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Heidi Harding
Heidi Harding

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The Generalist or Jack of all trades

Today I am a developer, sort of... In my career I have programmed frontend and backend systems and everything in between. I've written 6303 assembler for embedded systems and racked servers in a datacenter. I would definitely consider myself a generalist with a broad knowledge of IT systems.

The things I liked doing 25 years ago are different to the things I like now. People change over time, yet this change is deemed a bad thing.
"Jack of all trades and master of none."

No matter what I have been hired to do I have always given 100% and managed to master the technology at hand in order to deliver the project.
So this isn't simply a matter of getting to use the newest "shiny" either. I have the ability to pivot in order to cope with the unexpected. This has significantly benefited several of my employers over the years.

One example I could give was when I joined a company as a Perl developer. I didn't necessarily think I was an amazing Perl developer and I was honest about this during the interview, but I demonstrated through previous experience and Perl projects that I did in my free time that I was willing to learn and improve.

It was a "foot in the door" moment for me as this job was in a new country and I was happy that they'd decided to give me a chance.

Shortly after I started I found myself developing Java, C#, XSLT and a whole host of other diverse projects. Whilst nobody else in the IT department could pick up these other projects, I could.
I did what needed to be done without the company having to go and hire individual specialists. They saved time and money interviewing and on-boarding and the work got done.

So come on interviewers, maybe give generalists a bit more of a chance in the future.

Top comments (1)

leob profile image
leob • Edited

I agree, a person with a broad range of skills can be a great asset (especially for a smaller project/company) because it obviates the need to hire a number of 'specialists' who then need to communicate among each other!

That being said, I get the feeling that, increasingly:

1) Specialists are being taken more seriously - the idea is "it's impossible to be good at everything"

2) Frontend is gaining ascendency over backend ... increasingly you see projects where the focus is heavily on frontend, with the backend being commoditized, handled via off-the-shelf cloud services and the like - no doubt this is driven by the move to SPA + API architecture, 'JAM Stack', serverless, and the perception that it's mainly UI/UX rather than backend what provides competitive edge ...

ad 2) Just looking at the HUGE number of React job posts I definitely see the writing on the wall ... I don't have a crystal ball but I predict that in the coming years backend devs will be automated away a lot quicker than frontend devs - I just don't know how soon this ominous future will arrive ...