Versatility at Work

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Writers Coin
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Versatility at Work

Postby Writers Coin » Mon May 18, 2009 8:38 pm

So I've been thinking about this for a long time. What's more valuable—being the best at just one thing or being good at lots of different things?

I just wrote about this over at Wisebread and I still can't seem to get a consensus about which one is preferable or more lucrative. Over the long term I'm thinking versatility rules, but I could be convinced either way.

What's the consensus here?
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brad
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Postby brad » Tue May 19, 2009 4:05 am

I don't think you'll get a consensus anywhere, but my vote is for versatility as well. You probably won't earn as much, but you'll be more employable.

Versatility gives you more opportunities, but typically limits your earning power because you haven't developed a specialized niche for yourself and built up a specific set of skills and experience. It's the law of supply and demand: someone who has spent 20 years doing one thing is going to be a lot more valuable to an employer, and thus command a higher salary, than a generalist who has transferrable skills but not as much direct experience. Generalists are a dime a dozen; specialists with experience are comparatively rare and thus can command a higher income. On the other hand, when a specialist loses a job it can take a long time to find a new one, and they may be forced to move to where the job is.

Even if you're a specialist, you can cultivate versatility in your spare time. My brother did that: he worked for 10 years as a bartender and another 10 years moving and assembling pool tables, but during that time his secret passion was computer animation. He spent most of his free time learning how to do animation and developing his skills. Eventually he got good enough to start entering his animation work in contests, and he started winning. That attracted the attention of an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, who hired my brother fulltime and allowed him to do what he loved for a living. But he feels secure knowing that if he loses that job and it takes him a while to find another, he can always tend bar to make ends meet.

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Postby kjb516 » Tue May 19, 2009 10:33 am

I would have to concur with brad. I have been in the IT field for almost 20 years and worked for 8 companies in that time.

With only 1 exception early in my career, every job change was to a very different aspect in the IT field. The fact that I landed all of the other positions came as quite a suprise to me since I was very honest in the interviews as to what I knew and what I did not. Many times I could not claim expertise (sometimes not even a passing knowledge) of the "requirements" for the position I was interviewing for.

I have seen many people in my field specialize in one or two technologies over the years. While this made them far more money and far more in demand during relatively short periods of time, it also made finding a job harder and harder as technolgies evolved. Most of these folks ended up in the position of having to move around the country as these specialties became less in demand instead of finding jobs where they prefered to live.

As for me, I have always feared being unemployable far more than simply being unemployed.

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Postby Cemiess » Sat May 23, 2009 6:33 am

While you need some degree of versatility, I would say that as a jack of all trades myself, you need to be VERY good at at least one thing.

Otherwise, how can you compete with someone if you're only medium skilled and they're higly skilled in the position that's available? The employer isn't going to take you on because "you're also good at basket weaving".
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Daedala
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Re: Versatility at Work

Postby Daedala » Mon Jun 08, 2009 2:24 pm

Writers Coin wrote:So I've been thinking about this for a long time. What's more valuable—being the best at just one thing or being good at lots of different things?


It depends a lot on your personality and the kind of jobs you want. Some people make flexibility work very well for them. Some people thrive on being specialists. Some do both -- deep understanding and ability in one area, and able to do pretty well in a variety of related areas.

I think a lot of it depends on how much satisfaction someone gets from mastering a subject. Some people love having expertise and the ability to do things as well as possible (I don't mean the competitive aspect, I mean the internal satisfaction part), and some people just don't care.

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Postby sandi_k » Mon Jun 08, 2009 7:49 pm

Good to see you back, Daedala!

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BuckNekket
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Re: Versatility at Work

Postby BuckNekket » Mon Jun 08, 2009 11:51 pm

Writers Coin wrote:So I've been thinking about this for a long time. What's more valuable—being the best at just one thing or being good at lots of different things?

I just wrote about this over at Wisebread and I still can't seem to get a consensus about which one is preferable or more lucrative. Over the long term I'm thinking versatility rules, but I could be convinced either way.

What's the consensus here?


Love that site. ^^,

It's really good to be the best at one thing because that put's you a notch above a lot of other people, but that doesn't mean you need to suck at all the other stuff. Try to be at least competent in other fields and you'll have some moderate skill at stuff related to what your best at. You'll find an easier time looking for a job if you're really good at something. That's my experience. :D

TosaJen
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Depends on the work environment, I think . . .

Postby TosaJen » Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:21 pm

I think the specialist/generalist answer depends on the work environment as much as anything else.

For example, I have experience working for several years in different aspects of software development. This
yields me almost nothing in a big corporate environment, where each function tends to be divided up pretty
rigidly. I'm expected and required to be very good at my current role, almost exclusively. A larger company
usually has the ability to pay for in-house gurus on specific technologies; smaller companies tend to get contractors for that kind of
expertise.

However, my competence in multiple roles was well suited and valued when I worked at a relatively small
startup software company. Given current projects, I might be performing multiple roles in several projects instead
of a single role in multiple projects. I prefer being a utility player.

Guess which I enjoyed more, and which I'm in now? :(

I just had business cards printed up listing my various roles. I figure that if I get laid off soon, I'll be able
to find a job doing something I've done before related to something I know. We'll see. I'm hoping that cash-strapped
companies will be interesting in getting a 4-for-one kind of employee.
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