What’s the difference between being good at something vs. being great? Quantity over quality – should I be a jack of all trades or master my skill? Here’s some general advice I’ve learned over the years.
As web designers and developers, we’re often faced with the frequent decision of what to learn (or do) next. As it relates to your career you have 2 main career paths:
So which route is better? For most situations, becoming a master. Here’s why:
Choosing to become a ninja is great, and fun, and challenging. It offers you the opportunity to explore the vast world of web development and dabble into a little bit of everything. You’ll be able to hold the title of “Full-stack Developer.” You’ll get tasked with a variety of responsibilities, from HTML to data modeling. You’ll make decent money if you truly can live up to your expectations. You’ll be included in a lot of meetings and conversations, and you may even become the go-to guy or gal for what plugin or framework to use for your specific stack. Sounds great, right? Yes… but… in terms of your value to a company you’re the most marketable to one specific phase of a business – start-up. Let me elaborate.
Start-ups are typically fast paced environments where everybody pitches in to get to the finish line. Everyone leverages their entire skill-set in chaotic fashion to help and help until every task is completed. So having full-stack ninja developers is ideal. They can do many things well instead of a few things very well. However, at a certain point a start-up “makes it” and starts to level out. Quality starts to trump quantity and having people with expertise becomes important to continue growing products and teams. So now the full-stack ninjas are no longer needed. And this is the case with over 90% of tech businesses on the market today (start-ups are the minority).
Masters, on the other hand, are marketable and needed at start-ups AND the other 90% of businesses on the market. They are the professionals who solve the hardest problems and help organizations grow. Masters take ownership in a specific skill-set and learn the intricacies that separate them from all the other devs and designers claiming that skill-set. They also become fast while maintaining quality, which is key in our field.
In terms of career growth, masters will accelerate faster than ninjas. This equates to higher salaries and more responsibility. It also includes being a part of fewer, more important meetings. And when decision making time comes around their vote will have considerable weight.
My Personal Experience
If you’ve read this far it would be easy to assume that I favor the master route. This assumption is true because I’ve been down both paths.
My first full-time job a while back was for a medical institute where I held the title of “Manager of Technology and New Media.” When I was given this title I thought, “Awesome! I’m gonna get to do so many things!” This ended up being true – the so many things part – and it ended up being a disaster. Instead of working on web development I spent half my time helping staff with tech issues. Then when I finally had time to work on stuff I liked it took me forever because I wasn’t focused or proficient enough to do them effectively. This was my first ninja role.
There’s no right or wrong answer here. Many ninjas are very happy in their careers, and can find opportunities for growth in certain situations. But at the end of the day most of us will go further, faster, by mastering a skill. I hope this was helpful in your career decision making!
Ali is a father, husband and serial entrepreneur with a deep drive to create. He writes, records, codes and builds things to inspire the artist in all of us.