The Specialist is Dead, Long Live the Specialist

Posted on February 2, 2012 by

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First let me start with a disclaimer: I consider myself to be a generalist, or as the saying goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Thus my opinions on this topic might be a bit skewed.

That being said, the transition to Cloud based models is shifting paradigms for many organizations; not only in how they operate in IT, but also the in people needed to run these new environments. I recently spoke with a VP of IT about what staff they required to support a Cloud initiative. She was looking for advice as to what skills would be required to develop, operate, and maintain the environment. The approach she was using was a very traditional IT hiring model: hire a bunch of specialists for each domain of expertise.

The advice I gave her was drastically  different, and for good reason. I suggested that instead of specialists, she should instead look to hire generalists that could span multiple disciplines, and then supplement these generalists with a few specialists. The reason for this is simple: a primary premise of Cloud Computing is to tear down the silos, walled gardens, or towers (whatever you want to call it) that traditionally separate the various teams in IT. In order to do this you need to have people that are able to overlay the various technologies that make up those silos, and then supplement them with domain experts that can provide their expertise as needed.

For some, this really isn’t a new concept. John Peeples, COO at Administrate, wrote on the topic last October. John’s point was that Systems Administrator’s jobs are now being encapsulated into Puppet or Git, and in 10 years they will need to figure out where they fit in the new operating paradigm. Bernard Golden also wrote on the broader topic of IT Job Growth, and noted that “…IT has to change and move beyond established practices and lower-level skill sets…” And who tends to have “lower-level skill sets”? Specialists.

The problem is also exacerbated by another technology trend in the hardware space: converged infrastructure. As we see the hardware layers flattening out and merging through technologies such as VCE’s VBlock and the NetApp’s FlexPod, IT Managers are now looking to hire the VBlock Administrator; or the one employee that can manage the entire stack of compute, network, and storage. As Forester Analyst Vanessa Alvarez often tweets: customers complains that they are unable to find that generalist that can manage the entire converged infrastructure stack.

While the revolution against the specialist hasn’t hit full stride, the movement is definitely underway. Those in specialist roles now should seek to augment their current skills with other areas of technology that can help broaden their abilities.  Institutions that are educating the next generation of IT employees need to start offering students options that help them expand their skills in order to make their students more valuable to potential employees.

After all Cloud Computing is a renaissance, and we need renaissance men (and women) to make it the new norm. If only da Vinci were alive.

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Posted in: Michael's