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Frustrated by being a generalist

By kilbey1 ·
First, please allow me to give some general personal background. As an undergrad nearing the completion of 2 majors - Art, and Communications - I got into web design as a communicator, feeling it was the perfect blend of my creative abilities, as well as using my writing skills. I loved doing one-off sites, perhaps showcasing a band, or an online game, or a company's products. In 1994, it was mostly front-end work and HTML, and it was the one career I thought I would do for the rest of my life.

My first 'real' full-time job came in 1999 as a web designer for a local newspaper in Texas. It was basically pulling in content, formatting it and uploading it to the server. But a large part of the work involved creating commercial sites for businesses. I felt left behind however, as I saw all these wonderfully dynamic sites, so I started to teach myself ColdFusion as my first programming language. When I got a job doing it full-time, I found it, well - a bit boring.

But I kept at it for the money. I ended up next working as a Human Factors / Usability specialist and really enjoyed it. Then back to being a web developer, then systems administrator, then as a design / project manager. (Loved the designing, did the managing because I had to, though I think the team pretty much managed themselves) Then finally as a business analyst, on a contract basis.

Now that the contract is over, I've been offered a position as a web developer for a small company. I am not sure what kind of step this is - a step back, a step sideways, or otherwise. The money however doesn't seem to be in designing; and where there is design work, I feel as if I must keep up with the latest and greatest (Ajax, Flash).

So the upshot of this whole thing is that, despite having been doing something in technology for over 10 years, I only have a smattering of lots of different things. I am a decent designer; I can do development on an intermediate level (not much OOP but some); capable of doing analysis; have experience in database management at an intermediate level; my linux and windows 2003 server administration is at a passable level; and my manual QA testing is at least competent. But I truly feel as if I'm not where I should be in 10+ years time.

Do I need to take a step back and pursue one avenue? Should I reassess my skill set and start hammering away in one area? Should I try to move into project management? Or am I being too unrealistic?

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I wrote a blog post that points to this discussion thread

by jasonhiner Moderator In reply to Frustrated by being a gen ...
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Some Suggestions

by Wayne M. In reply to Frustrated by being a gen ...

The best course of action will depend upon the particular details of your situation, so most of my suggestions will point you to someone else.

Do you like your current company? Do you wish to stay with it? Is it realistics to stay with it? If so, talk to your boss about career paths in your company. He may direct to someone else, but it is a start. You may even ask him directly if there is someone else to talk to and whether he could make an introduction. If you want to leave your current company, find a local placement agency (not a nationwide one unless you want to leave the area). A local agency will usually give you one face-to-face career development meeting (don't expect more than one). In any case, do not pay for any of these services. If the agency asks for payment, run away and find a different one.

If you are a generalist, you may want to consider management. You have the ability to oversee a broad range of technical endeavors. Take this path only if you currently enjoy working with people and recognize that this will end any chance of gaining technical expertise in any one area.

If you want to stay technical, you will need to pick an area of concentration. Look at the type of work going on in your company and ask your boss to be placed on that type of project. Going outside your company is difficult unless you have contacts to vouch for you. Look at augmenting your experience by taking some certifications.

It is very normal to go through cycles of generalization followed by specialization in your career. It sounds like you may be at one of those transition points. Talk to the people in your company who know your strengths and the company's needs. Talk to people in your local area who understand the needs in the current job market.

Good luck and best wishes.

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Why are you frustrated?

by barrycs In reply to Frustrated by being a gen ...

I am a generalist and I am searching for my next full-time assignment. My opinion is that you are in a great place. You are not pegged into a single position, you are not typed. You have the latitude to jump into different areas and you have that most important learning and growing attitude as you have kept up your skills and added new ones. I would choose what you like to do best and concentrate on finding work in that area. I think you have tremendous assets that you can utilize to help others and be successful.

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takes one to know one

by Mikiel In reply to Frustrated by being a gen ...

Hi, Kilbey1. From your post I think you?re an artist, so your career path will be fraught with trade-offs.

Barry raises a good question. Why are you frustrated? You say being a web developer for a small company might be a "step back"? Why? I think most any job has merit and value - if you enjoy it all the better! Who cares what other people think! But, I don't think it's status you're seeking (nor power nor enjoyment of technology).

It could be a better salary you want. In that case, yes, you need to leave pure web development. There's a salary ceiling for web development that you can't pass without doing something different. Unless you?re in the less than 1% who become wildly famous, you'll never make a lot of money in any art field (and I include the sort of design work you've done in web development as "art".) There are too many people who love art to make the supply/demand economics profitable for artists. (Hence the term "starving artist")

For money, a logical next step would be web programming. Here a strong background in one language/environment is a real plus in getting hired and in getting a larger salary. There are some ColdFusion jobs out there. .NET is really popular so that might be a good way to go. (Once you get used to the process and IDE, it?s not that much harder than server-side scripting like ColdFusion.) But you were bored with programming in a previous job.

The other logical step is management. Your years in IT qualify you. Your broad dabbling in a lot of disparate technologies (vs. specialization) is actually a real plus here. And you have some management experience. This could be another good way to go to increase your salary (especially if you like working with people). But you didn?t seem too wild about management when you were the project manager.

I fear you?ll have to make a decision between

1. making an average/low salary as a web designer ? but really enjoying your job with its visual design, creativity, and variety through one-off projects. (Yes, Flash would be a good skill to pick up. It?s popular and, done right, can be good for interactivity and promo sites.)

2. making an average/good salary at a ho-hum job as a programmer or manager. Sometimes financial responsibilities make this a better overall choice. You can always pursue your art outside of work on your own, as pick up jobs, or through volunteering your skills.

Best of luck whatever you choose!

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Similar scenario

by nyeates1 In reply to Frustrated by being a gen ...

I am a generalist too, with about 6 years in the IT business. Similar upbringing (web, html, coding, one off sites), except that I have always done IT and have a degree on it and am working on a master in it. I taught it to myself at age 10, and never stopped. Now I am 27 with 3 years working full time at a university doing IT administration, analysis, and support. I really actually like having a wide variety of stuff under my belt, I like people, I like being super technical at times on and off, and I like doing my own thing / research. I am at a huge crossroads and have no idea where i want to go. Money is not as important for me, but I do want to take advantage of high paying jobs before having a family if I can. Likely once I get a family, I will actually take a pay cut in order to spend more time with them. Maybe come back to the university.

In about 2 months, I am leaving my 3 year job to take to myself (no job planned) and live off my hard earned cash for 6-8 months. Maybe I will figure out what my next move is during that time, in addition to getting back to sanity. Lately, work has been hurting my arms and neck, and also my mind, in a serious way.

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