Jack of all Trades – Master of None?

On occasion I’ll see a news story about the myriad ways that potential employers vet out job applicants.  One of the universal first steps is to do a simple Google search and I’m proud to report that if you Google my name then 9 of the first 10 matches have something to do with me.  So I’m certainly easy enough to find.  There’s plenty of me to go around but what does all this “Me-ness” really say about yours truly as a potential employee?  Certainly there are no embarrassing photos of me on Facebook.  I don’t tend to rant on drunkenly about any vast indiscretions in my life because… well, somewhat boring to report, there aren’t any.  So HR directors of the future will have no fun with my online profile.

I realize, as I look through those Google results, that it would be fairly difficult to detect that I’m actually a Computer Science graduate from Purdue.  My online presence is more akin to a liberal arts major than a tech geek.  My personal interests are all over the board from photography to writing to just about everything else.  This leaks over into my work as well.  In this age of razor-sharp specialization I’m the guy who will simply do whatever it takes to get the job done.  I was hired in my current position 8 years ago as a Web Developer and in that time I’ve done plenty of development.  I’ve also spent a lot of my time doing the nuts and bolts work of a software development company that not only aren’t code-based but also aren’t really all that technical.  Let’s look at some of my everyday job duties and maybe you, my wise WordPress collective, can tell me what my job title really is.

  • On a nearly daily basis I interact with the sales department to negotiate new features in the product and set prices for them.  This seems a lot like Product Management.
  • I meet weekly with the implementation team to train them on product features.  In the past I’ve been responsible for product documentation.  This seems like a Technical Documentation and Training role.
  • Every day I conduct detailed code reviews for a team of 5 developers, advise them on implementation details, try to manage the release schedule and generally try to keep everyone’s work in sync.  That’s a Product Architect in my book.
  • Three times a week I sit in meetings with Product Support to work on support cases and bring them to resolution.  That’s Level Three Support.
  • I act as mentor and coach for the same group of 5 developers trying to give career advice and whatever tidbits of wisdom I can.  I’m also in various management meetings and help form departmental policy.  That seems to be a classic Managerial role.
  • And finally, when I get a chance I sit down and actually code things. As time has gone on, this role has gotten smaller and smaller and smaller but I can still match up the curly braces.

In my head, current state is great.  I love having so many inputs and responsibilities and wearing a jaunty selection of job-related hats.  Ya wanna know something about eBusiness?  Anything?  I’m your guy.

But then I start to ponder the future.  I’m not actively seeking work, but I can’t assume that I’ll be able to stay at my current job forever.  In the event that I do have to go elsewhere, what in the hell do I put on my résumé?  There aren’t exactly job postings for Manager/Architect/Support/Product Manager/Programmers on CareerBuilder.  It’s my impression that companies want specialists. If they need someone to do some facet of my job then they go out and hire someone who’s specifically trained to do it, not some guy who can do five different jobs at once.

As I ponder the “what if I were out of work tomorrow” question, three scenarios occur to me.

Firstly, I could go back to just being a programmer.  The difficulty with this is that as programmers go I’m rather antiquated.  While other developers want to play about with all the latest in technologies I just want to write good solid code that’s easy to support and understand.  Personally, I think that if your code isn’t comprehensible by a first-year student in C# then you’ve screwed up.  I think developers tend to forget that eventually somebody else is going to have to read their code.  At any rate, lecture mode off.

Secondly, and perhaps most attractively, I could find myself another small company and try to work my way back into a position like the one I have now.  Sadly, I think those opportunities are fairly rare so my optimism at finding such a thing is rather remote.

Thirdly, I could just storm off into the unknown and squeeze my living from whatever other talents I might possess.  Perhaps I could sell enough photos, writing and eBay trinkets to not go bankrupt?  I don’t know, honestly, but that would be a rather tenuous choice.  It makes for a fairly poor tertiary back-up plan.

The summation of this somewhat winding missive is that I don’t know.  I feel that I could and would be an asset to any company that chose to hire me but I have no clue how to construct a business argument for a concept that runs so contrary to the common wisdom that you hire people for a single job and let them do it.  The good news is that I don’t have to worry about it…. Yet.


Filed under personal, work

36 responses to “Jack of all Trades – Master of None?

  1. kathylynn

    Very well said. As a recruiter, I can tell you that if/ when you interview and through your cover letter is when you sell your abilities to handle wearing multiple hats. Address first the items listed and required…then sell the other projects, coaching, etc. It shows a qualified diverse team player. There’s nothing a company likes more than seeing someone who can assume various roles simultaneously. Be clear that assuming those roles keeps you motivated because who wants to be bored…LOL!

