What is your strongest suit?
I talk to a lot of clients, prospects, and human resources folks everyday. Every so often I’ll be asked “What is your strongest suit? Would you say you are stronger in Oracle or MySQL? You’re really on the database side, so you don’t do much systems administration, right?” I hesitate to go with an either or answer because my exposure to technologies really has been mixed. It’s easy to think in either or terms. You can’t be expert at both database platforms, can you? A lot of folks do specialize in one platform, or one type of work so it’s not surprising we tend to compartmentalize without thinking about it.
What about a jack of all trades?
Perhaps a better question to be asking is how many hats can you wear? A generalist who can deep dive into the details when necessary can be a great asset to a business. A manager who is watching costs, and a tight budget needs resources who can solve a lot of different types of problems, and hiring folks who wear a lot of different hats can be a great asset to them.
Specializing Job Roles
Unfortunately due to the way we think of education, we normally major in one thing, and further specialize through years of on-the-job experience. This type of focus is important, but it can also be a detriment. Psychologists argue that we naturally have mental blind spots. Because of that we tend to bias heavily to what we are most exposed to, and see things with those glasses.
Take for example if we specialize in a particular programming language, we’ll likely see that as the best solution for all tasks. If our job is on the operations side, we may see the business and it’s application in terms of the components and servers that host it. We probably think about security, and performance, and reliability. And if we are a developer, we’ll see it as a series of software components that interact in a certain way. We may well focus on functionality, and the details therein, but think less about performance or upkeep of those infrastructure that sits on. If we’re a manager or CEO, we will see the business as a whole and what solution it brings to it’s customers. We are intimately aware of costs in human resources, infrastructure, and day-to-day operations that it takes to make the business continue to move forward and grow. However we may not understand the intimate details enough to notice a design flaw a developer might, or understand the security implications to the business of a certain infrastructure decision.
The forest for the trees
Given all of this we can see how pervasive each of our blind spots are, and how they influence our frame of mind. It’s very easy for us to miss the forest for the trees unless we are vigilant. Communication can help us, and goes a long way towards helping the business as a whole be able to do this. It can’t hurt to also have a few generalists who can wear many different hats, and plug in to projects in different and creative ways for the business.
BOOK REVIEW: Cordelia Fine – A Mind of It’s Own, How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives
Here’s an interesting read that elaborates and clarifies how we are biased, how our minds tell us convenient fictions everyday. Most people are overly optimistic, for instance about their driving ability, or their chances of success. She explains that this is exhibited by healthy minds, and that there are a class of people that actually see things closer to reality. Their perceptions of themselves are more even, and their predictions tend to be more realistic. Apparently people with this unusual quality tend to be clinically depressed.
She divides the chapters up into some of our favorite vices, vanity, immorality, delusions and further being over emotional, secretive, weak-willed or bigoted. Whatever areas are our particular trouble spots, we all exhibit some of these traits at times.
The author goes a long way towards explaining how and why we do this, and what can be done to improve the situation. With her insights in mind we can hopefully make better decisions, and communicate better with those around us.