Jack of all trades, good or bad?
5 January 2012, by Rui Oliveira in Other | 2 Comments
Today I came across this article in LinkedIn called The Value of the Designer Who Codes, which got me to think about how important it is to master a few tools to succeed. But how about being a Jack of all trades?
Jack, the dark side
The tools available to make something as a website, for instance, are endless. If you want to make something good you have to learn/know a lot of stuff.
For example, a small site like this one is accomplished thanks to some knowledge of usability, design, HTML, Photshop, WordPress, PHP, CSS and MySQL, not to mention specific tools like Content Management Systems (CMS). All this can, of course, be made by one single person – a Jack of all trades as some call it – which is considered, by some people, as negative. Hence the expression: Jack of all trades, master of none.
This negative view is some times justified by a single fact: Some rather have a team of 2 or 3 or 4 elements that excel on their field, than one that knows something about the same disciplines, but without so much depth.
And let’s be honest, no one can be the best at design AND coding AND usability AND database managing. Specially now, when things change so quickly and what’s hot today is old news tomorrow. But not being a specialist might have its advantages.
Jack, the light side
I believe that every team should have a Jack of all trades. Designers and coders, for instance, speak different languages. If a designer knows about the difficulties, limitations and needs of a coder, and vice-versa, everything runs much smoother, thanks to the empathy they can quickly achieve.
So, for those who believe in having the best of each field for their projects – which is a valid point of view, of course – should consider having someone who knows enough about each of the fields, to help, guide, and make a bridge between each of the areas involved. In some companies, people even get work in all departments so that they know exactly what’s needed for each task, which will make a team much more efficient and aware of each element. For technical tasks such as coding or database managing, this part switching is, evidently, impossible. But a Jack of all trades, has already worked on “the other side”.
So, the best solution (considering the coder/designer relation as an example) is to find a great coder that does some design, and a great designer that does some coding. That’s a winning team. They can even help each other when necessary.
Beeing an expert vs. beeing smart
It’s better to be an expert or a Jack of all trades?
In this day of age, there are a lot of things to master, a lot of tools in which you might become an expert on. Even if you have a couple of things you like to do, there’s always something that you know more of. You can call that your expertise area or your vocation.
In most cases, an expert on something, is defined by his or her life experience, more than education. For instance, you can take a good extensive course on SQL, but if you don’t work with it, you’re no expert. Only when you work constantly with it, gaining experience, pushing the envelope to find solutions for your everyday problems and discussing your work with other colleagues you get to be an expert.
The same goes for a Jack of all trades. It’s probably someone who wanted to achieve something, and learned everything needed to get the results. It doesn’t have to be a profound knowledge, just enough to get to the objective. Eventually, if the objective gets too complex, Jack should recognize that an expert must be brought along, with the advantage of knowing exactly what is needed (what he or she couldn’t achieve) and what kind of expertise must be found. That’s smart.
If you do what you love, you’re probably an expert on that, without even knowing it. When you have a passion for what you do, you’re naturally curious and you look for ways to stay informed about the latest news of your area and you read about it and you are in touch with other people that do what you do. Doing what you love is half the way to becoming the best at what you do.
Different objectives ask for different roles, so there’s nothing wrong on being Jack. Small companies benefit with multidisciplinary elements who can lend a hand whenever is needed. Larger, more complex projects, however, certainly need the experts. Just do what you love, become good at it and if you can, get payed to do it. There’s room for everyone.