    Of course, I could be wrong. Thats been my experience with my clients!!!

    • Rob Slaven

      Well, that is encouraging. When the day comes, I’ll just … well, maybe print out a copy of this blog post. Minus the typos, of course. Thanks!

  2. You just have a very well balanced right and left brain; the skills and training juxtaposed against the creative. Sometimes where we go and what we look at depends on timing. Always good to have a look at what is out there, because one never knows!

  3. I’m not in the same boat as you, but I would go with three, because that’s sort of similar to what my dream is (substitute eBay with etsy). I don’t know what your dream is. I am not at a place where I have to panic about money. Things are cheap, we keep them covered. I believe my dream will work (not saying you don’t). But, the point of this is, you should go where your passion is. I think you should get started on number three while you’re secure, in case you decide that’s what you’d rather do.

    Sorry if that is um… Idealistic? That’s what and who I am and it has pissed a lot of people off before.

  4. mobius faith

    Hmmmm. Good points.

  5. Pete

    I’ll post twice to address two different items. Firstly, the following. Later, general thoughts on your actual TOPIC!

    “The difficulty with this is that as programmers go I’m rather antiquated. While other developers want to play about with all the latest in technologies I just want to write good solid code that’s easy to support and understand. Personally, I think that if your code isn’t comprehensible by a first-year student in C# then you’ve screwed up.”

    Eh, I don’t think it is quite that simple.

    I’m not really sure what the official corollary is between “antiquated” and “good solid code”, nor am I sure how “comprehensible ” is related to the first two sentences here. Both antiquated and baby-fresh developers are fully capable of writing good, solid, comprehensible code. And both are fully capable of doing the opposite.

    Also, first-year student in C#? How much can a first-year student in C# be expected to know, really? Should they able to identity and understand most of the common design patterns? What about writing unit tests? Are there especially tricky components of the data you’re interacting with that could complicate a beginners understanding of the code (hint: yes, there are). A first-year CS student learning C# (with no previous programming knowledge) is a significantly less perceptive beast than I think you imagine them to be.

    • Rob Slaven

      Well, maybe so. This is why I’m such an astonishingly good interviewer! (not) I can see the positive in anyone and assume that first year programmers can read code like the wind. *sigh* Anyway, fine, point taken.

  6. Pete

    OK, option breakdown:

    1) I don’t think you’d be happy doing this. A development role without architecture in a “typical” large-ish company means (based on my admittedly limited experience) being given a design document that’s already been vetted by a (hopefully) experienced software engineer who knows the product, often with its UI design mocked up in Photoshop, and being expected to implement it exactly as defined. There is very little room for creative problem solving or, really, creativity at all.

    2) An ideal position to land in! But yes, sadly limited in availability. One can hope that this is not always going to be the case. Another dotcom bubble would be hugely appreciated, yes?

    3) I’ve got friends and friends of friends who have attempted this approach, and business is difficult! There’s a hefty amount of self-promotion and marketing involved in being successful here, and that doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea. Also: it flies soundly in the face of the “do not do what you love to do for a living” adage, and I fear your hobbies and creativity would suffer.

    • Rob Slaven

      Hrm. Well this is uplifting.

      1. I’d hate it.
      2. Is hard to find if not impossible.
      3. Would suck for different reasons.

      So I guess I’d better not get fired. 🙂

  7. If you are overwhelmed than it might be that you have too many talents and you are trying to use all of them to ‘get in’. (get your foot in the door of one to maneuver to the job you do want) And if that was the case, (you’re the only one who knows what the ‘case’ really is) then it might be better to take a risk by choosing a couple to put all your time and energy into at high risk. But who knows…..follow your heart….I guess…..your photos are really good.

    • Rob Slaven

      Thanks for the encouragement. and yes, you’re right that I can’t go every direction at once. Perhaps a good thing to remember.

  8. Great post and reading it sounds eerily similar to my writing.

  9. I know the feeling. When you find your answer, do let me know!

  10. riggledo

    I can kind of relate to this. My current job title is “Construction and Real Estate Associate Project Manager.” The reality, however, is that my job has nothing to do with ANY of those words, it’s just the closest existing title to where I work (not even what I do).

    So what do I put on my resume? Most people see “Associate Project Manager” with a ten year term of employment and assume and expect that I can do a pretty damn good job of managing a project… Say in the construction or real estate rhelm. The truth is, I have exactly zero experience managing projects and the only things I know about construction I have gleened by listening in on other people’s conversations. (I do work in property management).

    It is a conundrum and like you, I’m not sure how to resolve it.

