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In Defense of The Jack of All Trades

Business, Web Design | Oct 5, 2009

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” Robert A. Heinlein

It seems that the topic of specialization has come into focus yet again in the web world and with it, the people who say being a “jack of all trades” is a useless thing to strive for.

A lot of web professionals are pushing newcomers to specialize in a single area to make themselves more marketable and employable. Without a doubt, specialists will always be needed in any industry. But is it really so bad to be a web generalist?

Being considered a “jack of all trades” has always had a negative connotation. It implies that you dabble in bits of everything, but never achieve the expertise needed to be good at any one pursuit.

Maybe a successful generalist should instead be considered a “Renaissance man” (or woman).

Few would argue that DaVinci should have stuck to one subject.

 

Speaking From Experience

Ok, so I’m not DaVinci. Despite my lack of genius, being a Jack has worked well for me.

I’ve always worked with small teams where being flexible and willing to learn was seen as a huge asset. I wouldn’t call myself a generalist, per se, but I wouldn’t call myself a specialist either.

Web design is my primary passion. It’s what I spend the most energy practicing and perfecting. Still, I spend a good chunk of time learning front end development techniques and reading up on user experience principles to make sure my designs are more than just pretty pictures.

I’ve project managed, created databases, produced wireframes and IA documents, and written copy for marketing pieces. I even built a few ColdFusion and PHP sites back in the day that I’m sure would haunt me to look at now.

I’ve worked with over a dozen CMS products in a plethora of languages. I’ve designed everything from magazine layouts to environmental graphics. Some of what I produced might be pretty bad – like the database I built with a book in one hand to walk me through the process step-by-step, but I filled a gap, solved a problem and learned a lot in the process.

Being adaptable has earned me quite a few raises and promotions. I’ve been told time and time again that I’m a valuable team member precisely because I know a little bit about all aspects of the web process.

It has also allowed me to take on interesting freelance projects that I can call mine from start to finish. It makes my design work more informed because I know exactly how hard it will be to make that one little thingamajig look good in IE6.

And it’s easier for me to relate to the woes of a developer frustrated by a coding bug, or a project manager trying desperately to make a customer happy, which makes me a better teammate.

 

It Works For Some…

Being a generalist works for me, but it won’t work for everyone. There are a few reasons I think I’ve had success with it. They include:

Endless Curiousity
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about myself and have started to work with my nature instead of against it.

I’m a very curious person. I have trouble focusing on a single subject because everything seems so interesting to me. I have a broad arsenal of skills gathered over the years thanks to my curious nature. If I forced myself to pick a specialty and stick to it, I’d be incredibly bored and for me, boredom is misery.

A Love Of Learning
I truly enjoy learning new things. I could hate a subject and still enjoy the process of learning about it. It’s fun for me to sit down and research a new technique or test out a style I haven’t mastered yet. If it wasn’t fun for me, I wouldn’t want to spend so much free time doing it.

A Deep-Seated Need For Control
Let’s be honest… I’m a control freak. I learned a lot of what I know so I wouldn’t have to ask someone else to do it for me. I got good at front end development because I wasn’t happy with how programmers missed small nuances when building out my designs, for example.

The old adage often holds true – if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. My vision of “right” and someone else’s are often very different.

Even when I don’t have time to do something myself, knowing that it can be done (and how to do it) gives me a lot of leverage.

 

But Not For All.

If you need to know every single detail about how something works before you’re satisfied, or if you don’t like bouncing from subject to subject, you’re probably not cut out to be a generalist.

And many people don’t enjoy the learning process – instead, they enjoy putting their skills to work each day and moving closer and closer toward perfecting those skills.

Know yourself. Work with what you’ve got and keep yourself happy.

 

Making It Work

To really be successful, I suggest you strike a balance between generalist and specialist.

Be really great at one thing, but decently good at several other things related to it. Be a great designer with a solid background in user experience and SEO, or a fantastic front end dev who can do light backend coding and pull together a decent layout.

Your primary work will improve because of the secondary knowledge you pick up. And whether you freelance or work for a company, you will be a more valuable resource.

Go beyond “enough to be dangerous”. Know enough to talk fluently with someone who is a specialist in that area. This way you will be able to identify problems, taking care of minor ones and communicating bigger issues to the right specialists. You can be the person who sees the big picture and understands how all the parts interrelate.

In general, Jacks are best suited to small teams, management positions, or freelancing.

Small teams will appreciate your flexibility and are usually thrilled to see you tackle extra things that aren’t in your job description.

A bigger company means more toes to step on, so your eagerness might not be well received. And with larger teams you tend to see a high degree of specialization and less opportunity to try out different roles.

If you are already in a big company, a management or “big picture” position could keep you from feeling boxed in. People higher up the ladder need a broader range of skills to keep their teams interconnected.

Freelancing can be a great option if you’re business-oriented. You get to pick the projects that fit into your interests, so you will always have chances to stretch your skill set and learn new things.

 

Be Proud

If you do it right, being a jack of all trades should be considered a strength.

Your ability to adapt to a business’s needs will be highly sought after. There is no reason to feel that this is an inferior path.

Generalists bring much-needed balance to the workplace and make communication across disciplines a lot easier.

So go ahead…. ignore the over-specialized masses and keep learning!


Written exclusively for WDD by Mindy Wagner. She started her love affair with the web over a decade ago when a computer science major showed her how to View Source. Her goal is to design creative sites that strike a balance between usable and beautiful. See Mindy’s profile at Viget. You can follow her on Twitter @graphicsgirl

Where do you stand between being a generalist and a specialist? What works best for you and why?


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  • http://www.squiders.com Kris Jeary

    Could not agree more, I am a “generalist” and having mostly worked for small agencies before going it alone the ability to adapt and turn your hand to anything is invaluable.

    Now most of my business is for small companies who want a one-stop-shop, if I do have to outsource something I at least know enough to realise if i’m being told a load of BS

    Thanks Mindy!

    • http://www.cameronbaney.com Cameron Baney

      That is a good point, Kris. I didn’t think of outsourcing your work and knowing whether the freelancer is telling BS or the truth. So even if you don’t know everything, you know enough to keep yourself grounded.

  • http://leongaban.com Leon

    Great article :) I consider myself a Jack of all trades too…

  • http://www.flience.com L Dash

    I think being a jack of all trades is good thing as long as your willing to continue and work at all the trades.

  • Eric

    I’m definitely a generalist and so far it’s working out great for me!

    I took commerce and computer science in university, which I have just recently graduated from. I have skills and knowledge in DB design, coding in multiple languages, web design, front end design, user experience analysis, marketing, human resources, operations, accounting, finance, strategic planning and more. While I’m definitely not a complete specialist in any specific area, it leaves doors wide open to get into anything. Often my clients and business partners are aware of this and hire or partner with me based not only on having a wide skill set, but being able to couple technological knowledge with strong business knowledge and skills. It also opens doors for many of my own projects which I otherwise would have never known about or would have been too scared to get into.

    You’re definitely right though, being a generalist is almost like being a specialist of sorts… you need to know how to use it right.

  • http://www.rufus.co.uk Grabbins

    Really good way to tackle the ‘jack of all trades’ criticism. Very strong quote to start with too!

