Being a technology generalist

I get bored fairly easily, not bored by doing the same repetitive task for hours on end necessarily, but bored with the subject matter in the event that it doesn’t challenge me enough. This has led me to have a LOT of hobbies, or at the very least things that I am ‘into.’

Each year my list of hobbies seem to grow, but I’m not necessarily cultivating my skills on every one of those hobbies. I may play piano for a few months, do a small task one day, and decide that I want to pursue that small task as a hobby instead of piano. I don’t ‘ditch’ the piano hobby necessarily, but I just don’t give it my undivided attention.

The same principals apply to my career. I’m what you call a generalist. I’ve heard pros and cons of being a generalist with some adamant that it is wrong and instead someone would be better off being a specialist. A specialist may be great for some, but I could easily see myself burning out very quickly if I were constrained.

Luckily my current position allows me a tremendous amount of flexibility and I use that to my and my employer’s advantage. When I first took my current position over a decade ago, I saw myself as more of a systems administrator with some back-end networking skills (not the social type). I still have those skills and consider myself very good at them at this point. Group policy, AD administration, VLANs, etc all come fairly easy for me, but there are times when a problem occurs and I’m baffled. In many cases, if I were a specialist in Active Directory (for example), those issues would probably be resolved in a shorter time period. The problem for my employer is that they would need to hire a lot of specialists to get my job done at the end of the day.

The advantage being a generalist is that I almost always get the job done. It may take me 4 hours instead of 30 minutes, but I’m able to apply that across the board thus saving my employer the need for additional payroll expenses. I’m also better equipped to know the interoperability in our infrastructure and learn new technologies a little faster (just a hunch, no research to back that up).

In a large company, a bunch of specialists are likely much better since the workload is high and the company would be hiring several IT employees anyway. For the small (and even mid-size) company, I think a generalist is the way to go. You get an extremely high value from the employee and the work gets done. You may not get there as fast as a drag racer, but you also won’t be limited to driving on a drag strip.

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