    • Rob Slaven

      Well, it’s good to know this is not a unique problem. I wonder what, eventually, will happen to work society. Will we swing away from specialization (maybe we’re not as specialized as we think) or will a more general approach become more popular? Dunno. Hrm.

  11. The more I look at jobs, the better the entrepreneurial model looks. Like all humans, bosses have their yins and yangs. Most of the time a boss is more of a yang, however, if you know what I mean.

    The more I think about this, the less I want to play some game of keywords to attract some yang to my piece of paper.

    I’m thinking it might be time for me to be the big yang again. Been down that road before to find a destination I did not plan or want, but one thing you can always count on – things will always be different in this life, bucko.

  12. I can really relate to this… I was in software development/db admin/db design/tech support/sys admin etc etc and wrote the technical documentation and trained the newcomers and took on responsibility for releases… It just kind of all comes your way somehow. At home I read and wrote poetry and other creative writing. When I had kids everything stopped… And then I found time to write again and sell on EBay… After a year of that I was going insane and desperately needed to get back into computing. So, 8 years out of date, I got a job as a report writer using Sql*server and msrs. 6 months into the job I am now redeveloping access db applications, giving tech support , software testing, churning out vast amounts of SQL procedures, installing software, rebuilding report server db’s and very occassionally writing a report… Sound familiar? 🙂

    • Rob Slaven

      well, it’s good to know I’m not alone. Perhaps we should start a consulting firm called, “Whatchu’ you need?” and hire a hoard of generalists that can do whatever the client wants from flower arranging to Oracle database tuning. 🙂

      • Heh, heh… I like that… My job title was ‘database specialist’ at one point and my key area was… You guessed right… Oracle database tuning! Flower arranging I’m not so good at 😉

  13. Subject matter expert…or course author. Something that can be hard to find in my world are experts that not only know their business, but also know how to talk about it…put it down into writing. There are online education institutions that are always looking for subject matter experts to write the materials for their courses. The work is contract work, but one could make a good living with several contracts at a time. Contract pay varies based on the length of course and level, e.g. Associates, undergrad and graduate level.

    Anyhoo…it’s something to consider.

    I’ve done this same thinking before. What would I do, if…? I hope to stick with my line of work until I retire, though. I wouldn’t mind continuing my passion for exploring, photography and writing well into retirement, too. The idea of creatively presenting my passions in written and image form still entices me.

    Whatever happens though…always consider your passions when considering a job hunt…how can you incorporate them into your work?

    • Rob Slaven

      Both good thoughts. Thanks for your thoughts here. It’s my tendency to be pessimistic and think that it’s impossible to incorporate all my random desires into one job but I appreciate your encouragement. 🙂

  14. The Talmid Rebbe

    Yup, in Star Trek land, you’d be a member of the Tal Shiar, Obsidian Order, and Klingon Intelligence all rolled into one!

    Seriously speaking, you should consider writing a book. It might make money, it might not, but that’s a real eyebrow raiser on a resume. It demonstrates technical knowledge married to creativity, and that stands out. Most importantly, it would help people. We read in last week’s parsha that sharing our assets with others is lovingkindness.

    • Rob Slaven

      oh yes, do bring on the Star Trek references. There really isn’t any problem the can’t be solved by the Rules of Acquisition is there? 🙂 An interesting point on the book bit, but I’m always uncertain whether I can write a book of sufficient length about ONE topic. I tend to be fairly fragmented. But thanks for the encouragement!

      • The Talmid Rebbe

        So’s life. 🙂 If you’re concerned about length, have you considered Kindle Singles?

        I’m learning more and more that writing is an act of reproducing. You start with one idea, and that idea gives birth to another idea, and on and on and on. I wonder if that’s why people get so defensive about their good and (especially) bad ideas?

        You’d be surprised how much fruit you can get from a single idea. When I start a blog post, I start with one phrase from the text.

        Hey, it worked for Homer Simspon!…kinda…

  15. Rob, thanks for stopping by my blog and liking it! The richness of your blog is incredible. I have bookmarked it and will visit regularly. What spoke to me most was the mentoring you do with others who are exploring career options. So, let me put in a plug for Career Success in 12 Easy Steps: A Journal, the book I authored and then published several months ago. Folks are finding it to be a fun, light-hearted approach to discovering one’s passion — and then realizing it!

  16. “. . . the hangover of expectations . . .” nice one.

  17. Hi Rob: Nice photos on your blogs! I recently learned to make images on the scanner, and layering them…I saw one of your photos in which a water-droplet hit the surface of water making a splash that looked like a crown…was thinking you could play with that…combining that image with a portrait image…! BTW thanks for checking out my blog!

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