Has this situation happened to you? You've dedicated your professional career -- and let's be honest -- your life, on a subject, only to find “that's not good enough.” Maybe it comes from having too many irons in the fire, or it could be that there are just too many fires to be chasing.

 

Ericsson (1990) says that it takes 10,000 hours (20 hours for 50 weeks a year for ten years = 10,000) of deliberate practice to become an expert in almost anything.

 

I’m sure you’ve heard that Ericsson figure before, but in any normal field, the expectation is that you will gain and garner that expertise over the course of 10 years. How many of you can attest to spending 20 hours a day for multiple days to even multiple weeks in a row as you tackle whatever catastrophe the business demands, often driven by a lack of planning on their part? (Apparently, a lack of planning IS our emergency when it comes to keeping that paycheck coming in!)

 

I got my start way back in Security and Development (the latter of which I won’t admit if you ask me to code anything :)). As time progressed, the basic underpinnings of security began delving into other spaces. The message became, “If you want to do ANYTHING in security, you need networking skills or you won’t get very far.” To understand the systems you’re working on, you have to have a firm grasp of the underlying Operating Systems and kernels. But if you’re doing that, you better understand the applications. Oh, and in the late 1990s, VMware came out, which made performing most of this significantly easier and more scalable. Meanwhile, understanding what and how people do the things they do only made sense if you understood System Operations. And nearly every task along the way wasn’t a casual few hours here or there, especially if your goal was to immerse yourself in something to truly understand it. Doing so would quickly become a way of life, and before long you'd quickly find yourself striving for and achieving expertise in far too many areas, updating your skill sets along the way.

 

As my career moved on, I found there to be far more overlap of specializations and subject matter expertise, rather than clearly delineated silos. Where this would come to head as a strong positive was when I worked with organizations as a SME in storage, virtualization, networking and security, finding that the larger the organization, the more these groups would refuse to talk to each other. More specifically, if there was a problem, the normal workflow or blame assignment would look something like this picture. Feel free to provide your own version of events that you experience.

 

 

Given this very atypical approach to support by finger-pointing, having expertise in multiple domains would become a strong asset since security people will only talk to other security people. Okay, not always, but also, yes, very much always. And if you understand what they’re saying and where they’re coming from, pointing out, “Hey, do you have a firewall here?” means a lot more coming from someone who understands policy than from one of the other silos, which they seemingly have nothing but disdain for. Often, a simple network question posed by one network person to another could move mountains, because each party respects the ability or premise of the other. Storage and virtualization folks typically take the brunt of the damage because they regularly have to prove that problems aren’t their fault because they’re the easiest point of blame due to storage pool consolidation or hardware pool consolidation. Finally, the application guys simply won’t talk to us half the time, let alone mention that they made countless changes without understanding what WE did wrong to make their application suddenly stop working the way it should. (Spoiler alert: It was an application problem.)

 

Have you found yourself pursuing one or more subject matter domains of expertise, either just get your job done, or to navigate the shark-infested waters of office politics? Share your stories!