While reading an IT related website, I found an article that intrigued me. The author provided a list of 10 what he called “must have” IT skills for IT professionals in their day to day jobs. The list:
2. PowerShell and Scripting
3. Networking and Interoperability
6. Disaster Recovery
8. Database Administration
9. Desktop Imaging
10. Helpdesk (People Skills)
What struck me about this list is it’s basically everything and the kitchen sink in terms of IT skills, processes and practices. And for someone who’s worked with people across this spectrum of roles, I would be hard pressed to name any one person I’ve ever met that knew more than a little about all of these things. #1 and #10 (Troubleshooting and Help Desk/People skills) seem to have the most potential for a common attribute. Although, you could argue that IT professionals often struggle with people skills.
But for the other eight items, it just seems like an odd collection of different skill sets and knowledge bases. It would be unusual to find a person who is a Networking expert who also can talk eloquently about Database administration. True, it might be great to have this rare combination available for projects. However, uber technical generalists are rare. For those of you not in IT, think about a career like Finance where you have everything from Investment Banking, to VC, to Private Equity, to Commercial Finance, Trading, Risk, etc. Although many of the concepts can carry across, each specialty really takes a different set of knowledge or skills.
If you think back to my blog on shims, IT generalists typically evolve because they go 10 miles wide and 2 feet deep in terms of their organization and IT systems knowledge, plus they have a very strong people/org skill anchor to help solidify their unique role. Often times, a shim departed from a technical track earlier in their career (maybe into an analyst or Project Management role). But in most IT organizations, the most technically apt workers are ofter split into a IT specialty early in their career. Or it could be based on their educational background, e.g., electrical engineers become networking experts. IT consulting might be the only place where you can learn a little bit of everything. Even then, consulting companies would prefer you have one specialty so you can be always be staff-able.
I’m not saying people would NOT want to have a “must have” uber generalist like the author describes, I’m just not convinced that it’s even close to a realistic goal.