Who deserves the title “Expert” or (even worse) “Guru”?

I wanted to expand on a thread in a LinkedIn group I’m part of, where one of the members wrote “It’s funny when 2 experts are arguing about who is better”, using Tom Kyte and Jonathan Lewis as examples of people they say are “Experts”.

Disclaimer: I have not spoken to Jonathan or Tom in regard to their viewpoints on this subject, so this shouldn’t be taken as them saying any of this, just my interpretation.

My perspective on that is I think you will rarely find two people who deserve the title of “Expert” will argue about “who is better”.  They would discuss the technical merits of a point instead.  In fact, most people I know that are generally accepted as “experts” really don’t believe they are, and most of them REALLY don’t like the term “Guru”.

I remember way back when at one of the early Hotsos conferences I was on a panel with Tom Kyte and someone asked a question on whether auto-extension for datafiles should be turned on or not (note I’m by no means saying I’m up there at Tom’s level!).  Tom and I had different perspectives because of the different situations we were in.  He was looking at the issue from the perspective of managing the AskTom site.  He had little time to do that, so switching on autoextend was a darn sight easier than having the system run out of space and generate errors.  My perspective was more from the viewpoint of sites that DID have DBA’s with time to manage the databases properly, where they could be warned by Enterprise Manager alerts that they were going to run out of space in time to address the issue.

In fact, both of us were right in our individual situations (the good old “It depends” answer!)  I still cherish the feedback we got from one attendee to the effect that it was great to see people respectfully disagreeing and backing up their perspectives with technical reasons, rather than just proclaiming they knew the answer and their answer was right.

Coming back to the original point of why people with deep technical knowledge like Jonathan and Tom don’t like the terms “Expert” or “Guru”, I think it’s because most of them believe (and rightly so) they are still on a life-long journey of learning.  What they ARE really good at is not just having that deep technical knowledge, but also in having the ability to pass that sort of knowledge on to us lesser mortals in terms that WE can understand and then apply in future.

The one place I can sort of understand those terms of “Expert” and “Guru” being applied is from a marketing perspective (well, at least for the term “Expert” – “Guru” sounds like you’re sitting on a mountain top somewhere to me! 🙂 )  It can be much easier to make yourself marketable if you’re truly recognized as an expert.  But let’s face it – there are very few REAL experts out there.  The rest of us are on that journey towards becoming one.

That’s my two banana skins worth.  Feel free to add your own comments here as well!



After 22 years of working at Oracle in just about every role except Marketing and Support, I am now working as a Senior Managed Services Consultant with Data Intensity, specializing in Oracle Database technology, High Availability and Disaster Recovery solutions. I am also a member of the OakTable Network, and have presented at RMOUG Training Days, Hotsos Symposia, Oracle OpenWorld conferences, and other user group events. I have co-authored the Expert Oracle Enterprise Manager 12c and Practical Oracle Database Appliance books published by Apress, and am one of the authors of the Building Database Clouds in Oracle Database 12c book published by Addison Wesley.


  1. Pete,

    I guess, the thirst of being known, being famous and having many people looking at you as a role model is the reason that some folks are so die-hard to call themselves as “experts” , “gurus” etc. Exactly the same reason I have seen when people ask me how do he/she can become an ACE or ACED? Any award, either it is being called a Guru or becoming an ACE is only worth if it’s awarded to an individual and not being “demanded” by that person IMHO. If one feels there is a need to have a title added to his/her name or there must be an award given to him/her, probably that person doesn’t understand the real meaning of such accolades. If one is worthy enough, these awards or titles would be coming to his way anyways. People like you, Tom Kyte, Jonathan Lewis, Hans Forbrich, Hemant Chitale, Carry Milsap, Murali Vallath, Kellyn, Tim Gorman, Tanel Poder and the list is just way too long- have spent years learning the technology with a constant drive to become better in it. And that’s what has brought you guys to that level that people like me look upon you as role models.

    I always share these 3 quotes with all those who want to be called Experts,
    “As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it.”–Einstein

    “An expert is someone who has made all the mistakes that can be made, but in a very narrow field.”–Neils Bohr

    “Stay hungry. Stay Foolish”–Steve Jobs

    • Good points, Aman – well, apart from looking on me as a role model! 😉

      I think that’s a very valid test – if you are pushing to have the term applied to yourself, it has much lower worth than when others push to apply it to you.

  2. I like this quote. 🙂

    “If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about experts, they’re experts on f*ck all!”
    Jake Green (Revolver, Guy Richie)

    You can take that in one of two ways:

    1) They are experts, but they are only experts on something very small, making it a bit insignificant in the bigger picture.
    2) Most people who claim to be experts are not really experts at all.

    If you go with, “The bringer of light”, definition, then Guru is quite a nice word. Unfortunately, most people associate it with something more extreme, which makes it kind-of cringe-worthy.

    In the end it’s all a relative thing. I speak to some people and I feel like a total beginner. I speak to others and I feel like I’m pretty good at this stuff. I guess it depends what company you keep… 🙂



    • The other definition I’ve heard is an expert is a has-been (ex) drip under pressure (spurt). 🙂

      Not just what company you keep, but also what stuff you’re looking at, Tim. My initial introduction to the Oak Table Network was way back when with Oracle 9i, and Jonathan Lewis asked me to come and do a spiel on RAC at one of his Optimizing Oracle seminars. It was still early on with RAC and he knew I knew a lot more about it at that stage than he did. I think he’s caught up now. 😉

      And yes, being part of the Oak Table Network does mean I’ve learnt a lot about stuff others in the network know more about than I ever will, so the company you keep IS important. Surround yourselves with people who know more than you do and you will learn so much more than if you didn’t!

  3. Pete – in your message re you and Tom both being right is so true & the message that “It Depends” is so true. The experience that we get over the years in Oracle means that “It Depends” is invariably the correct answer. The following is an extract from my solution to the question I was asked on a Backup and Recovery Course – and I think you will notice that my answers to all 4 questions are consistent !

    Image a scenario where Point-in-Time Recovery (PITR) must be performed:
    RMAN  Startup Mount  Restore Database  Recover Database Until …
    RMAN  Startup Mount  Switch Database to Copy  Recover Database Until …
    RMAN  Startup Mount  Flashback Database to ….

    Question 1 Which one should I choose?
    Answer It Depends

    Question 2 Do I have all these options?
    Answer It Depends

    Question 3 How long will each take?
    Answer It Depends

    Question 4 What happens if I recover to the wrong point-in-time?
    Answer It Depends



    • John, I wouldn’t say “invariably” the right answer, but certainly more often than not! 🙂

      It’s one of the signs of a true DBA (to me, at least) that they can look at a particular scenario and work out WHAT it depends on and HOW to address the scenario.

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