Linux

IT Pros: Is it better to generalize or specialize?

It's always a dilemma for IT pros -- be a specialist or a generalist? Is one more dangerous than the other? Brad Bird shares his experience dealing with this question.

Ah, the IT market...

Which path should you choose? Should you become an expert in Microsoft products, or should you become an expert in Unix or Linux? Or should you follow the Apple path?

Now, once you have selected a technology, do you specialize even further? Perhaps in e-mail administration? Communications, security, or end user support? There are a lot more questions where these came from.

Additionally, you could become a programmer to build applications and solutions, or you could become an application specialist, learning all the ins and outs of an application or a suite of applications like Microsoft Office.

I often find myself wondering if it is wise to specialize too much. On one hand, an expert in any product area is desirable and highly sought after to accomplish business goals and help any company's employees remain productive in their industry. In this day and age, most companies rely on information technology, and any competitive company needs technology to remain viable, even if their IT is outsourced rather than found in house.

If you are a specialist and the demand for that specialty decreases, you are forced to broaden your skill set in order to remain a desirable resource in this economy.

My view on this subject is to remain flexible. Technology is ever changing, and what is the hot technology now may be forgotten when the next best technology comes out.

In my career, I have spent the most time working with Microsoft products. Interestingly enough, I had just completed my Microsoft Certified System Engineer certification when I was hired by an e-commerce company. There, I worked as a junior systems administrator; ninety percent of my job duties were performed on Sun Solaris! Still, it gave me the occasion early on to learn Unix, and even though it's not what I was prepared for, since then I've kept up with my reading to follow where Linux is going -- just in case.

The skill sets acquired from one technology are often transferable to another with some minor adjustments. You just have to be willing to be flexible and make the change. Technology improves based on need, but it does not adapt to us; we need to adapt to technology and remain open to change.

I went to school with a colleague who helped me in my Java class. This colleague was a fantastic lab partner, and I learned a lot from him. My colleague was a Linux and Macintosh fanatic. He disagreed with the Microsoft mentality and was true to Linux and Macintosh. At the time, I shared this view with him.

Now guess where my colleague works. I'll give you a hint. He knows "where he wants to go today."

What do you think is the best approach for preparing yourself for an IT career? If you've been working as an IT pro for a while, do you still think it's a rewarding field to go into?

About

Brad Bird is a lead technical consultant and MCT certified trainer based in Ottawa, ON. He works with large organizations, helping them architect, implement, configure, and customize System Center technologies, integrating them into their business pr...

Editor's Picks