Generalist specialists

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Mark Otto brings up an interesting subject: how to widen your horizon into other areas than your main focus. He reference to a model of a ‘T’ letter, where your skills sit in in the vertical columns. The title of his post, “Fatten Up Those T’s”, describes how you should make your own T fatter by learning new things. This is a theory I like. I’ve always been interested in a lot of stuff — from pure graphic design to back-end code. I refuse to believe that you have to be a specialist in order to land great jobs and gigs. Since there’s a myriad of web technologies available today, the demand for über specialized people aren’t that high. Imagine a pure designer person today. No HTML or CSS knowledge, and absolutely no Javascript skills whatsoever. I don’t know about you, but I would think twice before hiring that person:

  • If or when the next step comes you have to get another guy doing that work
  • If you need to add even a tiny feature, you have to find a contractor/freelancer doing that
  • If the design person hasn’t even the slightest clue about basic front-end code, how is the collaboration going to work?

If you are something of a Jack of all trades, I’d guess you would be instantly more flexible on the job market. I’ve never been fond of locking myself into a single technology — I don’t believe it’s healthy neither for the mind nor the career. I also warmly recommend this article, ‘In Defense of the Jack of All Trades’, where the author brings up several honorable properties: endless curiosity, a love of learning, and a deep-seated need for control. Being a renaissance man on the web in 2011 is certainly possible.