Embracing Generalism

When people ask what I do for a living I find it difficult to give a clear answer. My replies range from “Tech developer/designer/entrepreneur-type” on a good day to “I fix printers” on a not so good one.

The truth is I’ve been employed professionally in tech for the past seven years or so and my time has been pretty evenly split between server side stuff (Ruby/Java), front end work (Javascript/HTML/CSS/Photoshop), mobile stuff (mostly iOS) and general startup hustling (marketing/sales/branding).

Needless to say, it’s pretty difficult to find a job description that asks for all that and that’s cool because I’m freelance nowadays.

However, on the days when Imposter Syndrome kicks in, this “wide but shallow” approach to career development really bites. I feel like I should know a lot more about, say, scalable server infrastructure for a guy who’s been developing products for seven years.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the basics (if not more than that) for most of the subjects in my field. My problem is that I want to¬†master them.

But I enjoy every aspect of what I do right now. I love writing server side tech as much as I love working with some awesome CSS framework. Or creating mobile experiences. And selling to clients. Or pitching to journalists. And there’s the rub: spreading myself so thin on all these different tasks means becoming an expert on them is impossible within my given timeframe. It’s a tradeoff that I’m just going to have to embrace.

When I came to this conclusion, I tried to imagine what my future might be. If I was an expert in, say, machine learning (which would probably take a lot longer than seven years but whatever) then I could probably get a sweet job at the likes of Facebook and get well paid for it. But Facebook wouldn’t look twice at a generalist like me – in fact, the best tech companies probably wouldn’t.

But there’s an upside. Being able to build, design, market and sell your own product gives you a freedom that a high-profile job or perceived guru-status never could. To be able to identify a market opportunity and take it all the way from “git init’ to selling to over 7,000 paying customers (not recurring but whatever, it’s a start) is pretty neat.

Of course that’s not to say that there’s no company out there who would hire me – when my last startup went bust I had more than a few job offers (and still do because I know a few awesome people around the tech startup scene in Dublin).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that in my line of work there’s a certain liberty in not being “any one thing”.

Interested to hear feedback on this and any stories of people who have been there/done that when it comes to this stuff.

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