Career / Leadership

Who Gets Hired: IT Generalists or IT Specialists?

by Raju Woodward
Who Gets Hired: IT Generalists or IT Specialists? picture: A
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Published on July 14, 2017

Sorry, we couldn't help ourselves. We're revisiting a widely debated question that most IT pros are all too familiar with: Should you go wide or deep with your skills?

Some argue that you should learn as many different IT skills as possible and be an indispensable jack-of-all-trades, commonly known as an IT generalist. Others say you can stand out from a crowded pack if you are an expert in one area such as the cloud, and call yourself an IT specialist.

Opinions run passionate and wild. So, we don't blame you if your head is spinning. To help us wade through this debate, we asked several of our rock star trainers to share their thoughts.

Why Go Wide?

If you are thinking about a career in IT or just getting started studying, it might be tempting to learn as many skills and technologies as possible. After all, being well-rounded is never a bad thing, right?

Going wide enables you to explore different areas and prevents you from going too far down the rabbit hole in regard to one technology. You don't want to spend time (and money) honing in on a subject, only to find out that it doesn't interest you, after all.

"Go wide when you begin, rather than deep," said CBT Nuggets trainer Garth Schulte. "You might not know the difference between database architecture and programming", there are so many fields. Why go deep with one thing, only to find out you don't like it? Test the waters before you dive in."

Discover Your Passion

One of the keys to being a successful IT pro is to be passionate about your work. Make sure you make the effort to discover what your passion is, even if it doesn't end up being IT-related. If you enjoy what you're learning and doing in the field, putting forth the effort needed to become an expert usually is easier.

And a quick note to IT managers: Someone who is passionate about their work usually is a strong employee. So, provide your employees with the training, equipment, and opportunities they need to discover their IT passion!

Will you be Solo or a Pea in Large Pod?

An environment can play a role in which approach you should take when it comes to training and laying out your career. For example, if you're the lone IT pro or part of a small team, going wide is probably the smart way to go.

"If you're the single IT person at 75-employee shop, you have to go wide," said trainer Anthony Sequeira. "You'll be doing voice, wireless, server, desktops, you name it. Go wide. There's no way around it."

Coworkers and customers will be turning to you for help with a variety of issues. So, you'll need to be a jack-of-all-trades to be able to respond effectively on the job. You definitely won't be lacking for things to do!

A Case for Going Deep

As technology and IT evolve, there will be must-know technologies for any IT pro. For example, more organizations are turning to the cloud and cloud-based technologies to save money, time, and space. If you haven't already, you need to get up to speed on the cloud.

Learning and mastering an in-demand technology such as the cloud, virtualization, IT security, or data center technology, can lead to you being highly sought after by organizations. But remember: While a prestigious job title and big paycheck are swell, make sure you enjoy your job.

As Tech Merges, Interweave your Skills

Another reason to consider going deep is the increasing integration of technologies, platforms, and even IT teams. Let's say you have a strong familiarity with storage technologies. Combine that with a knowledge of cloud technology and you are setting yourself up to be indispensable.

Within larger organizations, you may have the luxury of specializing in one technology, due to the fact that there may be different teams within the IT department. For example, there could be an entire group devoted to DevOps. If you're going to be hyper-specific on the job, you should go deep.

"If you're going to be handling virtualization, your training and skills need to be very specific, most likely VMware," Anthony said. "It's really a case-by-case type of deal."

And to be clear, you don't have to limit yourself to one technology or skill if you choose to go deep. It's just easier to start out with one.

Final Thoughts

With that in mind, Anthony stressed that there's no magical number of certifications that will guarantee your success in IT. He said that it's very much an individual journey, meaning everyone will have different experiences and situations.

Also, while trainer Shawn Powers encourages learners to go wide at the beginning IT journey, he admits that if you want to get paid well down the road, you'll probably want to develop a specialization eventually.

So, which approach is most likely to get you hired? It's hard to say. Like Anthony and Shawn say, it depends on the situation. When looking for jobs, take the time to learn about the organizations that interest you. Find out how large they are, which technologies they use, and what their IT infrastructure is like.

One thing is for certain, the majority of our trainers believe going wide with your learning and starting off as an IT generalist is a smart move. A resume high on skills never hurts, plus it fits the current IT landscape.

"In today's world, going wide is a good idea," said trainer Jeremy Cioara. "There's so much diverse technology. You might run the risk of not being quite as good at any one thing or settling into one path, but I think going wide allows your curiosity to run wild and that's a good thing as an IT pro!"

Whether you want to dabble in a little bit of everything or have a specific path in mind, CBT Nuggets can help you achieve your IT training goals.


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