Generalists vs. Specialists

I’ve stated quite often that being a generalist has generally been beneficial for my IT career (pun intended). That’s why I developed the professional development presentation, The Swiss Army Knife of DB Pros. It is also why I continue to bounce back and forth between technology areas rather than deep diving. For instance, I’m back primarily as an Active Directory and security architect. I still touch SQL Server day-to-day, but I’m back more on the infrastructure side these days. When you look at my career, about the only place I’ve not spent a lot of time in is networking. I hope to change that eventually.

However, I’ve not been successful at expressing why I believe generalists are better. Don Melton (blog | twitter) has expressed it very well in this talk.

“I would rather have a whole team of generalists than just a few specialists. Generalists can reapply what they know to new problem domains.” – Don Melton

And there you have it. Because we don’t specialize, we are constantly having to face new problem domains. Typically, we become active, important members of teams because we’re looking at our existing skills and knowledge and seeing if any of them can be brought to bear in the new domains. Some specialists are able to do this, too. However, some aren’t, because they haven’t had to do so. Generalists must in order to survive.