Whats better career wise? To be a generalist or a specialist?

breakingcontact

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Oct 16, 2012
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Indianapolis
I always struggle to find a balance with this. I enjoy the big picture more than the details but it seems our economy really rewards specialists and technicians more. I dont mean more in terms of pay, just there are more roles for them and less for the planners and big picture thinkers. Perhaps its just a logical breakdown between workers and managers.

Discuss.
 

Brains

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Apr 9, 2013
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It depends. If you're going to be more general, you'd better be really darned good at a lot of things. The modern corporate America pay scales are pretty well established in terms of pay by job title. Easy to make a salary plan when you can say x position earns y dollars. That's why we often see average folks earning more than genuinely talented 'rock stars.' They learn to work those pay scales.
 

Texasjack

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Jan 3, 2010
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You'll never get rich working for somebody else.

Specialists get paid well when needed, but generalists can shift what they do with what is needed. Example: You're an expert on a certain accounting software. One day, the company changes software. Goodbye, don't let the door hit you in the rear.

Companies have NO loyalty towards any employees anymore. (Yes, they did at one time.) A person's value was once based on what they had done for the company, then it was based on what that person is doing right now. Today? It's based on what you're going to do for them tomorrow. Stay loyal to the company and chances are pretty good you'll get screwed.

Work for yourself, even if you're working for somebody else. Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities and don't be afraid to flesh them out and, if it's genuine, move to them. Above all, be a professional at what you do. At the end of the day your reputation is all you have. It will carry you through the bad times that pretty much everybody experiences.
 

benenglish

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I was a specialist for about a decade and then a generalist in the same work environment for about two decades.

If I'd stayed a specialist, I would have made much more money. I would have also lost touch with the function of my agency and mostly likely ground myself into a heart attack, eventually.

As a specialist I got to be everywhere doing everything. The pay never rose much; the status was (on the org chart) crap. But the reality was that I touched more important stuff and had a greater impact than I could have ever achieved otherwise. My job satisfaction was very high. I got to tell a roomful of managers when an executive fucked up. I got to speak for my employer. I was involved in dozens of projects that varied widely and constantly challenged me. I knew where all the bodies were buried and no one could touch me. I can't imagine a better choice for me.

Looking back on it, part of the reason I preferred to be a generalist is that I'm smart and easily bored. I don't necessarily want to become particularly good at anything but I constantly thirst for new challenges. Part of me believes that I never grew up and decided what I wanted to do for a living. Frankly, I've never been really, really good at anything. OTOH, another part of me realizes that for years my division loaned me out all over the U.S. to do jobs not even remotely under my job description and for which I had never been trained simply because they knew if they threw me into a middle of a mess, I'd figure it out. As a result, my branch and division chiefs racked up lots and lots of favors they could call in later. And I got a never-ending supply of crazy new tasks to puzzle out before I moved on.

One of my insightful mentors once told me that I could be half-ass good at anything with 10 minutes instruction but that he didn't think I'd ever get to the top of any field because I couldn't concentrate on one thing long enough to truly master it. He was right. I had to "own" that and stop thinking of myself as falling short of my potential. I had to accept that there is a place in the world for people who can drop in, help out, and move on; specifically, I had to accept that this state of being was, in itself, a valuable skill set. Once I accepted that, I loved my work.

Unfortunately, Brains is right about pay scales being attached to job titles. A generalist doesn't get paid as much as they might deserve but that didn't matter to me. Being a generalist was a calling to me and I could never fit into any other role.

You have to be willing to accept the lower pay and occasional lack of respect to be a generalist. It must be a heartfelt calling or it'll drive you crazy.

I really think most people are much better off doing specialized work and working to be better at it than anyone else. The compensation is better and so is the chance of building something that people will recognize as valuable.

But that path was simply not open to me.
 

Shotgun Jeremy

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Jul 8, 2012
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There's a saying out there that goes "A jack of all trades is a master at none". With that being said, I say shoot to be a specialist, but also try to have some other things related to the job field you can do. This will make you a more valuable asset to your company, and if they see that you're pretty good at one thing and work hard, then when it comes time to move you or lose you, they're more likely to let you stay in house and shift somewhere else. I've seen this happen on several occasions.

