The Difference Between guru and Guru

Waxing nostalgic today, remembering the early days of learning to use a computer, and eventually developing expertise at it.

When our Math teacher in high school had us working with TRS-80 computers for about 2 weeks, I failed miserably. Made no sense, and I just could not understand what he was telling us to do, or why it had to be so difficult just to get text to scroll across a screen. Or why I’d want to spend 10 minutes writing an instruction to make it do that. Confusing. Pointless.

Then about 10 years later, my father-in-law gave us his used Mac Classic. I read Macs for Dummies. Then More Macs for Dummies. Then Mac Secrets. Within two years I could quote the statistics for every Mac ever made up to that point. I could do that for about five years. Until the iMac, when models and specs were no longer synonymous.

Somewhere early on, I started rebuilding Macs and Mac Laptops. I did a lot of online support for them, helping people troubleshoot issues. Even though I was in the middle of nowhere, the internet opened up the ability for me to develop that expertise anywhere.

One day, a guy contacted me. Said that he had pretty good Mac skills, but considered himself to be more of a “Mac guru-small g” type expert, and he was looking for a “Mac Guru-big-g” level expert to go to when he could not figure things out, and that is why he had called me.

Considering that up until that point I had considered myself to not even BE a “Mac guru” yet, I was really flattered. I’d just been having fun learning this stuff and figuring things out!

I kind of thought it was normal for Mac enthusiasts to be able to quote specs off the top of their head at the mention of a model number (I still know that the Quadra held the most RAM of any pre-PowerMac, and what the initials RISC stand for – and if you know what that means, you are really geeky). Geeky doesn’t begin to cover that… I know. But I didn’t realize that when I was answering emails off the top of my head, the other guys were looking it up before they answered. I had also failed to notice the number of times I jumped into a forum thread and gave some simple answer that everyone else had overlooked, and I happened to get it right on the first try.

It dawned on me… He thought I could be his…. DAVID POGUE!!! Only a girl.

I soon realized that he was not the only one who thought that. I found references to my skills increasingly by other people when they could not solve the problem themselves in public forums. In fact, even four years after I owned my last Mac, people on one forum were still referring to me as the Mac expert.

It really changed how I felt about my skills at that time. Gave me the courage to go on and do some other things I might not have otherwise.

But it was a different day then. Becoming an expert was easier when there were fewer of them (and fewer people pretending to be them). The internet was different. Less crowded. Easier to find a quiet corner and get to know people.

I went on to develop outstanding expertise in other fields – Joomla, SEO, Small Business Website Automation, and some other oddball areas. And I’m off again in a new field again (sometimes literally), in the area of small ag, mushroom foraging and cultivation, and small scale manufacturing. But I never again really felt like I achieved an uncontested status of Guru.

It is harder now. You can still rise to the ranks of “Guru-big-g”, but it tends to be within a certain online or offline circle. It is far harder to do on a global, or even national basis.

It still feels perfectly normal to quote specs off the top of my head, but today it is animal breeds, fish species, plant growing parameters, the latin names of edible mushrooms, and digestive system biology. Maybe, someday, someone will need me to be their “Guru-big-g” for something I’m learning now. But if not, I’ll keep learning, because no matter what anyone else thinks, the learning is still a lot of fun!


**For those of you who do not know, David Pogue was the “Mac Guru to the Stars”, with a list of Hollywood clients that read like People Magazine’s top 100 list.**

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