5/30/2012

Expert or Generalist

As I look back at my career, I wonder if I should have chosen to be an expert in a specific technology or a generalist who knows a bit of everything.

That is indeed the question.

Starting with Visual Basic (4,5,6) I programmed applications that connected to Oracle and had reports in Crystal Reports.

Then switched to classic ASP to Oracle to Access.

Then to Actuate Reports to Oracle and Vantive to Oracle.

Then to .net to SQL-Server.

Then to Java to Mainframe and Crystal Reports / Business Objects to Oracle.

Then to SSRS to SQL-Server.

Not exactly a straight line of technology.

So that has provided a good career, crossing technologies and industries.

However, I see some programmers who have specialized in 15 years of Oracle or 8 years of .net or whatever.

They would be considered experts in the specific field.

So once again, should I have taken a more traditional approach to career and learned one or two products really well instead of across the board?

I don't know.  It's a toss up I suppose.

I don't have any statistical data to prove one way or the other.

Although I've been in Business Intelligence my entire career, I've seen new programmers pass me with the latest push of Microsoft BI because the company's I worked for were behind the times.

I suppose I could catch up in a hurry if need be.

I like to think of it as a utility baseball player who can play any position on the team vs. a starting pitcher who plays ever 3rd game in the rotation.

Both serve a purpose.

Just a preference I suppose.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Solid post. Many times I feel the generalist sells themselves short by saying "we know a bit of everything." The reality of my experience is those who really focus on being a generalist knows a lot more than just a "bit." In actuality they tend to become quite knowledgable at a pace similar to an expert and faster than a outsider. This is bc when you're constantly learning something in one functional area/subject/technology and applying it to the next functional area/subject/technology you get better and faster at learning. This is due to the association of commonalities, etc. Basically an elite generalist is merely an expert at becoming an expert. Last, I think society also assumes that if someone stays in their respective field for 10 years+ that they are instantly an expert. I think this is false. No matter if you consider yourself a generalist or specialist, competency is earned from consistency in effort and determination. @disruptsmith

@SQLJon said...

Thanks for the comment!

With the speed in which technology changes, very difficult to be expert in everything. Good to know a little about a lot. With deep knowledge in a few things.

Employers expectations have become lopsided, thinking they can wave their wand to magically produce the exact specifications of desired position. Basically they are over confident in their assumption that they can obtain the best of the best, just because so many people are competing for work.

Bottom line, the rock stars already have great gigs at great rates with great benefits. What makes each hiring mgr think they have what it takes to recruit such talent. Even if they land someone, how long will that person stay?

You are correct, just because a programmer has done Cobol for 30 years, who's to say they are any good at what they do, much less an expert.

Lastly, today's program is much more than a programmer, they have to interact with other departments, customers, do paperwork, project management update status', attend meetings, etc. Hardly any time is devoted to straight coding anymore. Some Rock Stars may not want to do the piddely work, just pad the resume.

If I had to hire someone, I would seek a problem solver with broad understanding of technology / programming. The language means very little and with an 15 minutes searching Google, you can find about anything.

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