    I work at (what we like to call) a creative hub. I don’t think we ever set out to be a ‘Jack of all trades’ company, so to speak, our clients just kept asking “Can you do this for us?” and we hardly ever found a reason to say no!

    I like the idea of a cross media studio but I suppose it depends how well you handle each area of work as to wether or not it’s going to do you any favours in the long run.

  • http://mindywagner.net Mindy

    Yep, the good and bad about being a generalist is you’ll never ever be done learning. But if you’re in the web design field, that’s a given anyway.

  • http://gregrickaby.com Greg

    So true. I bust my ass to be good at many things – it’s what my clients want. A one-stop-web-shop. I hate being looked down upon by the dev who is good at one thing but only has 2 clients.

  • http://iloveusability.com Kevin Holesh

    Being a jack of all trades can be a good thing depending on the situation.

    If you’re a web designer, having an understanding of backend languages would make you more valuable, but it probably wouldn’t actually get you hired as a programmer. I see that more as a web designer with experience in programming, not a web designer and a programmer.

    If you are running a small start up, you’re going to need people that are really good at one thing (IA for example) and can do a decent job at the rest (design, wireframing, etc) because you don’t have the money to hire skilled specialists. In that case, being a “jack of all trades” is a great thing!

  • http://www.quickenwebsites.com QuickenWebsites

    Awesome Post! I’ve seen many designs done by graphic designers who were brilliant in Photoshop and AI. However those designs had a little value to their visitors. Today you need to be designer, marketer, UI specialist and JQuery coder.

  • http://seventytwelve.com/ Jerry

    Wow. I blogged about this same topic a few weeks back. I even said the term “Renaissance man” is preferable to Jack of All Trades. The reason is that I am this person. I’ve worked on the web professionally for many years in design, development, production, publishing, marketing, and management. Now that I am running my own business, having a broad skill set is definitely and asset (fewer tasks I need to outsource). But I have sensed potential employers viewing it as a weakness in the past.

  • http://www.apmsolutions.ca APM Solutions

    Great post! I think the biggest thing is that clients and more and more inclined to deal with one firm or person for that matter. They seem to shy away from having to deal with one person for design, another for the development, another for SEO, Web Hosting, and on and on. If you have a very good understanding of all aspects, you can use that knowledge to your advantage even in the course of having to outsource part of a project.

  • http://www.timothy-stringer.co.uk Tim Stringer

    I agree with what you’re saying here.

    I’m a second year on an Interactive Media Course and although a lot of jobs in our region are specialist. We are all being taught to have all the strings to our bows in order to compete realistically when we graduate.

    I’m also finding it really helps bring designs together if I know what works where and how something can be achieved.

  • http://oreanarose.com Oreana

    Sounds like I’m a web generalist :) It maybe have been a little cocky, but I used to call myself a ‘renaissance girl’.

    Only recently have I noticed such specialization and wondered why more people aren’t a bit more general in the field. It would help with some of those designer/developer conflicts you hear about.

  • Jen

    I prefer the term ‘polymath’ rather than ‘Jill of all trades’. Mastering complex subjects is hard!

    It’s far more interesting working on multiple aspects of multiple projects than to drill down into such a tight level of focus that when the world changes, you’re left behind. IMO.

  • http://www.thecomplexmedia.com/ theComplex

    I’m definitely a “Jack” and I’ve found it to be a hindrance to A) be a one dimensional designer or B) WORK with a one dimensional designer. I don’t understand Web designers that don’t understand how to edit a Photoshop file and export it for web… or Graphic designers that just specialise in presentations? How the hell did you get a job!?

  • http://Www.broadeninghorizons.co.uk BHMediaMarty

    Totally agree with being a jack of all trades. I am one myself, not just because I can & because I’m interested to know how everything works, but I decided a long time ago that my design work shouldn’t be restricted to just paper, but canvas, Internet, tshirts, mugs, mousemats, coasters & I constantly strive to find new things, new ways to connect an output device to a computer to broaden the scope of my companies design work. If I was my own customer I’d love the fact that my company covered all my requirements without having to find numerous supplier to complete a range of tasks. But to employ specialists to cover everything I know would require a workforce of many more staff than I have & increase overheads ten fold.

  • http://www.swerveinteractivemedia.com Stuart

    Thanks for this article. This has also served me well, but it’s also important to know your limits.

  • http://stationv.com Vic

    Great article. Been suffering from the stigma all my life… I can sleep better now. Thanks.

  • http://blog.jeromegn.com/ Jerome

    Hey, great article! I agree with most of it, I’m also a jack of all trades and I’ve definitely been seeing any more advantages than disadvantages.

    In my opinion, the best place for a jack of all trades in a company or on a project is in management. Project Manager, Product Manager or even Product Owner all require a vision of the ensemble that generalists often can figure out much more easily. Things connect in our minds in a more efficient way, it’s possible, because of our experience in many fields, to envision how a full project is, will be or should be. It requires even more experience to figure out how something “should be”, but it’s certainly a perfect next step for any generalist who also likes to manage.

    I wrote an essay about being autodidactic: http://blog.jeromegn.com/4-succeeding_as_an_autodidact if you’re interested in knowing more about my jack of all trades story.

  • http://www.cassigallagher.com Cassandra

    Story of my life! This is an excellent post. It’s a good rejuvenation for all of us out there worried about taking on too many things at once…

  • http://nathany.com Nathan Youngman

    Mindy, your article reminded me of the Chad Fowler’s book “The Passionate Programmer” in which chapter 7 and 8 are “Be a Generalist” and “Be a Specialist”. I should really re-read those, because I don’t remember the gist.

    My leanings are definitely on the side of endless curiosity and love of learning. Sometimes detrimental, when it stays at the surface level (knowing about vs. experience with). I’m trying to get more focused without going too narrow.

    Vertically, you describe being a jack-of-all-trades from UI down to the database. Horizontally, such as being familiar with a number of CMS systems. What do you feel is more valuable?

  • http://www.studioal.com Kerri

    Vindication! I was just sitting there pondering, yesterday, how to spin the Jack of All trades thing in a positive manner, since it always seems to be looked upon negatively. I’ve definitely become one of those because of the things you listed (“Endless Curiousity, A Love Of Learning, A Deep-Seated Need For Control”). I don’t take on a new task unless I’m confident about doing it well, but I seem to have a passion for learning to do new things well. It’s served me very well in the in-house “small team” environment. I’m relatively new to freelance, so I’m interested to see how it serves me there, or if I’ll find myself being “type cast” in one specialty or another.

  • Amatatomba

    I think nowadays, when everything is so competitive, it’s important to be a “jack of all trades”. It gives you an edge. The more you can learn about something, the better. There’s nothing wrong with specializing, but it’s not for everyone. And even if you do specialize, I still think you should have basic knowledge of other fields.

  • http://www.knockoutdesigns.com.au Damir

    Great post and what really surprised me is the number of reassuring comments. I feel much better now :)

  • http://jvb.webb.se Johan

    Aw, this made my day!

    I’ve always been quite down because I’m not an über-specialist in anything. I’ve sort of jumped between an array of different areas in web development, and it’s really hard to choose something to stick by.

    But after reading your post I got some confidence back: good to know that this is a positive thing after all! Thanks!

