How To Become An Expert Where You Work (And Why You Should)

There’s a certain relief that comes when you’re in the hands of an expert. You know they’ll take care of you, that they’re up-to-date on the latest information, that they can do what needs doing. Becoming an expert is a long, hard-won journey, but the benefits are innumerable.

Sure, you’ll probably make more money and work better hours (okay that’s pretty important), but you’ll also have the opportunity to truly help others by drawing on you vast knowledge and experience.

To get an inside look at what it takes to become an expert, four experts in their field share their stories of skilling up and paying it forward.

Aeronautical Engineering Expert: Ludovic Chung-Sao | Founder of ZenSoundproof.com

“There is no such thing as absolute knowledge, but the more you know, the better you can build coherent and comprehensive answers.”

Getting Started in Aeronautical Engineering

Two reasons led me to Aeronautical Engineering. The first and main reason was the passion I’ve had for planes since I was a kid. When I’d fly with my parents, my favorite moments were landing and takeoff, because that’s when you got to see other aircrafts taxiing the runways. Those engines were so small compared to the whole aircraft, but they could sustain its enormous weight in the air.

The second reason was my passion for mechanical engineering, which I went to school for in the city of Toulouse, France, where Airbus’s head offices are located. Thus, it was kind of natural to merge my interests in mechanics and aeronautics. 

How to Become An Expert 

Generally, when you graduate in a field like mine, there are two routes: the purely technical field (the route of expertise) or the management field.

Initially, I thought I needed to hone my technical skills so I could one day become a good manager. But the more I worked, the more I realized that the technical side of things was far more interesting to me than the managing side of things. At that point I knew what kind of engineer I wanted to become.

  • Mentors: My first mentor was the expert of the department I worked in. I’m very grateful to have been able to spend time with him and learn from him. We’d have regular meetings where I’d bring in this huge list of questions. He was always available for me even if his schedule was busy. After spending enough time together, he was able to anticipate my reactions and correct me on my mindset as an engineer. And his values soon became my values: Whatever pressure you have to deal with (cost, deadline, etc.) your top priority is and always has to be that the parts work safely.

    The second person who took me under his wing was my first manager. He taught me how to ask the right questions, become more assertive in the way I express myself, and make more time in my schedule for reflection and problem solving. He never let me down and always gave me a hand on technical calculations. I strive to be like him by passing on my knowledge to others. 
  • Intensive Research, Work, and Repetition: To sharpen my expertise, I wrote many technical documents, spent hundreds of hours reading specifications and standards, and had endless discussions about our company’s best practices. I was never satisfied with superficial understandings of things, and always tried to gain a deep comprehension of the how and the why.

    There is no such thing as absolute knowledge, but the more you know, the better you can build coherent and comprehensive answers. My managers eventually recognized my hard work and attention to details and concluded that my profile fit the expertise path. They were the ones who gave me the opportunity to truly deepen my knowledge.

Benefits of Being an Aeronautics Expert

I don’t think of myself as a specifically talented person. Nonetheless, becoming a technical reference for my team felt very rewarding. This new role allowed me to dedicate more time on deepening my knowledge so that I could help the team more. 

Really, the main benefits of being an expert are being able to work on what I feel attracted to, and to give back to others. That’s why I started the blog Zen Soundproof, which provides people information on how to soundproof their homes.

As someone who likes to dig into scientific topics, I’m really able to dig into the subject matter, and my engineering and technical experience helps me break down complex technical topics and write comprehensive DIY guides.

Marketing Expert: Ceillie Clark-Keane | Senior Marketing Manager, Content & Engagement at Unstack

“Even as an expert, you shouldn’t stop asking for advice, and you don’t stop getting things wrong.”

Getting Started In Marketing

I had been working in publishing for a textbook company for about two years when I realized that I needed something different, something with more job security and a livable wage. I started working with a career counselor to talk about my job concerns, my strengths in writing and analytical thought, and what paths could work for me.

I was hesitant to apply to a job and end up in the wrong place again, so I tried freelance copy editing, PR writing, and content marketing as a way of testing out different career options before making a real switch.

My boyfriend at the time (and now husband) was working at a search marketing company called WordStream. He connected me with the head of their content marketing to talk about starting a marketing career. When she was looking to hire a managing editor, I applied for the role and I got it. 

How to Become An Expert 

When I first started in marketing, I felt behind and wanted to catch up, so I read books about content and marketing, paid attention to what people were writing online, and attended webinars and took classes. 

After that initial push, though, I haven’t sat down and said, “I’m going to be an expert.” Instead, I’ve wanted to get better at something specific, like SEO or public speaking or writing introductions, and I’ve focused on that.

  • Professional Development: While I was still contemplating a move into marketing, I took advantage of the free courses that employers offered on different topics during downtime at work, and I used my library for some less-than-fun reading and checked out content marketing books. When I knew I wanted to move into marketing, I looked for in-person courses and signed up for one through General Assembly on content strategy and another on copyediting through a local college. These were great for concrete training, and I still use some of the strategies I learned from that one General Assembly course in my day-to-day at Unstack.
  • Asking Questions: I’m always curious about how people came to their jobs, so I asked leaders I admired about their career paths. Listening to them, I realized that so many people in marketing didn’t plan to end up here. I’ve had so many coworkers who were awesome at their job but had studied theater or education or music in school. I also like to ask about process. If someone had a great idea for a marketing campaign, what inspired it? If someone tried out voice dictation to fuel idea generation, how did it go? Asking about how ideas came to be is great for learning new ways to approach work and get better.

