Tyner Blain – “Specializing Generalists’

I just read an interesting article at Tyner Blain titled “Specializing Generalists and the Politics of Agile“that is a good follow up to my “Better to be a Generalist or Expert?“article. An excerpt is:

By staffing a team with people who have an area of expertise, but can do anything, you can maximize the value of each delivery cycle. In our example, where all of the tasks for a release are UI tasks, they can be interchangeably assigned to any of the developers. The UI expert may suggest an implementation approach, do code reviews, or provide guidance to all the other developers. But every developer (including the database guy) can sling code effectively to get the job done. Specializing generalists.

Go read the article…very interesting.

[tags] Expert, Generalist, Specialist [/tags]

Better to be a Generalist or Expert?

It seems like I’ve had this discussion recently with quite a few people…not sure if its because I like the topic or if lots of other people like it to.

Basically, the conversation comes down to this short question:

Is it better to be an expert (aka specialist) or generalist?

Personally, I think it’s better to be a generalist with deep knowledge in a few areas and a much broader knowledge base in multiple industries and functional areas. My areas of interest are so broad that I’ll never be an expert in anything…but I do have a deep understanding of a few functional areas (Technology, Project Management, Business Management) and a broader knowledge base in others (Marketing, Training, IT Operations, etc).

That said, there is a need for experts in all areas. For example, I’m not sure you’d want a ‘generalist’ as your technical architect, database administrator or brain surgeon. These are areas where you would want to be an expert…but these are also areas that attract people who want to be experts. You wouldn’t want me designing the technical architecture of a new enterprise level system…you’d want someone involved that truly understood all facets of the system to be designed and the environment it will operate in.

A few interesting articles/blog posts on this topic can be found below.

After the many discussions, I’ve come to the conclusion that neither is better than the other. There’s room for experts/specialists and generalists in all fields. What’s your thoughts on the subject?

[tags] Expert, Generalist, Specialist [/tags]

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