Recently I went through the exercise (quite unsuccessfully I might add) of trying to determine what is my technical expertise. I’m sure you’re thinking “Well that’s easy, he’s a .NET developer”. Well, you’re right, but I was looking to determine if I could convince myself that I had an expertise that was more granular than that. I was looking to be able to feel justified in saying I’m the <insert .NET technology of choice here> guy.
Frankly, I couldn’t do it. I’m a Jack of all trades and master of none. I’ve worked with all sorts of different technologies, but I can’t think of one that I’ve worked with throughout my career. Instead of becoming the “UI guy” or the “Data Access guy” on a project, I usually just grab whatever work needs to be done and get att’er. Truthfully, I rarely think about what I need from the project and instead concentrate on what the project needs to succeed.
After realizing this, I began to think about the possibility that my lack of focus may have put me into a bit of a professional sales pitch pickle. I asked myself if I thought I could sell my random cross section of skills to a client better, worse or the same as the person down the block who can credibly claim to be “Mr/Mrs Technology-X”. It was an interesting conversation that I had with myself about this topic. I think it did a lot more for me than it did for the people that were sitting in the next table over at the coffee shop.
I heard or read a great story that semi-pertains to this subject. When the Red Cross begins to staff up teams to assist in disasters, the call goes out, from management to the different countries around the world. When the managers put together their skillset shopping list they ask may ask for “Logisticians, Drivers, Mechanics, Construction Workers and Canadians” (this story probably gets told all over the world so replace Canadians with your country of choice). Now, a list of specific skills followed by a nationality is a little bit odd. The rationale behind it is that the Canadians (or whatever country you inserted into the story) can, and will, do anything that is asked or needed of them.
The thing is, software development project managers and team leads, like Red Cross managers, love this type of person. I have a guy like this on my team right now. I couldn’t survive without him. I firmly believe that utilitarian programmers are the glue that binds a decent team together. They’re the ones that can switch and cover for a person on a moments notice. They’re the ones that will be asked to put a second set of eyes on some code. Invariably they’re the ones that have the most wide spread respect from their peers on the team.
Being an expert may get your names up in lights, but there’s something great about knowing that you can be put into any situation and you will not be a detriment. As tempting as the marquee billing is, I don’t think that I’d like it any better than being the person featured on page four of the program.