    • http://wordstoweb.net Rita Lewis

      Johan, I’m in the same boat as you. I have discovered that my curiosity, need to solve problems, love of learning, and need for control has made me unfit for a top down classical IT office because I always want to collaborate and I find I’m happiest as “Managing Editor” of a web design project — the person who pulls all the strings together and makes something work. I understand the IT world, I’ve also working with a slew of CMS platforms and types of sites; I’m training in graphic arts and have been marketing writing for years. But only small companies and start ups allow a Polymath the freedom to get your hands on lots of different aspects of a project.

      I’ve been freelancing for years but really would love the stability of full time work. Only today’s economy wants specialists so what to do?

      I thought I was unique because I see such amazing work in web design out there and mine is pragmatic and I get very good references and comments, but it isn’t awesome.

      Thank you for making me feel better.

  • http://www.viadigita.com David S

    As in medicine, the world is big enough for both generalists and specialists. Your descriptions of personality characteristics that lead to a “jack of all trades” situation are accurate. I also have found that the flexibility and adaptibility that come with being “multi-skilled” far outweigh the benefits of intense specialization.

    To some extent, it is a numbers game:

    For example, I would want a specialist to program a web app that required “perfect” security, perhaps in banking or some related financial endeavor. (My assumption here is that no “multi-skilled” generalist can ensure online security like someone who lives and breathes online security.) However, the number of clients requiring this type of specialized service is relatively small.

    On the other hand, a “multi-skilled” person (like myself) could be just the thing for more general web work–I can get a site up, graphics and all; I can handle RSS and XML Sitemaps for syndication and SEO; I can write about at least some variety of topics and products so I can be helpful in content development and site architecture, etc. The number of clients who required any of these skills is relatively large, at least compared to the number of clients who need security specialization services like in the example described above.

    Also important! — Developing a small site for a local business is work that can be “good enough” while creating a security-conscious web app has to be better than “good enough.” (quick note: when I say “good enough”, I don’t mean that in a negative sense; very often “good enough” really is just great and all parties can be happy with the result)

    In my experience (17+ yrs. desktop publishing, graphics, web, intranet, presentation development, video graphics, etc.), being a one-man “multi-skilled” person in a small company (100 employees) has meant that I can continually save them money on producing items they’d have to pay for out “on the market” which is a plus for job security. Also, by having a variety of skills, I’ve been able to work with every single department within the organization…so I’ve got strong institutional knowledge which is highly prized (most of our employees are specialists who don’t see the big picture).

    Last words (I promise):

    Multi-Skilled is the term I like. People (read clients) like “multi” anything–somehow there is a belief that more is better and “multi” plays to that very emotional human response. People also respect (and want to hire) “skilled” individuals–the word somehow paints a portrait of high-level ability, respectability and (whether true or not) talented. This also plays into people’s very natural human inclinations.

    In Defense of “Multi-Skilled”

    :-)

  • http://tutsnips.com Tutsnips

    Althought i’m not specialist in the field of photoshop and AI. Having knowledge in wordpress and jquery is good enough for me. Ofcourse we need to innovate our knowledge and learn more becoz its more marketable.

    This artcile is a great one.

  • http://mindywagner.net mindy

    It’s great to hear from so many who are like-minded. To answer your question, Nathan, about horizontal vs. vertical, tough call. But I think knowing one or two CMS apps will get you familiar enough with CMS underpinnings to work your way through a new CMS. I tend to spend more time on broadening knowledge vertically.

    Great input David – I especially like your mention of institutional knowledge. That is something that often gets taken for granted, but is incredibly valuable. I worked at a University for 5 years, and by year 5 I could get ten times more done (and pushed through the right channels) than I could my first few years there. Mostly due to a better understanding of the key players, politics, and accepted ways of doing things.

  • http://www.sthursby.com Stuart Thursby

    I’ve been thinking quite a bit on this topic for the past little while, as I’ve hit a point after about a year and a half of solid practice that I’ve become a generalist over several areas of design. It’s at this point that I’m trying to decide, overall, whether to focus on one or two (and of if so, which parts?) or continue a broad-based approach. Great read for someone who feels enough of a pull in different directions to not be able to settle on one over another. Thanks for posting it.

  • http://www.braveduck.com Mike

    I couldn’t agree more. After working years in the related fields, in 2007 we broke off and started our own design firm. I have found that being a jack not only lends itself well to being able to offer clients a whole slough of services, but it is truly helpful as a business owner and the one manages our contractors.

    thanks for the article,
    Mike

  • http://www.asourceofinspiration.com Armando Alves

    I agree to disagree:

    http://www.asourceofinspiration.com/2009/05/21/jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none/

    Jack of all trades, master of none,
    though ofttimes better than master of one.

  • http://nathany.com Nathan Youngman

    I skimmed over those two chapters of Chad Fowler’s book… he likens specialists to an assembly line, interesting in contrast to those high paid security consultants that Dave mentions.

    “Generalists are rare…and, therefore, precious.”

    “The way to become a generalist is to not label yourself with a specific role or tech- nology.” Chad encourages not pigeon-holing ourselves as “just a …”, and instead go out get a little hands-on-experience with other tools and platforms. Be “generally useful”.

    On the flip side, the “Be a specialist” chapter is about going deeper with what you use day-to-day. Learning the underpinnings, like how those JavaScripts you’re using actually work.

  • http://www.broadeninghorizons.co.uk BHMediaMarty

    Personally, my thoughts on specialists is, what do they do when their field is no longer required?

    I started life as a programmer, got into design whilst producing manuals for software I’d wrote and I enjoyed it, switched to design and have done that ever since. At one time I also worked in a bureau outputting files from various different programmes, many I’d never heard of, so I had to become relatively versed in all of them to spot errors and cure them before mistakes happened. To have specialists in all the apps would have been insane.

    At the same time we did have someone who specialised purely in the day to day running of the film imagesetter, imposing jobs and making plates. At the same time, I knew the same amount as he did being a “Jack of”. The company later replaced the film imagesetter with a direct to plate machine and imposition software. I still had a job, the specialist struggled to adapt and, needless to say, sadly became surplus to requirements.

    Keep up the good work Jacks, we know who we are and we love what we do.

  • http://www.atomgroom.com Atom Groom

    Great article and I agree-

    I started my root in this industry with Graphic Design, progressed into Web Design, then Front End Development and Flash, Video and Motion Graphics.

    My degree at the time was called “Multimedia Production and Design” which covered all the above and then some, even photography basics, and others.

    I wouldn’t say that I am “ubber successful” – but I do pretty well for myself. On a weekly basis I do anything from logo / identity, to user interface, to a flash banner.

    I love mixin’ it up and wouldn’t have it any other way – congrats to all of you who do the same.

    @ Mike / Brave Duck – You also make a very valid point – when it comes to business management and working with others, having this type of experience is certainly a good thing to have under your belt.

    • http://www.slightlycurvedcube.co.uk Wayne Hodkinson

      I’m the same Atom Groom!

      Many fingers in many pies pays off!

  • http://www.freesocialicons.com/ Free Social Icons

    I have always liked to learn on my own and consider myself to be skilled in several areas that all relate. Unfortunately one can only learn so much in a lifetime. Some things i like to outsource, but I’m always trying to improve myself and learn totally new things.

  • http://www.visual-blade.com Daquan Wright

    I always think if you are going to do more than one thing, you better be willing to put the time in so you aren’t sub-par by spreading yourself too then.

