Friday, March 26, 2010

Generalists vs Specialists

I’m just wondering…

I see a lot of people who call them self specialists in a specific technology. But these self called experts seem to believe that specializing in something simply means you don’t have to know about other things.

“Yeah, I know everything about technology X (replace by the latest shiny toy) so why should I need to learn good OO design or do testing and so on…?”

Compare it with following situation (from one of the Pragmatic Programmer books):

Imagine you visit your family doctor, complaining about a strange lump under the skin of your right arm. Your doctor refers you to a specialist to have a biopsy performed. What if that specialist was a person whose only credentials as a specialist were that they didn’t attend any classes in medical school or have any experience in residencies that weren’t directly relevant to the act of performing the specific procedure that they were going to perform on you today? What if they didn’t know anything else?

The software industry has churned out a whole lot of these shallow specialists, who use the term specialist as an excuse for knowing only one thing. In the medical industry, a specialist is someone with a deep understanding of some specific area of the field. But never forget that a specialist is also a doctor. It’s just that for a specific issue the specialist can give them better care than a general practitioner.

Thankfully, most software experts aren’t responsible for life-or-death situations...

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