Benefits of Being a Marketing Expert

The biggest benefit is having experience and knowledge to draw on when you’re making decisions. When I’m thinking of blog post topics now, I measure these against high performers I’ve found before. When I’m trying to improve performance, I have strategies I’ve been taught and used that I can apply.

And when I’m trying to get better, I know a lot of resources that I’ve found helpful along the way—and I know who to ask when I need more recommendations.

But even as an expert, you shouldn’t stop asking for advice, and you don’t stop getting things wrong.

Safari Expert: Shaun Taylor | Owner/Manager​ of Moriti Private Safaris

“The relationships you build over time and the satisfaction you get when you’re part of a local community are awesome.”

Getting Started in Safariing 

I’ve been obsessed with wildlife and the outdoors from a very young age, so it was never a question that I was going to end up in the industry. My first job was at a nature reserve just outside Johannesburg, South Africa, doing horseback safaris. I loved that!

How to Become An Expert 

While guiding for various safari companies, I realized there were always a few people on each outing who wanted to be away from the crowd, and didn’t enjoy sharing the drives and sightings with a group. I decided that there was a gap in the market to offer private safaris for small groups of friends or families.

  • Boot Camp: To hone my expertise in order to start my own business, I started with a 28-day army-style boot camp in the bush led by a guy who had been out in the bush his whole life. He knew about everything from the different species of birds to which insects taste good on the fire. 
  • Certifications: Since 2003, I’ve been taking at least one course on something every few years, with tracking being my main focus and passion. My crowning achievement was earning my View Potentially Dangerous Animals certificate in 2016, which lets me walk and drive in the bush with guests on my own. On top of that, I have Lodge Management diplomas and Snake Handling, First-Aid, and Wildlife Management certificates. In March 2021, I will have 18 years of hands-on experience in this industry and I still absolutely love it! 
  • Mentors: I have two mentors, both of whom run safari businesses. William taught me the administrative side of running a business and how to treat guests. Kobus taught me to have the right attitude and to believe in myself and my unique outlook on the industry. Both are good friends whom I respect immensely.

Benefits of Being a Safari Expert

I think the main benefit is to experience so many “first times” with guests. Their first lion sighting, the first time an elephant walks up to the vehicle with their ears out, the first time they see how gorgeous leopards really are, the quiet that comes over them when they have a gin and tonic in their hand watching an African sunset. The list goes on.

I think the relationships you build over time and the satisfaction you get when you’re part of a local community are also awesome.

Web Development Expert: Chris Davis | Founder of Tiny Ships, LLC

“When I began working for development shops and marketing agencies, mentorship made a huge difference.”

Getting Started in Web Development

This is going to sound made up, but when I was 19 I left college to join the National Park Service as a park intern on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco. As my internship neared its end, I built a relationship with a local art gallery and asked for a job. It just so happened that their assistant/web developer was moving, so if I could learn basic web dev they would give me a shot. 

I learned HTML and CSS on the computer bank at Alcatraz Island in between tours and talks. I started out on now-defunct sites like HTML Goodies and managed to land the job! I worked with the art gallery to rebuild their website and eventually created a new Ecommerce site over the course of a few years, before moving to Atlanta to become a full-time agency web developer.

How to Become An Expert 

For me, becoming an expert was definitely a conscious choice. It’s in my nature to get a little obsessed about things, so I use it to my benefit. And when it comes to my career, I don’t like being surprised! So the more I know, the more prepared I can be.

  • Courses: Practicing and studying is very important, but my knowledge of web development really took off when I began learning directly from web experts. This started online with video courses like Lynda and Laracasts
  • Mentors: When I began working for development shops and marketing agencies, mentorship made a huge difference. Just watching experienced developers code, seeing the tools they used and the decisions they made, I was able to learn so much so quickly. One manager I worked with gave me the incredible advice to never be the smartest person in the room. Even now as a team leader, I try to surround myself with developers that blow me away. I’ve been doing this for over 15 years and I’m still growing thanks to the people around me.

Benefits of Being a Web Development Expert

Being an expert in your field is the productivity hack that no one talks about. It is the single best way to get more done with better results. During that first job, I came home every night to practice Photoshop tutorials, read about application development, and dig into online courses.

When I became a parent, being an expert in web development became even more of a boon, as I was able to spend time with my kids that I used to spend training, practicing, and reading.

Work-life balance is extremely important to me, and not having to spend all my time at work figuring things out allows me to not only be efficient and creative, but go home when the day is done to be with my family.

Honing Your Expertise

Ready to become an expert in your field? Wyzant can help you connect with professional tutors in mechanical engineering, marketing, web development, and even zoology! Whatever your passion is, tutoring can help you become an expert.

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