    For example my loves are art and programming. I’m majoring in computer science and want to be a professional programmer/database developer and I also enjoy writing. In my spare time I’d love to draw digital art and I want to startup my own web design space on the web. But I still limit it to design and programming, while I will specialize in programming I plan on being good in computer graphics as well.

  • http://www.readysteadyblog.com Marion Ryan

    A very reassuring view!

    I’ve a lot of admiration for specialists, and we need them too.

    But in the world of small business, we are mostly JOATs because that’s what our clients expect.

    Small business owners are often time-poor and the fewer service providers they have to deal with the better. I love this approach because it’s such a buzz learning new stuff and of course, I want to take care of as many of their techie needs as possible.

    Though I don’t like to dwell on these recessionary times, it’s at times like this the JOAT will thrive. I’ve come across a number of people who have had to completely rethink their business offering because the market for what they were offering has reduced significantly. We have to be able to transform ourselves and give the market what it’s looking for.

    The trick in all of this is to know when to say no, when to refer a client elsewhere because their needs can be better served by someone else.

  • http://www.crearedesign.co.uk Luci

    I think being a Jack is great, as long as you’re generally good. IE, you may be a a Jack of All Trades, and Master of None… but you’re good generally. That’s a great idea.
    That’s what I’m aiming for, atm I’m good at coding, pretty good at design, and alright with PHP, so once I get them all up to darn good, I’ll look for the next thing!

  • Marc

    I think the “jack of all trades” who can actually do (to some extent) the all trades bit are fine and have a place in the market.

    What really gets me wound up are the guys (and gals) who show their clients a template site, ask them to pick one and paste their logo in the corner and then call themselves a Web designer! GRRRR!

    Marc

  • http://www.mjama.com Mohamed Jama

    This couldn’t be more true in this difficult economy that we in, Employers now push staff to be more diverse in their knowledge , like Tesco every little helps.

    If you good at video you’d be involved in helping pitch for project by doing a video case study, if you good at design you’ll do alternative design for the pitch to show the client the diversity of the company same with QA everyone should be doing QA even if you have a QA team.

    Its actually becoming essential for each one in the company to do their little bit and then some more, end of the day every little does help :)

    great article!

  • Matt

    Here! Here! Thanks for putting this out there. I have always been a Jack-of-all-trades – dabbling a little bit in just about anything that draws my attention. It has worked for me so far and I have made quite a few people happy in the process. While I may not be the best at any one specific thing, I get the job done time and time again. Here’s to all the “Jacks” and “Jills” out there!

  • http://www.simonday.com Simon Day

    We live in a funny old World.

    Nearly every job for a front end designer states they need someone who can do everything (who is honestly an “expert” at graphic design, flash, html, css AND .net, MySQL and JavaScript?).

    Graphic Designer / Web Designer / Back-end Dev – I know these are three entirely different people and yet a front end designer is expected to do it all.

    For big business (The current web team I’m in is 1,000 strong) they know these are separate roles and I prefer working for large companies because of this. Even in a dedicated role you can still have an advantage over other job applicants by adding to your skill set. For example I focus on wireframes (sketch/block then visual), usability, SEO, accessibility and statistical analysis.

    One important thing when listing your skill set is to be honest about the level of skill you have. This can either be done by years doing it or a “weak-medium-strong-expert” approach. If, 7 years ago, you opened Flash and created an animation I wouldn’t suggest you add Flash as a skill you have. Be honest and the company will respect you for it.

  • http://ianglang.com Ian G. Lang

    My dad always told me I could do or be anything I wanted. What I wish was that he had told me that, followed by …” Just pick two to be REALLY good at.”

    Great Article!

  • http://indietech.co.uk Andy Bold

    Thank you for describing so well the role of a generalist!

    I am definitely in the same category and it is great to see more people out there who are the same.

    I sit on the backend, swimming in the soup generally known as ‘system admin’, but covering everything from Windows to Linux to Mac to Cisco and many bases in between.

    You also make a great point about having some specialist areas. In my case that is Linux and network admin, and being able to demonstrate high level skills in a specialist area can really help to open doors that might normally be closed to a ‘jack of all trades.’

    Thanks again, and congratulations on a great post!

  • http://www.creativeindividual.co.uk Laura

    I’M A JACK!

    I personally think for web-design and dev, that being a Jack is extremely important. If you specialise in an area…particularly a language…but don’t keep up the skills in other areas, you may find in two years time that standards have changed and moved on and no one is using the stuff you know inside-out. You’ll get left behind. And worse still, probably be out of a job!

    I trained as a graphic designer at college and uni, but quickly moved to web-design. Now I’m also a front-end developer and trying to pick up some skills for behind the scenes too! I’m striving to be a one-stop-shop, and must admit, perhaps a control freak too?

    Fab article! I see your also a pretty good blog journalist ;)

  • http://mindywagner.net Mindy

    Atom – My degree was in “Electronic Media Art and Communication” from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Sounds similar. We started out with a little bit of everything including digital video, music, and computer art. We narrowed our focus over 4 years so that by the end you had a specialty (mine was computer art and 3d animation, I also spent a lot of time in video classes) but also knew about all the other aspects of multimedia production. I loved the program. It suited me perfectly.

    • http://www.atomgroom.com Atom Groom

      Hey Mindy-

      I think at one point, there were a lot of institutes that covered a small niche of electronic arts. Even the school I went to – now, does not offer the same program, only sections of it. I am not sure if that’s industry related or just a money maker for the school, maybe both. ;)

      I will say, in response to my own comment, and to others posting here. There’s a lot to be said for spreading yourself too thin. Although I have a lot of experience in all of these areas. I really only get solid work with graphic design, web design, and front end development. All of my other skill sets rarely get to hit my screen.

      That said, even though I know After Effects, motion graphics, flash and video – on my 2010 website, I’ll be removing this section from my portfolio. No sense in showcasing really old work that’s truly sub-par compared to what’s out there.

      So, I guess in the end, I’d say it’s best to be Jack of a “few” trades, rather than “all”. I feel most comfortable with that.

  • http://www.vmwstudios.com/LevelMeUp Ray Wenderlich

    In the company I used to work for, Electronic Arts Mythic, we actively sought out jack-of-all-trade types because we worked with so many different technologies and projects.

    I can think of two other benefits of being a jack-of-all-trades:

    * You become more used to constantly learning, which is very important in this ever-changing field.
    * You become less dependent on the popularity of any one skill or technology, and are more adaptable.

  • RoaldA

    Great article! :)

  • http://www.philippineglobaloutsourcing.com Philippine Outsourcing

    Great article. I think some of us can be Jack of all trades, master of one, Jack of all trades, master of none, or simple Jack of all trades! The important thing is that we continue to improve and want to learn new things. =)

  • http://www.blupointer.com Blupointer

    Thank you for this article!

    I’ve heard the phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none.”, and have always thought that maybe I was just too professionally hyper-active to settle on that “one thing”. I’m a graduate of Journalism who turned to web design…who turned to graphic design…who is also doing tradeshow coordination. Yah – it’s stressful, but it’s also pretty darn fun!

    Life is too short to settle on one skill!! People who don’t understand the world of design and technology have no clue how many hats we need to wear, especially if you’re a small business with practically no budget.

