Specialization vs Generalization — Syntax Podcast 076

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Wes Bos

Full Stack JavaScript Developer. Creator of really good web development courses. BBQ enthusiast.

Scott Tolinski

Web Developer, Creator of Level Up Tuts, Bboy, Robotops Crew and Youtuber

Playing: 076: Specialization vs Generalization

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Sep 19th, 2018

Specialization vs Generalization

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In this episode Wes and Scott discuss specialization vs generalization - the different ways one can be a generalist or a specialist, advantages and disadvantages to both, and, ultimately, which is the better career path.

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Show Notes

4:18 - What is a specialist?

  • Someone who is very good at one or two things
  • Can be very lucrative if you've taken the time to become well-known in you're industry

12:20 - What is a generalist?

  • Two ways to look at generalists:
    • Someone who tries to do a little bit of everything (e.g. a developer who does Wordpress, Drupal, Django, Rails, etc.)
    • Someone who builds related skills around one area (e.g. a JavaScript developer who can code up a backend and a frontend)
  • There will be more jobs available for the dev with tightly integrated skills in related areas than a true "jack of all trades".

22:22 - Frontend vs Backend

  • Frontend

    • Frameworks (React, Vue, etc.)
    • CSS
    • Performance
    • Animations
  • Backend

    • Web servers
    • Serverless / AWS
    • Scaling
    • Frameworks
    • Performance
    • Databases
    • Docker
    • CI

26:50 - When to widen your focus

  • When you are complacent with your mastery
  • You need a skill to get something done.
  • For fun
  • For a specific job

30:42 - When to narrow your focus

  • You don’t feel control over your skills
  • You are missing out on employment because a lack of skills in one department
  • You feel overwhelmed by the options available
  • You want to be the "go to person”
  • For fun

35:48 - How to master and expand

  • Focus on one skill at at time. Master it and then expand on your skillset
  • Find satellite skills - things that work in harmony

38:47 - Scott's journey

42:31 - Wes' journey

44:55 - How to know where to focus

  • Necessity will dictate a lot - what do you need right now?
  • Job postings - you can stack the deck in your favor by learning React. Once you are in, you're can lean anything you want.
  • Follow your heart - but have a plan

51:03 - Should I be a generalist or a specialist?

  • Wes: There is nothing wrong with having a large skillset as long as you aren’t mediocre at everything. If you're optimizing for hire-ability I think having a defined focus on either front-end or back-end is best, but still an understanding of how the other works. Ideally you have 1) Very good JS skills, 2) an understanding of how things work on both ends.

  • Scott: You can do either, but whatever you do, do it well. It’s easier to do a few things well than many things well. That said there are some virtuosic devs out there who can be amazing at many things, however those people are not common. Most people have holes in their armor.

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