Jack of all trades vs Specializing

New / IT
Wukku

New IT

BIO
Slowly been working my way up the IT tech ladder for the past 15 years and always looking to expand my skill set and career path.
Wukkumore
May 22 9 Comments

Hi Blind,

Is it better to stay general or to try to specialize in one thing? Currently, most of my career has been with companies where I have been in a general support role more than any one specific path. This has included end user support, industrial machine programming, SQL database management, Cisco networking, Windows Server environment support, VMware, project management and a whole lot more.

The issue is that while I have workable knowledge is almost any part of IT, I don't feel qualified for any one route. I work as a IT manager in an automotive component supplier where I am the only on-site IT support. I do have a non-dedicated off-site support team of specialist but for the most part I am on my own. The best description I can give of my responsibilities is "If it needs to be physically touched, it's my job".

I guess what I am asking is, if you were in a similar position starting out, how did you decided what to focus on?

Local Plant size is about 40 office workers, 300 employees with 24/6 production across 9 assembly lines.

Global company is about 12500 employees across 96 facilities with the same HQ support team for all plants.

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TOP 9 Comments
  • Google __human__
    At least in higher levels of high tech the ability to flex around new paradigms is more valuable than deeply studying a narrow established niche.

    That is because wages are set as a function of the utility of the skillset vs the number of people who can provide that service, so if you are highly optimized around quickly picking up a new paradigm that no one is qualified in and making things work, you can quickly become a leader and provide a lot of value before many other people get there to compete with you.

    Job titles and the education pathways that inform most peoples career planning lag the edge of innovation by like 5 years to decades depending on where you are, so you get a huge head start if you know how to work outside the established system.

    I don't know how that maps to regular IT work though. It probably doesn't.
    May 22 1
    • New / IT
      Wukku

      New IT

      BIO
      Slowly been working my way up the IT tech ladder for the past 15 years and always looking to expand my skill set and career path.
      Wukkumore
      OP
      __human__

      That's good to know. One of the biggest issues with this job beyond work life balance is that beyond lateral movements, there is no room for promotion.

      With our corporate structure, I am both the lowest guy in the stack and only two steps from CIO of the company. So unless a new posistion is created, you don't really go anywhere.

      I do feel that my ability to adapt and grow to fit the job is one of my greatest strengths. I learned SQL and our PMS system on my own because of the lag in support for the HQ team.
      May 22
  • Amgen Fin4eng
    A specialist limits your pool of available options but might make you the best/most valuable candidate for a job in that specialization. Because it’s more limited, you might have to be more willing to relocate. A generalist might not be the best candidate for a given job but can do ~80% of it and has more flexibility and would learn as needed. For example, I hire a Hadoop admin if I need a Hadoop admin and not a general Linux admin. But if there is no Hadoop admin jobs then the admin will have a harder time being employed.

    Fundamentally it depends on how narrow is the specialization and how big is the demand for it. Everyone specializes in some way (language, front end/backend, SWE vs DE vs ML etc)
    May 22 1
    • New / IT
      Wukku

      New IT

      BIO
      Slowly been working my way up the IT tech ladder for the past 15 years and always looking to expand my skill set and career path.
      Wukkumore
      OP
      Thank you for the reply. It definitely sounds like being able to generalize is a good skill set to have but I should build 1 or 2 strong skills on top of that.
      May 22
  • Google / Sales cheers🥃
    I appreciate what _human_ is saying in the reply above, and I have a supporting thought to add: if you are just an “average performer” generalist (eg, not a star performer) then you might get into the consideration set for many different new roles but also might lose out to more competitive star performers in final candidate selection.
    May 22 1
    • New / IT
      Wukku

      New IT

      BIO
      Slowly been working my way up the IT tech ladder for the past 15 years and always looking to expand my skill set and career path.
      Wukkumore
      OP
      That is something I do think about. With this latest company, it's definitely been the most challenging and resulted in the biggest growth to my skill set.
      May 22
  • Glu Mobile PQSK63
    It really depends on what type of org you want to end up at.

    Larger the org, the more specializes you need to be. There will be hundreds of database admin at FANG and you need the ability to solve deep and complex issues.

    For start-ups, you need to be a generalist that can wear many hats. You also need the ability to recognize when a problem is beyond your skill to solve.

    That being said, def pick one skill that you think every org will need and focus on getting cert/training in that.
    May 22 1
    • Athenahealth jRfJ36
      I kind of think you are backwards here. Big orgs know that smart people can learn new things. They can focus on hiring these smart people and worry about specific knowledge later. Startups on the other hand usually need a new hire to deliver positive value on a much shorter timeline, so it's more important that she comes in with specific skills that the company needs.
      May 22
  • Microsoft userg7
    T skill is necessary.
    Broad on many areas, deep in atleast one area.
    May 22 0