  • http://www.danbiggins.com Dan

    Great article, and I’m much the same – front end dev, designer, photographer, musician, producer, and I have an endless fascination in culture and the world around me. It’s served me well so far, and hopefully it’ll continue to do so…

  • DrewSocia

    Great Article! I also consider myself a jack of all trades… It has made me a “go to guy”. I can complete any task. Knowledge in one area makes me better in another.

  • Antti

    “Generalists are rare…and, therefore, precious.”

    It’s interesting that based on the responses here one would think that the “jacks” are the majority.

    Any specialists here?

  • rdman

    “If you do it right, being a jack of all trades should be considered a strength.”

    Thank you very much for justifying my path.

  • kes

    Great article.

    I began being a “jack of all trades”. – Couldn’t find a darn job, coz the firm wants a specialist.
    I worked up to be a specialist and got job.

    Working years at the firm turned me into a “jack of all trades”. – Why? Because the clients wants this and this and this.

    It’s funny how life works

  • http://96studios.com Patrick Clarke

    You offer up some great advise, Mindy.

    Just to add, I think picking your speciality / passion is extremely important in the current economic climate. While you’d think it’s the opposite, having one strong marketable skill seems to be more desirable for potential employers these days (Freelancers are a different story).

    In the end though, I think you are a more valuable member of a team when you have an understanding of what everyone else does.

  • http://www.transformationscience.wordpress.com Omar

    Being a jack of all trades is also good because you can work on other projects when you’re stuck. You gain a clearer insight and understanding. A friend of mine explained that he was a jack of all trades and master of some.

  • Hank Marquardt

    Probably not a lot of specialists here … consider the blog audience.

    You’re going to find specialists in bigger shops, not in small a consultancy. I mostly resonate with the “Be really good at one thing, but decent at all the peripheral technologies”. I’m first and foremost a backend dev, my expertise is server side, but as the world has become more SAAS and Ajax-y more code has been pushed client side so I had to develop more javascript chops — thankfully programming is programming and it’s just adapting to a different model.

    I think the other comments that are especially valid are the “know your limitations” ones … I’m a really good code monkey, but I can’t design a brown paper bag and I don’t do Flash, so I’m simply not likely to even bid on jobs that are design or flash jobs … as you can imagine, I do a whole lot more subcontracting than I do bidding.

  • http://www.keithmuth.net/ Keith Muth

    Mindy,

    Great post (as usual). I personally want to be considered a “generalist” because I like learning new things and it is more valuable to have a wide range of skills. However, I think many companies see a “generalist” as a “specialist able to do in many different jobs” and then you are stuck doing multiple jobs and not being compensated for the amount of work you’re doing. People who are “generalists” should be careful not to let their job spiral out of control. What are your thoughts on that?

  • http://couchfort.net Rob

    Great write-up, Mindy! It’s fabulous to see your strong writing out in the community. I love reading everything you write. I’m a huge Mindy Wagner fan. ;)

    This subject is one I’ve thought a lot about in my own personal journey as a designer and, in the end, I landed on the other side of the fence, mostly. I started my professional career with a strong focus on both design and development, similar to yourself. And for the most part this worked well for me. It helped me understand all parts of the web, earned me promotions, and helped me eventually land my dream job here at Viget.

    At some point in my journey I felt as though I hit a plateau with my designs. They all started looking the same. They had the same elements, typefaces, button styles, bad gradients, etc. They were unoriginal and uninspiring. I began to fall into this ‘CSS’ and ‘Web 2.0′ design trap. My expert knowledge of build-out and development was almost hindering my ability to design something unique, different, and exciting. I wasn’t, and am still not, OK with that. I never set out to become just another member of the crowd — I want to push design. I want to be _different_. I want to set trends, not follow them.

    Since that ‘moment’ I have made a very intentional effort to focus, when I can, solely on design and making myself and my designs better. Now that’s not to say all my front-end experience has gone away. I still very much enjoy that part of the process but to me it’s secondary to the design. I found that, for me, if I stretch my focus around into too many areas they all become mediocre. I become an OK designer, an OK front-end guy, and a development hack — just enough to be dangerous. haha. Personally, I’d rather be _really_ great in one area while understanding enough in the other areas to give me a healthy, holistic view.

    It’s kind of like music, to me. If I am a killer singer and songwriter and I’m looking to record a CD I’m going to hire the best musicians I can find. I want to hire a drummer who knows and understands music but I don’t necessarily care if he knows how to mix sound — he just needs to be the best drummer. For me to get the best sound and drum parts I need a drummer who is passionate about the drums. Now I’m sure I could find someone to simply ‘play’ those parts but if they’re not an expert, or play every instrument, the quality would most likely suffer. It might be OK, but it wouldn’t be great.

    There will always be those super freaks who can do it all, take Dave Grohl, Doug Avery and Shaun Inman, for example, and do it all _really_ well. But in my opinion those people are few and far between.

    I also think that, to a degree, anyone who works on the web is a generalist — we kinda have to be. Viget’s fearless leader, Brian Williams, said it best:

    “Maintain a healthy respect for, interest in, and understanding of what your teammates are doing — even dabble a bit and get your hands dirty — but for goodness sake, be great at something.”

  • Daniel Scarpim

    Great article.

    I like being a generalist because I can shift between several different (but related) subjects within design. This gives me much more opportunities to work for different clients and companies.

  • http://www.rocketgenius.com kevin

    Hey Mindy,

    Great post as always. Thanks for the insights. It’s great to see a well-balanced argument for the “big picture” folks.

  • http://dclivetracks.com TonyRockyHorror

    The Heinlein quote is one of my all-time favorites in all of literature. It’s definitely how i go about things, philosophically.

    Be good at lots of things, be very good and a few things, and be an expert at one. Adaptability and versatility will almost always take you further than specific expertise.

  • organic

    Awesome article…I have this voice always haunting me to saying “if you try to know too much about web design, you will be mediocre at too many things and not great at any one thing”. This article is definitely a confidence booster…it’s true I’m so curious about everything from typography to CSS layout and tweaks to PHP, mysql and even javascript. Don’t think theres anything wrong with learning continuously, thanks for the great article!

  • http://joemacstevens.com Joe Stevens

    Great article. I think it is important for Web Designers to be good at Design and Front End Code as well as presentational Javascript for transitions and the like. I like to think of myself as a Designer even though I am coding more then I am in Photoshop because I consider the code to be my Photoshop.

  • http://www.nepabirdproject.org Kevin Ripka

    I prefer the term “Web Mutt.” But as nice as it is to be a generalist it doesn’t stop me from bitching up a storm when I wind up doing twice the work of other people and make the salary of one.

  • http://www.keanrichmond.com Kean

    I hear loads of people say that you have to specialise, so as a generalist it annoys me when people think I’m limiting my future prospects.

    Instead I think I’m improving them, sure I’ll probably never get the job at the big multi national that wants me to fit in a nice photoshop shaped hole but I doubt I’d want that job anyway.

    I work in a small company as their only designer but I do a lot of the front-end coding as well as server side coding too. I wouldn’t give up being able to do that for anything as it gives me such variety in my job and I love pushing both the creative and analytical sides of my brain.

    It’s good to know i’m not the only one out there.

  • http://www.clippingimages.com clippingimages

    Nice article . Well explained. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.cabinetknob.com Wendy

    Awesome post. Its like you read my mind! And its great reassurance that I’m not crazy to be on this path.

