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Specialist or Generalist?

Posted by TestOut Staff on

An oft-debated question among aspiring IT professionals is: Which will help me better land a job? Should I focus on one specific domain, or on developing a broader range of skills? Like so many of life’s questions, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, and frequently the solution is a combination of both options. While the decision is very important, and will influence the sort of jobs you will land in the beginning of your career, here are a few thoughts to consider when deciding between a targeted or shotgun approach.

Howling at the moon

Follow Your Passion

Passion is a great attribute to have. IT pros who are passionate about what they are doing generally make for good employees. It doesn’t matter if your passion is working with networks, cybersecurity, or whatever — just go for it. Why spend time learning something you have no interest in ever doing?

If something is not related to the sort of IT job you want to do, then your time can be more profitably spent becoming highly-skilled in your domain of choice. While some companies may be looking for new hires with a range of IT knowledge, there are still more than enough looking for someone who possesses deep-dive mastery of a specific domain.

Run with the Pack or Lone Wolf?

Do you enjoy being part of a large team? Do you perform better knowing that you have teammates who can back you up, and help you learn new technologies? Or do you prefer to be a rugged individualist? Are you better off figuring things out for yourself and taking full (and sole) responsibility for projects?

If the former, then developing a broader range of IT skills is the way to go. You will likely find yourself working for a larger organization and have the benefit of other IT pros to help you solve problems and maybe teach you some tricks of the trade. Working for a larger organization also makes it more likely that you will have opportunities for promotion.

The lone wolf route can be rewarding in more ways than money. You have the satisfaction of solving problems on your own, learning what you need to know to accomplish the job, and doing things your way. Just as lone wolves in the wild often find themselves cold and hungry when winter comes, of course, you can be overwhelmed and frustrated when faced with new and demanding challenges.

Essential Knowledge

Don’t dive so deep into a specific domain that you ignore technologies that every IT pro should know how to utilize. VoIP, cloud-based services, virtualization, user interface design, and data mining are all in demand. Having experience with each of these is going to be a big advantage for an IT newbie.

If you do choose to specialize in one tech domain, then be sure to research other tech that is applicable or supportive of it. For example, if you love cloud computing, then it’s important to understand mobility and security. Take some time to visit with seasoned IT pros and ask their opinions on any tech that integrates well with your specialization.

Career Changes

IT is a fast changing industry. Regardless of your decision to specialize or not, there is no reason you can’t change your trajectory down the road. Once you are on the job, you will start to realize the things you like and dislike. New job opportunities may lead you down new and interesting paths where you find yourself interested in other technologies that you hadn’t even considered, or that weren’t in existence a year ago.  

Whatever your IT route, you will never go wrong if you make learning new technologies a lifelong endeavor. Be inquisitive, read industry papers, join associations and web groups, and, of course, pursue certifications. Above all: Stay curious.

Chuck NorrisAbout the AuthorCalvin Harper is an associate editor for GoCertify and a veteran of the publishing industry. Calvin takes careful at the target AND uses a shotgun, because having your cake and eating it, too, is the best.


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