Achievement badges.  If you’ve played games on any recent gaming console, you’ve seen them pop up.  From “you finished the tutorial” badge, to the “you pickpocketed 50 civilians without getting caught” badge.  (Thank you, Skyrim, for consuming my whole weekend.)

We all carry a lot of achievement badges from real life too, though usually an unofficial sort, there are official types too, like certifications, medals, and diplomas.

When it comes to achievement badges, I see them falling into three categories:

1) Things I have done once

When I was in college, I gave a talk at PyCon and it was the highest-rated talk of the conference, beating out even Guido’s keynote.  That’s something that I probably couldn’t do again, but the fact that I did it once tells you a few things about me.  I clearly had something to say that spoke to the room, and was able to deliver a presentation well enough to at least not ruin the idea.  You can infer things about me from this accomplishment, even though it was something that I only did once.

2) Things I have done once, and could probably do again, but not right now

In March I ran the LA Marathon.  If you asked me to run one today, I couldn’t do it.  I’m just not in peak running shape right now.  But if you told me I had to run another one in a few months, I could.  I know I could.  I’ve done it before, and I know how to do it again.    The important difference between #2 and #1 is that if you need someone to run a marathon for you in a few months, I’m a pretty sure bet.  But if you need someone to give the highest-rated talk at a conference, I’m probably a better bet than a random person off the street, but I’m far, far from a sure bet.  But in both cases, if you want someone with the qualities inferred from the achievement, I’m your guy.

3) Things I can do right now

On Monday, I squatted 160 lbs at the gym for 5 sets of 5.  My best weight yet.  If you asked me to go do it again right now, I could.  C’mon, let’s go, I’ll show you.  This achievement not only lets you infer things about me (like #1 and #2), or know that I have the ability to train up to do something (like #2), but know what I can do right now, today.

All three of these categories are important and tell you things about someone.  They don’t necessarily have to be examined in the context of three independent categories, but I think they all need to be recognized.

Examples of things I have done style achievements: wrote an app downloaded by 10,000 people; was #10th most bugfixer in an open source project for a month.

Examples of things I have done once, and could probably do again style achievements: fixed 10 bugs on an open source project; mentored someone until they could make a web page on their own; knew the intricacies of TCP/IP packets.

Examples of things I can do right now style achievements: know HTML; maintaining software used by 1,000 people per month; currently in open source project committers file.