  • http://mindywagner.net Mindy

    Loving the comments here, especially those from people who aren’t in the same camp. Obviously the terms “generalist” and “specialist” are highly emotionally charged to some. Ahhh, the trouble with labels. ;)

    I’ve been chatting with my coworkers today about the post, and it has really sparked some great conversation. That said, I think some of my points could be clarified.

    1. I like the idea of specializing in one thing (for me that is web design) and generalizing in other things that make you great at your specialty. I’m not saying “Be 100% General”, though there’s a place for people like that too. I find that knowing some front end dev and studying up on user experience makes my work a lot better. But to Rob’s point, it’s easy to get in a rut because you know the limitations of the medium so well you don’t try to push the envelope at all.

    2. I’m not saying specialists are less important to the scheme of things. I think every team needs both specialists and generalists. I’m just saying there is a use for people like me who like to dabble in other things.

    3. The big caveat to being a Jack is this… you have to be good. Not everyone can be good at multiple things, which is why I say you need to know yourself and know your limits. It’s been brought up in the comments and it’s true, you see some really lackluster stuff when people try to be all things to all people. That is why I think it’s important to have one primary focus but be able to pinch hit in other areas when the need arises. Sometimes, the awesomest most perfect work isn’t needed – just work that will fill a gap until someone awesomer has time/money/energy to do it. And sometimes you know it won’t get done by anyone unless you step up and do it. This is especially true in small companies or places where there are no budgets. The University I worked at prior to Viget is a great example – never any money to hire specialists, and never any specialists available to do what you needed. You improvise.

    I thought I wanted to specialize solely on design at one point in my career. I told my manager this and got her to put me in a position where all I did was design. Web pages, banners, thank you cards, magazine layouts, etc. I didn’t have to do any front end dev or think about how my designs would come to life beyond the layout. It was great at first, and the thrill of seeing my work printed out on gorgeous papers and in people’s mailboxes made me swoon. But I found myself getting really frustrated after a few months. It’s one of the reasons I love (and came back to) web design – there are more “parts” to the design process, so there is more for my brain to jump around and get excited about.

    Ok, keep discussing…..

  • http://mindywagner.net Mindy

    Also, Keith’s point brought something else up. With some managers/bosses, you have to learn to set limits on what you will and won’t do. Just because you CAN do something (and maybe did it once because there was a crazy deadline or whatever) doesn’t mean you want to do that thing over and over and over again.

  • http://www.viget.com Doug Avery

    This post is fantastic — thanks for resisting the standard back-patting this subject tends toward and giving real suggestions and warnings. I came across the following quote a while back, which sort of solidified my thoughts on the matter (and taught me a fancy word!):

    “Thus the hero of the Odyssey is a great fighter, a wily schemer, a ready speaker, a man of stout heart and broad wisdom who knows that he must endure without too much complaining what the gods send; and he can both build and sail a boat, drive a furrow as straight as anyone, beat a young braggart at throwing discus, challenge the Pheacian youth at boxing, wrestling or running; flay, skin, cut up and cook an ox, and be moved to tears by a song. He is in fact, an excellent all-rounder; he has surpassing areté.”

    “Areté implies a respect for the wholeness or oneness of life, and a consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a contempt for efficiency —— or rather a much higher idea of efficiency, an efficiency which exists not in one department of life but in life itself.”
    -HDF Kitto, ‘The Greeks’

    I think the key to areté is not to look it in yourself or others, but to recognize it as an open horizon that we continue to approach. Areté requires that we unsettle ourselves and try our hand at whatever’s available – not out of restlessness or an urge for self-improvement, but out of a curiosity and appreciation for all things.

    The difficulty is combining this positive, life-enriching quality with what our jobs demand of us – career and life goals, by nature, will diverge. Those pursuing areté can expect to be passed over for senior positions, lose at contests, and lag behind the latest/greatest in most areas. But all-rounders know how to fail without disappointment, lose without feeling lost, and move fluidly with change rather than resist it.

  • http://www.niceoutput.com NICEOUTPUT

    I’m also a jack of all trades.

    Great article.

  • Rachel

    I would also consider myself a “Renaissance Woman”, if you would.

    Though I know more about the front end development than designing, I still love trying to create designs.

    My first design was awful. Fortunately I still work at the company that I made the design for, yes they said it was good but now that I look at it… I shiver to think that I created such a thing.

    I’ve been working on making a better design, and so far it’s not bad. It’s at 10 times better than the first, thought not as colorful.

    But I’m trying to learn about the back end development and work on perfecting my designing abilities. In short, I do want to be a better Web Generalist. I do want to know all.

    I’m a control freak because the people I work with are too, well all but one. They can’t talk me through how to do it and that is the best way for me to learn.

    They sit down and after a while they’re done, and I’m as in the dark as I was when I first needed their help. It’s why I stick to the one this is a dictator.

    I learn by doing. Therefore I want to do everything and that way I’ll learn more. It’s a vicious cycle that I love. ^.~

  • Patrick

    I’m not alone after all :)

    Being a Jack bring me success and respect from my coworkers everyday. They say I’m good at finding solution because I understand the big picture.

    Great post!

  • http://www.thinkmitchthink.com/blog/ Mitch Solway

    Great topic and post.

    Personally, with so much specialization I actually told someone today that “general” is the new “specialist”.

    Here are some other thoughts:

    Jacks or Generalists are great for new/small businesses:
    Being a “generalist” is great for small businesses and start ups..your value is super high. At the early stages of any company you need people that can play many roles. Over time, as the company gets bigger, roles become more specialized. But, at the same time, if you can take on different roles you can easily step into the next newly created position. Your value is always high and your opportunity to try new things is also super high.

    Marketing yourself – General or Specialized:
    Even though you are good at many things, when it comes to marketing and positioning yourself sometimes you are best choosing one thing. Maybe even the one thing that you are best at. Then, once you land a customer, show them what else you can do. If you water down your marketing message too much as a general, you might get lost out there.

    Everyone brings something special:
    OK..sounds like a theme from Barney…but at the end of the day there is always something that you bring to the table that is unique. Even if you are a generalist, line you up against all the other generalists and there is sure to be one thing that has you stand out. Is it your design chops? Your sense of humour? Your work ethic? Your integrity? Your insights? Your ability to relate or communicate. Just wanted to re-enforce that even if you are a Jack or Generalist, don’t forget what makes you special and to make sure your clients and prospects know that.

  • Ajay Kashyap

    Great article, I consider myself a Master of all, Jack of none…

    I am web designer, system admin, network admin, graphic designer, seo expert and many more

  • http://www.seowonders.com Bustor

    Specialization does not imply that you do not have to know the tasks out of your specialization area.
    I would call a person who has the so called ‘specialization’ a complete professional if that person knows about all other areas of his job too.Gone are the days of sitting pretty like the ‘learned’ doctors who could only treat either your Ear,Nose,Throat or only your Cardiac system or Muscle health.
    With the times we are in we have to know all traits without being a ‘jack’.Remember jack is used to haul the car if it gets punctured ! You are needed but no one will even notice you in the process.
    The ‘white shirt’ jobs do not belong to the ‘white shirt’ any more !

  • arnold

    I like the article, anyway Im still in the learning process , I really thought I was doing something wrong, maybe its my curiosity to learn more. or I just love Web dev. and designing.

