Remember playing a video game and customizing your character for the first time? You choose a job class that you like (a mage or a warrior), consider the skills that it can learn (physical damage, healing), and take advantage of those skills to build a character who specializes in a specific task (offensive, support). Having well-rounded characters in a team with a balance of different specializations is ideal in making the most out of the game - and sometimes crucial in winning it.
It’s something that you might be reminded of being in the IT industry. Every company is looking for people to form that well-balanced team based on the type of developers that they need. For individuals in this industry, choosing a career path is the first step. Depending on how far you’ve specialized in it, it’s likely that you’ve considered taking on different roles or changing your job position entirely. There are professionals that choose a specialization early on and go all the way to become an expert in the field, but just like in many cases, you’ve probably looked around for which jobs are in demand, gotten an idea of the different salary information, and tried to see if you can match or learn the skill sets needed for those jobs.
In any case, you still probably have a core specialization that you’re working to be an expert on. But just like in video games, there are those who choose to diversify their skills at the expense of staying at a junior to mid-level instead of being an expert in one. The super novice as some gamers call them: the jack of all trades, master of none.
Before going in further, it’s important to understand what skill set and tools a certain programming job requires if you consider learning them. Let’s take a quick review:
Backend Developers use PHP, Python, or Ruby, and will have knowledge in functionality and web frameworks. They’re also usually good at logic and math. Full-Stack Developers, on the other hand, cover both the front and backend.
It’s the same idea across all specializations. There are tools and certain skill sets that you need to learn to be successful. With the jack of all trades, however, they choose to learn more about the basics of the other job positions to diversify their skills and apply them to their work. And like the others, it has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Being familiar with a lot of languages and skills needed can help you in certain situations. Having an expansive knowledge in different IT fields can help you easily understand the bigger picture and adapt accordingly. You may not be an expert in a specific task that you need to take care of, but you may be knowledgable enough to do it well enough so you won’t be as stressed as someone who would have little to no knowledge of the certain task at hand.
The jack of all trades is usually thirsty to gain some new knowledge and skills. The best skill that they can have is knowing how to learn. It just comes naturally - like developing a sense or a method of learning that can efficiently make you good enough at something that they like to be good at.
In many cases, those who take on leadership roles ideally have a wide range of experience. This includes their knowledge in different aspects of the organization that they are managing. This gives them an edge on someone who rose through the ranks but is only familiar with their own specialization.
You can have basic to mid-level skills across the board, but it’s very unlikely that you’ll be considered as an expert or a specialist in a specific profession. Those who have dedicated their work on specializing in a specific job are the ones that are rightfully and deservedly called the subject matter expert on their field.
In some cases, such as learning a new language, it’s easy to see how things work. The fundamentals will be the same across different languages, which makes it easier to learn a new one once you’ve mastered one before. However, what works on one thing might not work on another. After all, there are different IT fields for a reason: they require their own specialization. It’s better to be realistic: you know a lot of things, but it does not make you an expert in all of them.
There’s really nothing wrong whether you choose to stay in one field or be a Jack of all trades. Just be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of both. There’s still a way to get the best of both of them: upskill. Many companies offer this by giving their employees opportunities to learn additional skills.
It’s ideal to have senior-level skills at something while there’s really no shame in learning the junior-level skills in the other. You may not be an expert on everything but having something that you’re really good at while learning something new is always a good thing.
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