Whether you are just beginning your career or are already experienced, when it comes to taking the next steps for career growth, the elephant in the room is whether to be a specialist or remain a generalist.
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Jack of all trades or a skilled master?
Imagine you're stranded on an island. Who'd you prefer? Someone who knows how to create an airplane if supplied with parts, engine and machinery or someone who knows a few things about tides, edible jungle fruits and tree houses?
Of course Tarzan would be your best and safest bet.
Now consider this, you have to choose between going to a restaurant and savor chef's special or eat ramen made by your expert spouse?
We bet 5 bucks it's going to be the chef. Not that your partner is a bad cook. Specialty is often delicious, right?
So, what we're trying to tell you is, you something to be done well, you turn to a specialist but you want to explore a sea possibilities and become a multitasker, then go the generalist way. This perennial debate has been bugging developers for long and there is no absolute answer.
Can you explicitly become one? No.
Can you be both? Yes.
You need to specialize in a single field while having appropriate knowledge of other areas as well. Successful software developers know this and practice it actively.
That's about it. The whole article talks about this. Read at your own will.
Specialization is powerful
Imagine you wanted to install an air-conditioner at your place. There are two possible options to choose from – one company that provides all home appliance installations and another that specializes in air-conditioner installations.
It is quite clear which contractor you will choose, right?
Not saying that there is no value to having a broader knowledge about things and how stuff works, however, it is highly valuable when you market yourself as a specialist.
Take the above example only. The specialist air-conditioner installation guys must also be aware of how thermostats and refrigerators work. Their team members must have experience from working at other appliance companies and know about a lot of other equipment.
But they market themselves as Air-condition specialists because they want to be the industry and market leaders with the same tag.
For becoming a master, you need to learn from a broader pool first
Nobody is born a specialist. People actually acquire unique traits about the fields that interest them the most.
Simply put, in order to acquire special skills, a great amount of general knowledge is needed along the way.
Everything boils down to T-shaped knowledge
Instead of debating whether to become generalists or specialists for custom software development, it is better to strive for T-shaped knowledge.
So, what is T-shaped knowledge?
It means that a developer has a broad knowledge of his field and possesses a deep technical know-how for at least one skill.
Umm.. wait. What?
For a software developer, it is imperative to be well-versed in algorithms, data structures, front-end, back-end, databases and different architectures. However, there should be one area where lies your strength. This specialization will set you apart from your peers and increase your market value immensely.
In short, work on becoming a well-rounded software developer but gain considerable expertise in a specialization which sets you apart.
But how come businesses always want generalists?
Businesses that tell you that they're looking for developers who wear multiple hats and have every skillset under the sun are lying.
The truth is, if you have a skill set which is a perfect match for the job and you are well-versed with the technology the company uses, they will more likely hire you than a generalist.
Candidates often misunderstand when companies say they want a generalist. What they mean is, they want a quick learner and an adaptable employee for application development services. They want people who are versatile and flexible. You can have these traits and still be a specialist.
Moreover, you cannot even remain a generalist today
Simply being a generalist developer is not possible today. The pace at which software development is rapidly transforming, it is impossible to know it all. You can know the fundamental principles, you can know the basic architecture but you cannot know everything that is there to call yourself a generalist in the truest sense. You simply cannot know everything and be effective at the same time.
And this is not the case with Programming & Development Industry only. Every profession is demanding that professionals are specialized to be highly productive.
Is there a final answer to this question?
Regardless of what you are currently doing, pursue a specialization.
Do not worry about it being the 'right' one. Start with something, build your personal brand for it and then go deep.
Try going as detailed and niche as you can. You can always expand and broaden your horizon. At the same time, be up to date with the general principles of software development. Learn to write good, clean code. Know about the underlying fundamentals which manifest the tech domain in several ways.
Following this approach, you will place yourself as an intelligent developer and become a valuable asset to your organization.
At BluEnt, we love working with budding software professionals. Rather than labeling them as specialists or generalists, we let our interns pick up their own path. We have several interesting projects which you can take up and find out your true calling. Get in touch today if you feel development is your passion.
Maximum Value. Achieved.