  • http://www.graphic-euphoria.co.uk Si

    I too have to agree fully with this article. I have found to my detriment, especially when applying for jobs, that people can be overwhelmed by how much i claim to do. I am good at everything but an expert at nothing. This can be hard when you write a CV as normally you are applying for a specific role which ask for specific qualities. You cannot therefore compete with the experts in that specific role. Good employers will recognise the diversity in a skill set and want to take that person on. I on the other hand, gave up working for people who didn’t know as much as me or were just too behind the times, and now i am a freelancer/contractor. Now my diverse skill set is a massive positive as it means i can take on a huge range of jobs. Jacks of all trades FTW!

  • http://icosidodecahedron.com Michael Kozakewich

    This was great to see!

    I went into schooling as a programmer, but then fell in love with web design. My interests seem to fly over the entire range: Graphic design, typography, UX, IA, writing, drawing, HTML, CSS, XML, SVG, PHP, database design and MySQL, several frameworks…

    I’m very much a Do-It-Yourself guy, and so I’ve always been the one to photoshop my own avatars, draw my own logos, and design and code my own webpages.

    Sometimes, I feel like I don’t know enough in any one area to really excel, but I really can see the big picture, which makes certain portions of my skills more developed than even the most skilled specializer. Because I know why all the pieces are going together like they do, I’m able to plan things out and make things work the way they’re supposed to, with no expensive bureaucracy or lossy translation between different skill-sets.

  • http://www.highcamp.ca SL

    I’m by far a generalist and not just within one area. I run an insurance company, I’m a pro-athlete (climbing, skiing, and now triathlons), and am now starting a web application development company. The biggest issue I have is keeping track of the general information, I’ll inevitably forget something valuable. I’ve created 2 databases (Zoho). The first I save bookmarks in with date, description, tags, username, and password. The second I store quotes, useful files, etc. for easy searching. I’ve found it invaluable to be able to go back and find that “really useful website” or that file on X subject.

    I would highly recomend any generalist create a way to go back and find that “really useful website”.

  • http://tedfrazier.com tedfrazier

    What is the context of the Heinlein quote?

  • http://www.toyegraphics.co.uk Peter Toye

    Great article. I too enjoy learning new things, and agree, if you want something done, do it yourself!

  • http://www.chotrul.com/ Mark Carter

    I think one of the areas where this is difficult is where you not only have to keep ahead of the incredible changes within the web design field, for example, but you also have other responsibilities in life …. for example, children, partner, perhaps other interests or commitments. There are only so many hours in a day …. and if work is relatively repetitive, you might find it a struggle to find enough time outside of work to keep your skills continually growing … alongside all else that you are responsible for. Let alone branching out into entirely new fields so that you can be a jack of all trades.

    On a different note, watching programmers ‘design’ has been one of the most genuinely painful experiences of my life … almost without exception. Not sure how many people successfully cross that one. I’m sure there are some, but goodness knows how many think they do, but don’t have a clue.

    Beyond those two caveats, I really agree with much of what you said …. and how you said it … many thanks

  • http://pkmwblog.com Pete Klein

    Word. It’s a fact that the number of skills employers have been looking for in a single job posting has been going up in recent years, not down. Having the skills of a generalist allows you to communicate more fluently with others in their respective fields and usurp their hard earned knowledge.

    It opens more doors and affords you access to more people. Most people out on their asses in this economy are there because of a lack of a variety of skills. Diversify your skill set if you want to be secure!

  • Sathish

    I’m a jack of all trades too….

    But I really do a bad thing, which is I learn new techniques and principles every day. Read heck a lot of blog posts in variety of fields Tech, Design, CSS. But, I realized I spend little time doing the real thing, than reading about it.

    I guess thats one to watch out for all jacks ;)

  • http://www.andreagambedotti.com Andreagam

    I completely agree with this article… I’m a webdesigner too and I love design, but my endless curiosity and will to be responsible of my work from the project down to the publication made me learn and learn everyday… My job is 70% production and 30% researching, studying and learning new things.
    The day I won’t be curious to learn something new will be the day I will feel old.

  • http://www.millermedeiros.com/ Miller Medeiros

    Really good article.. but I think that all designers and developers are somehow a “jack of all trades” the only difference is that some have a broader range of skills and are better on each skill…

    Knowing different things “expand your mind” and make you have different approaches to tasks/problems and also make you think about problems/solutions that you wouldn’t think otherwise.

    Working with people that have different skills/experiences/knowledge than yours is a really rewarding experience.

    I know that’s impossible to learn everything but I will die trying.

    Thanks for the article.

  • http://www.quelohagaungeek.com CarlosH

    The shotgun approach(Generalist) vs the Sniper approach(Specialist).

    With a shotgun you can hit several targets with one shot, but none of them are very powerful, I agree you have more possibilities of landing a job, because the number of possible clients is bigger since you can work on different areas. So basically you get more jobs, but also cheaper ones since there’s a lot of people competing at the same level.

    While being a Sniper, you will not be hired as often, since the number of possible clients requiring your services is significantly smaller, but, when someone needs that kind of specificity, that one precise shot, they will be willing to pay more, since they are aware that what you can do, just a few can do. So you get less jobs, but better paid ones.

    So I see both approaches as two (valid) strategies for the game, it all comes down to personal preference.

    Some people is curious by nature and enjoy trying different things, while other enjoy excelling and being the very best at one thing.

    My bet is that 99% of people reading this page are Jacks of all trades.
    That’s why we all visits websites like this one, where you can get a little bit of a bunch of topics, Snipers are probably hiding on their trenches, reading manuals. :P

  • http://www.amberweinberg.com Amber Weinberg

    This is interesting considering I just wrote a post about niching your business and NOT being a jack of all trades…it can work both ways, but I think being a jack of all trades has a lot of downsides to it – mainly you end up doing too much work you don’t enjoy. I would rather be working on XHTML/CSS coding than designing, DBing or anything else.

  • http://it.knightnet.org.uk Julian Knight

    Yeah!! Spot on.

    We do need both but being a generalist (up to a point) is very valuable.

  • http://www.thee.deviantart.com thee

    Thank you. I related myself a lot with this article :)

  • Dirk

    That’s why they call us “Consultants” at my current employer.

    I’m a graphic consultant, or a user interface specialist. I’m a pro at Photoshop, but I can code solid html/css (god I love my divs, margins and floats), I’ve written testcases, I design adds for magazines, business cards, give presentations about our CMS, I carry my weight in the sales process, etc.

    Being multidisciplinary sure has bumloads of advantages!

  • http://www.yogapuntadeleste.com/ Alvaro Hernandorena

    i agree, don’t know if “Specialization is for insects” but is good to know everything, and giving a step aside from the design and talking about life, is good to be atracted by a lot of things and to do all those things.

  • http://www.leeterwal.com Shaun Lee

    A jack of all trades can be a specialist.

    I often come up with up with unusual or “special” solutions because I make new connections based on general expertise.

  • http://www.chotrul.com/skills/seo-marketing.html Mark Carter

    I’m absolutely right behind you on this one. I can’t help feeling that for some people having skills in related areas can really help with your main focus. For myself, I can’t imagine how I could design and do the markup on a new website without really incorporating all I know about search engine optimisation as part and parcel of this. What’s the point of building a site if no-one is going to see it? Yet this is what happens so often. Many thanks for the article.

