportunity to practice 10,000 hours.)

So next time you admire someone for their skills and say “I could never do that” – stop and think. Did you give it the 10,000 hours?