We’re well into 2015. How is your year going - and how are you preparing for the rest of your career? Earlier this year, four of us got together and had a great talk about technology predictions for 2015.
One of the things I talked about was becoming a “Pi-shaped expert.” You might ask, “What’s a pi-shaped expert?” Well, it’s all about how you develop your skills and your career. If you read advice on skills and jobs, you will often see advice on being a “T-shaped expert.”
One of the things we struggle with in IT is in being a generalist vs. being a specialist. There are lots of ways of looking at this: Kong Yang has written on Geek Speak about Generalists, Versatilists, and Specialists, which is a different window into this same issue. But sticking with our letter-shaped model, let's define the T-shaped expert. This kind of person has a broad range of skills which they’re reasonably familiar with; that’s the top of the “T”. Maybe for you it's Windows, networking, security, being really good at writing requirements documents, scripting, and Exchange. And then the T-shaped expert also has the stem of the “T”—the one skill area in which they're an expert. Maybe for you it's VMware and virtualization).
The T-shape is what gets you the good job. Generalists are where we all start, but generalists in IT tend to get stuck in smaller shops doing everything and are often underpaid and overworked. More advanced jobs and bigger environments require—and pay for—experts in a given area, but who can pinch hit in other roles.
So being a T-shaped expert is the best way to get a good job, move to a better situation, and have a good career. At least for a while. If you became the SAN expert or the VMware expert ten years ago, you have done well in the ensuing decade. But if you’re *still* the SAN expert or the VMware expert ten years later, and that’s all you are bringing to the table, you should be a little concerned. The SAN of 2015 is a lot easier to manage, and in many emerging environments in the cloud or with hyperconverged infrastructure, there’s not even a SAN to manage. Your T-shaped skill simply isn’t as valuable.
This is where the Pi-shape comes in. While you are still working in that T-shaped job with your T-shaped pay, you need to be building new interests and new skills. You should be using small projects at work as well as side projects outside work to develop another leg on your “T,” making it a “Pi.”
That new skill in 2015 might be something like automation and orchestration, configuration management, DevOps, or containers. Or perhaps it’s expertise in hyperconverged infrastructure, software-defined networking, or public cloud. Or it could be going deeper into application performance management and relating back to DevOps and Continuous Integration. It should be something that you find interesting and something that is becoming increasingly relevant now and growing in the future. As you develop this second leg of your “Pi,” you open up new opportunities in the future.
IT is about continuous learning. Don’t get stuck being a generalist. But also don’t get stuck with one deep skill that’s stuck in past. You probably have decades more left in your career. Always be stepping to a new stone in the river by becoming a Pi-shaped expert.