  • http://www.uprint.me.uk Steve

    Very interesting article, I get addicted to learning new skills so have become something of a jack of all trades just by learning new skills each day – nothing wrong in that!

  • http://www.brettwidmann.com Brett Widmann

    This is a wonderful and well-thought out article. I, too, consider myself to be a “Jack of All Trades”. I think it’s actually a vital quality to have.

    It’s only a matter of time before the Jacks overthrow the Kings and Queens ;)

  • Raz

    It was just curiosity at first, huge, about everything. It became an obsession and working like a maniac to learn the new stuff fast enough so I can apply it. It cost me things along the years, given the hours that I was spending jacked in without being aware of space or time or anything.

    In the end, for the last year I would say, I realized like a lot of others out there that without that turmoil that I feed for 3 years before, today I would be, well … the jobless one field, one vision, one goal expert. It is because of my hybrid abilities that I got to be in this position that tens of other non hybrid humans have failed over and over to get to. Almost sounds racist, lol. Also keep in mind that my market is more or less limited, smaller community and perhaps that is also why everything aligned for me. Different places or spaces may have been different but then again any other parameter can change in time.

    Do what “YOU FEEL” is You by gracefully listening closely around you. You guys ROCK!

  • http://www.media-street.co.uk/ Charlie Street

    Nice article. Everyone likes to do all trades. It’s evolution and human nature.

  • http://maiconweb.com Maicon Sobczak

    I’m a generalist for the same motive that you. Curiosity.Is important however that you master a specific area

  • http://twitter.com/corestudiosnet Core Studios

    I also believe that a balance between “generalism” and “specialism” is the best way you can go. I’m a “generalist” myself, I like web design, I have Joomla experience, I love designing logos, I love typography, I also love thinking and finding out good ideas, I love trying to make the best possible user experience, I know a lot about SEO and all these have worked out good for me till now.

    But in the end it all depends on each person’s nature.

  • http://www.design.tomgirling.co.uk Tom

    I’m a Jack of all trades…being a specialist would drive me mad waiting for other people to do tasks that effect my work flow.

    I think one important point has been missed as well….not all clients can afford a team of specialists nor do all clients need a team of specialists – there are times when this is overkill.

  • http://www.emlakx.net Emlak

    I’m a generalist for the same motive that you. Curiosity.Is important however that you master a specific area

  • http://www.thinking-forward.co.uk Cheap Printing

    I confess, I am a Jack of more than 1 IT trade.

  • http://blog.bright-matrix.net/ Mike Zavarello

    I was recently referred to this article from a connection on Twitter, and can whole-heartedly relate to being a “successful generalist”.

    I also come from web design and development background, and picked up a lot of my current skillset (graphic design, database development, social media) through mixtures of curiosity, filling gaps in team knowledge, and wanting it done the right way.

    Like you, I see nothing wrong with being a “Jack”; for me, it allows me to give answers and solutions to a broad range of topics while knowing where to turn when the experts are needed for more complex problems. Having that “connector” aspect to my job has opened a lot of doors for me.

    All the best,

    Mike

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/fontburgercom/127348273564?ref=ts fontburger

    THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

    I have been struggling with this for a while now. I have read over and over that I should specialize and find my niche. Don’t be a Jack of all trades and a master of none. It really affected my confidence, I kept over thinking what I would specialize in because I HAVE TO. It’s the ONLY way to be successful.

    Didn’t understand why I couldn’t apply all my knowledge to one job or to one project. What’s so bad about it? I’m adaptable and can grow into any industry.

    Thanks again I’ve discovered an new attitude, “Ignore the over-specialized masses and keep learning!”

    - Christina

  • http://azzcatdesign.com Catherine Azzarello

    Thanks, Mindy! You just saved me a whole lot of writing.

    I’ll just post this link my blog with the note: “this is me, but Mindy says it better!” ;-)

  • http://www.position-relative.com Debbie Campbell

    Yay! What a great article.

    Being a jack of all trades has helped me be a more valuable asset for my clients. I outsource when I need to – but having project experience and skills in a variety of areas including web design, coding, various CMS’s, ecommerce, usability, SEO and graphic design makes me more useful, not less.

    One of the best things about being a web designer is that I never get bored – there’s always something new to learn. I think the ‘jack’ mentality is shared among those who can’t get enough of learning new things, and improving skills, in the many different fields that feed into web design as a whole.

  • http://www.blue-agate.com Minna

    I think we are a rare breed indeed :) I picked up my various web skills throughout the years, and so I think it’s possibly a function of being in the web design field for almost 15 years now (ack) and learning as much as I could along the way. I’ve settled in a nice place with the types of projects I work on – I tend to be the “bridge” between pure design and the back end developers. I’m a consultant so I lend my design expertise to enterprise application developers who don’t take the time to think about how stuff looks. They also appreciate the fact that I know enough programming to be able to comprehend their code and integrate my work into theirs.

    I’d have to say there is definitely a need for us out there.

  • http://www.dreammediadesign.co.uk Dream Media Design

    great article found this a great read

  • http://interactivelogic.net/ Evan K. Stone | InteractiveLogic

    Thanks for the article, Mindy! I’ve felt like a jack-of-all-trades for years now. I’m primarily a developer but I always gravitate to things design-y and user experience-oriented. Can’t help it. That’s why I love being in my current role primarily as a UX Developer, since it gives me a chance to dabble in the design world _by necessity_ since there often isn’t anyone else on the team dedicated to the UX charge in the organization.

  • http://www.kellykingdesign.com Kelly King

    Finally an article supporting the notion of being a generalist, not a specialist. So many consultants say that to be successful you must be specialized. I cringe every time I hear that. I can’t imagine doing the same task every day or working in the same market every day. My specialty is branding and marketing and that I thrive on the variety that comes at me every day. Thank you to this author!

  • http://jackandjillofalltrades.wordpress.com/ Jack

    Definitely a generalist! There’s so much to know and do to just stick to one. The most flexible and well-rounded people are those who survive. I’m linking this article to a post I made about the jacks of all trades so that it may reach more of us who are still struggling to accept or to do something about being a non-specialist.Your defense may just help others to own it.

    http://jackandjillofalltrades.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/top-write-ups-…-of-all-trades/

  • Neuee Perez

    Jacks need a higher IQ though and the love for learning
    This is what I love, and might land me the Project Manager position soon

    • http://www.regalweb.biz/ Neuee Perez

      lol, BINGO… I’m a Project Manager now :D

  • http://lessdesign.se Miki Less

    Then there is of course the title General Specialist – that’s me.

  • http://www.intercomm.co.za InterComm South Africa

    I’m a jack – after 30 years in advertising you have been required to work on a lot of projects, in a lot of fields. Your description of yourself is me to a “T” – incluidng the control freak part.

    As a agency, I find clients need and want a generalist, but I am applying for an old-fashioned job to emigrate to Canada, and people just don’t believe in generalists. They want a “social media specialist” or a “Drupal specialist” – if they hear you can also do databases, retouch a photo or write content they are immediately suspicious.

    Surely you can’t be a GOOD specialist in something as complex as web development without understanding all aspects of the big picture from how the internet technical infrastructure works to marketing strategy?