A guy I worked with at my last job was absolutely the hardest working most honest guy you could ask for at a bushiness. I've seen some top notch guys and this dude was really up in the top 1% of anyone who I've ever been able to work with. He wasn't even an expert at his job-but he was good at figuring things out and making things happen. So the company started laying off about....I'd say 90% of the workforce. They let him shift from being a mechanic to being a welder just to keep him employed so he could provide for his family. As far as I know, he wasn't even that great of a welder to start off with, but because of his work ethic at being a mechanic-they let him go to the welding side and learn that.
 

ROGER4314

Been Called "Flash" Since I Was A Kid!
Jul 11, 2009
10,415
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East Houston
I am trained in:
Hydraulics,
pneumatics,
mechanics (gear products),
industrial electrical,
industrial controls,
instrumentation- pneumatic,
Instrumentation- electronic,
instrumentation- digital,
master teacher of technical trades,
certified secondary teacher in Texas,
certified NCCER Craft trainer,
Master SCUBA Diver and Divemaster.
machinist- mills, drills, lathes, broaches, surface grinders,
welding fitter,
woodworker,
painter- air and airless,
weld and cut
certified in Auto Technology.

After I retired, the local college brought me back to train maintenance and production personnel in technical subjects. In fact, I'll teach another class on Friday 12-6. The pay is sweet!

No matter where I looked for work, I found a niche.

NEVER stop learning or expanding your skills!

Flash
 
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TheDan

4th Best Member
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Nov 11, 2008
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Austin - Rockdale
I always struggle to find a balance with this. I enjoy the big picture more than the details but it seems our economy really rewards specialists and technicians more. I dont mean more in terms of pay, just there are more roles for them and less for the planners and big picture thinkers. Perhaps its just a logical breakdown between workers and managers.
I would say it's important to be a little of both. Specializing into a career field makes it easy to demonstrate to a potential employer that you can do "X", but once hired if you show that you can also dabble in "Y" and "Z" it'll really make you a valuable employee. If really like working with the big picture, look into being a business analyst or project manager for your career field.

I'm definitely a generalist but pretend to be a specialist when it suits me. :laughing:
 

breakingcontact

TGT Addict
Oct 16, 2012
18,315
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Indianapolis
I think part of this is just being interested in learning. I definitely enjoy that and it has served me well. Ive also found thats what a lot of companies want. They dont care what youve done before so long as you can learn "their way".
 
For most of my career after my training in the Army at the age of 25, I've pretty much been an electronic technician. Worked on radar in the Army. When I got out, I worked repairing microcircuits --- shit you could only see under a microscope. Did that for 4 years. Then I went to work for the company that had built the radars I worked on while in the Army. I tested/repaired the entire Naval surface to air missile system while at that company for 19 years. Then, after a farce of an overseas assignment with that company, I quit, moved to Las Vegas and worked for a company that made (and repaired) slot machines. 4 years of that and I found another company, a government contractor, that had some "unusual" electronic equipment to work on. Due to the Top Secret nature, that equipment will remain nameless but suffice it to say, with limited (foreign) documentation ON the equipment, this final job, which I worked at for 8 years and on 2 completely different foreign systems, expanded upon and relied upon my 30+ years of electronic experience for me to be able to work on said equipment as well as improve on the operation of that equipment without any "American" modifications to that equipment.
 

M. Sage

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Jan 21, 2009
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San Antonio
I may not make as much money that's a hard specialist, but being able to do whatever sure makes it easy to get and keep a job, and it keeps things from getting boring. We have a guy at work who makes what I do hourly, but with way less hours. He's a genius at heavy line stuff - replacing engines, transmissions - but he's over specialized and gets lost on some kinds of jobs, so just about all he does is what he's specialized in.

But just today I spent time tracking faults end engine performance issues on an 05 Audi, hunting for vacuum leaks on an 83 Mercedes, and started pulling the engine down on a 09 WRX. Brakes on an NPR, power steering hose on a mid-70s fire truck, charging system on a Cat forklift... Bring it on. It's rare that I say no, and that's usually for safety or we lack the tools at the shop.

Variety is good, and being the guy the boss can count on to do whatever he throws at you turns you into a favorite who gets taken care of.

IMO, "no" is the worst thing you can say to your boss when he asks you if you can/will do some task.
 
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