What Do You Mean By "Professional"?

07-18-2014 04:41 PM

Recently Russ ran a poll on the site on the use of iOS in audio. In it Russ asked people to categorise themselves as professional or enthusiast. While Russ was careful to define what he meant by professional (those making a living from music and audio) I did wonder whether Russ chose to avoid what I would think of as the opposite of professional - amateur?
I asked him and his response “I have to be careful about the words I use, if we use the word amatuer some think it’s a judgment of competence and care. Far from it, some people who don’t do this for a living have amazing skill and care about every detail, conversely some people who do make a living from it are unskilled and sloppy. However people don’t know I think that so I avoid the word. It’s a shame, both words need reclaiming for good.”
The results of the poll seemed to suggest that approximately 78% of the respondents were professionals. So where are all the non-professionals? We all know there are far more non-professionals than professionals in this community.
Is the explanation that there is an ambiguity around the terms professional and amateur? I have always taken the distinction between professional and amateur to be one of income but the word “professional” also has a connotation of competence, the assumption being that if your work is of a standard for you to make a living doing it it must be good (I’m sure we’ve all got examples where this just isn’t the case…). The problem arises when people assume that because everyone is either a or b and a is, by definition, high quality, it does not follow the b is necessarily of low quality. There are all sorts of reasons why people don’t turn professional and most of them have nothing to do with ability.
Whats Wrong With Being An Amateur?

I’d like to reclaim the word “amateur”. To many this word has connotations of incompetence: something being “amateurish” isn’t a compliment. Why? Amateur is derived from the French “amour” and and an amateur is a “lover of something” - so far so good, however the dictionary refers to amateur status, especially in sport (remember the Olympics were strictly amateur until surprisingly recently) but also to a person being “unskilled” or having only a superficial knowledge something.
Amateur Equals Unskilled? - Really?

I’d like to counter this with a couple of examples of really significant figures from technical disciplines who were self-taught amateurs who could never be accused of being unskilled or having only a superficial knowledge of their subjects.
Arthur C Clarke - Science Fiction writer who conceptually invented the geostationary satellite and changed communications forever.
Thomas Edison - Unbelievably prolific inventor to whom we all owe a debt as the man commonly credited with inventing sound recording.
Srinivasa Ramanujan - if you don’t know the story of this remarkable amateur mathematician you should take some time to look him up. No-one could have accused this man of having only a superficial knowledge of his subject.
The problem here is one of words which mean more than one thing. If I say I am “professional” when I mean “highly skilled” am I really making myself clear? I think we need to reserve these words to describe our employment status and use a different word to describe our competence - How about “expert”? What do you think?