Are You An Expert?

A friend once asked if I wouldn’t mind evaluating the specifics of a proposed security solution at a local nonprofit children’s shelter. “Barry, as an expert in video security, we would appreciate it if you can help us,” he inquired.

As the story goes, funding for a video security system was approved by the Lions Club. They wanted to be certain the prospective installer’s price was fair and reasonable, and that the equipment selected as well as camera placements were right for their purpose.

I set up an appointment and arrived trying to look the expert part. It was a tough act, though, because on a summer day in San Diego a suit and tie would be out of place. At least I have a gray beard to help with the sage and intellectual look. 

… But Can You Walk the Walk?

Present at the meeting was a Lions Club board member, the shelter’s director and the owner of the alarm/CCTV installation company. I was introduced as “the expert” who had been asked to help them. This makes for an awkward enough situation. But when Roy, the owner of the alarm company, heard my introduction, he did something that has never happened to me before. He immediately asked, “What makes you an expert?” Wow!

Experts are often paid big fees. I was free, so advice from me must not be very valuable. I didn’t have to fly in for the meeting and no limo was waiting to transport me. Maybe I needed the suit and tie to help fool this guy! Of course, I answered the question and appeared to satisfy him, and make the others smile comfortably. When I proclaimed Roy’s plans and price to be fair and effective (with minor adjustments), I’m sure he was happier about the “expert” they called in.

The $60,000 Question

I have been referred to as an expert many times, but am I really? What does make an expert? Does more than 40 years devoted to leading video surveillance companies count? Certainly I have learned quite a lot along the way, but I have also learned how much I don’t know. It is nice to know about old cameras with various size vidicon, plumicon, silicon and nuvicon tubes. Good to remember, not just time-lapse tape, but reel-to-reel recorders.

All of that knowledge is what we so-called “long-time industry experts” talk about in the bar after tradeshow hours. I even remember two-foot-long cameras with lens turrets. That really gives me bar bragging rights. Today’s experts speak of pixels, kbps speed, frame rate and their effects on resolution. WDR, OSD, DVR, NVR, MPEG, JPEG, H.264, and enough acronyms to sound like the government.

Frankly, I have listened to some consultants who are considered experts mostly on the basis of one or more books they have authored. Many are not particularly knowledgeable despite doing some research and writing. The real experts I have known started their careers as technicians or electronic engineers who first studied electronics, then video, and constantly gained education as engineering techs.

Unfortunately, most of these folks have little experience in system design. Those who do are closer to being real experts. Experts at what? Technical and design, that is often what we mean, but are they also experts at running a business? Some probably become just that. So it seems we can define expert more by the specifics of what area their vast knowledge is derived.

Perhaps Roy has been in the alarm and video business long enough, and attained enough knowledge and kept up on the latest trends and equipment that he is now an “expert.” I think I will start the college of “Genuine Certified Expert” and issue GCEs — for a fee, of course.

Having authored this article I feel like an expert, at least until I come home and my wife asks me to throw out the garbage … just another area of my vast expertise and long-time experience.                                       

Barry Levine is CEO of San Diego-based Sperry West, maker of Spyder® video cameras and Video Commander® surveillance kits. Levine has been leading video security companies for 40 years. He can be contacted at (858) 551-2000 or

If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

Security Is Our Business, Too

For professionals who recommend, buy and install all types of electronic security equipment, a free subscription to Security Sales & Integration is like having a consultant on call. You’ll find an ideal balance of technology and business coverage, with installation tips and techniques for products and updates on how to add sales to your bottom line.

A free subscription to the #1 resource for the residential and commercial security industry will prove to be invaluable. Subscribe today!

Subscribe Today!

Get Our Newsletters