As a software engineer, my job is highly technical. A co-worker and I were remarking that frequently our non-technical co-workers will assume that we're not working if a task takes longer than they imagine it should, not knowing the reality of what it takes to accomplish the task. This is almost always the case, their estimate being smaller than the reality by large margins. We successfully related to our non-technical colleagues a metaphor that made sense to them.

"Imagine on your commute to work every day you pass by a construction site where a bridge is being built that will eventually shorten your commute quite a bit. You know that bridges take a long time to make, but as you drive past the site every day you don't seem to notice any progress being made toward a complete bridge. You might get frustrated and assume that they aren't working when in reality the process of building a bridge is intensely complex and includes many many steps that aren't visible from the highway."

Of course, bridges are completely unusable until they are finished whereas software development is rarely so ambitious without usable milestones. Regardless, even on small tasks, it seems the layman expects it is easier and quicker than it actually is. Because this seems a cognitive bias that would be common to all similarly arcane activities, I imagine there's a name of it. What is that name?

  • Uhm, underestimating something.
    – NVZ
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 15:18

2 Answers 2


I believe what you are looking for is called the Dunning–Kruger effect. I would quote the Wikipedia page but I think Theodoros Chatzigiannakis puts it better:

the Dunning–Kruger effect (...) is a cognitive bias that seems to apply to any activity, ranging from (e.g.) understanding a piece of text to being a doctor. The bias is that people who are unskilled at or inexperienced in any particular activity will overestimate their own skill level and underestimate others' skill level. In other words, being unskilled at or inexperienced in something not only prevents one from performing it, but it even prevents one from accurately evaluating anyone performing it.

From: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com (Why is it that people are so surprised that graphics design can be hard?)


The term "armchair quarterback" is defined by oxforddictionaries.com as

A person who advises or offers an opinion on something (especially a sporting event) in which he or she is not actively involved, or about which he or she lacks first-hand or specialist knowledge.

The term is related to the sport of American football, in which the player in the role of quarterback makes the most significant tactical decisions in any given offensive play. Keen amateur spectators of the sport, despite lacking any first-hand experience playing the position, especially at the professional level, often harshly criticize the decisions that the quarterback has made, the implication being that the spectator would have made better ones if he or she were in the quarterback's place.

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