Discover more from Blinking Cursor ▌ by daniele margutti
In a complex world, specialization isn't always best. We often need good communicators and empathetic individuals to help groups evolve and create more value together.
I dove into programming at a young age, driven by boundless curiosity.
It was a world where anything was possible, and that very curiosity became my lifelong passion, eventually evolving into my career.
The fact that it also happened to be a pretty cool job in these years was just a lucky coincidence.
If I'd been into poetry, I might be under a bridge right now, scribbling away!
Anyway, for a long time, I lived in a world that strongly encouraged specialization as a career path.
The fact that many schools, especially at higher levels, emphasize strong specialization represents the epitome of this way of thinking.
The term ninja developer, which was quite popular a few years ago (and is now mostly used with a negative connotation), perfectly encapsulates this perspective.
To summarize this thought, hyper-specialization was once seen as the only way to pick the high-hanging fruit in fields where the low branches are bare.
Moreover specialization feels like a more predictable and measurable path for a tech career.
Unfortunately, as the world of software has become more complex and diverse in terms of skills and professions, being highly specialized doesn't always pay off.
While it's true that a highly specialized team can push the limits in each field, in most companies, this isn't strictly necessary.
What truly matters is how diverse professions can seamlessly interact, mutually influence, and comprehend one another effectively.
Recently at my company we've been recently trying out small project teams (a.k.a. pods) with measurable business goals and time constraints.
These teams often have a mix of professionals like designers, frontend/backend developers, and product owners.
After a few tries, some more successful than others, we came to appreciate how essential it was to find the perfect mix of personalities for our team.
Typically, teams consisting of individuals with hybrid skill sets were more adept at cultivating empathy and understanding among their members.
Why we need hybrid people?
The world needs more hybrid people1 because the world is getting more complex.
While specialists are important because they help us push the limits in each field, we also need people who can see the big picture and guide the team efforts.
Having a wide base of skills with one or two specialties gives you more tools in your toolbox — more ways and points of views to solve problems effectively.
You can think of these individuals as the alloys of various materials2:
These constituent materials have notably dissimilar chemical or physical properties and are merged to create a material with properties unlike the individual elements.
Embracing hybrid skills enables you to excel beyond the sum of your individual capabilities and hones your empathy in comprehending and embracing diverse viewpoints.
Returning to our experiment, I observed how [sometimes] highly specialized team members with lower empathy skills can be sources of friction within the whole team. This resulted in a negative overall perception of the work and, consequently, less favorable outcomes (even though, theoretically, we had higher technical skills).
To sum it up
In the end, my suggestion is to explore areas as distant as possible from your own expertise, while sharpening your empathy and understanding.
You might not always need to perform an Apollo 13-style astronaut rescue, but you'll frequently encounter situations that feel light-years away from your usual work. Mastering these situations with finesse will make you a more well-rounded and valuable professional in countless settings.
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Do you think hybridizing could supercharge your career, or is specialization your secret sauce for job satisfaction? Share your insights; drop a comment below!
Technical literature defines these types of individuals:
I – Shaped (specialists; they do not know much about different disciplines, and they prefer to work in one single job type).
T – Shaped (have a specialty, and in addition, they have a wider breadth of experience with other skills)
U – Shaped (employees that have everything under their belts)
O – Shaped (people that hold 147+ certificates but have no clue how to put the knowledge at work. So, O as in Zero)