To specialise, or not to specialise

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I was recently informed that “when someone talks about specialities, I worry. People should be open to all technologies”. Something along those lines anyway! I was a bit taken a back by this as the reason for it being brought up was a previous rant on my blog about PHP Developers/Programmers having to be experts in frontend web development also. But, I’m not so sure that this should be exempt from personal interpretation and opinion… Should you specialise? When should you specialise? What does it mean to specialise? What is the correct way to specialise in a of a few certain aspects of your skillset? Are specialities different from expertise?Well this conversation actually then descended into the definition of specialities and expertise. Let’s look at their definitions:

Expertise:

special skill, knowledge, or judgment; expertness

Speciality:

a special subject of study, line of work, area of interest, or the like:

I immediately notice both of those definitions (from dictionary.com by the way) using the adjective: “special”. So that’s the difference shown…….

I think it’s really important to have a few areas of expertise that you really concentrate on and develop. Especially once you have found your niche in your career. Of course with IT, you always have to be learning, relearning and expanding your knowledge as technologies become more advanced and change so a balance must be obtained. I personally think my expertise lies in system analysis and design, OO PHP, PHP best practise, SDLC (Systems Development Life Cycle) management, API development, 3rd party integration, Mobile Web, Magento and I aim to include architecture design and mobile app development to this very soon. This doesn’t mean that I’m not more than competent in other areas such as MySQL, (X)HTML, CSS, Javascript, NoSQL dbs, Apache, Ubuntu and all my other skills. I do however think that your expertise or specialities whatever you wish to call them are your main interests and what you wish to develop and use a lot of the time. I think it’s important to make sure you do some of the things you enjoy in your job to stay focused in your career and keep any frustrations to a minimum.

Obviously, I realise that work can’t be all what you want! But I think having special areas of interest/expertise/specialities is a good thing. I’ve worked in places where people lack focus on the areas they wish to develop and flit from one to another very quickly. This in my view creates a jack of all trades who never really has a deep understanding of anything.

People may disagree with me, but I think after a few years this is the case for anyone who is going to become a master in their field. There is nothing to stop people adding to their list of interests and they should, but it’s wrong I think to be concerned when people have them.

I think and herein lies the problem that I’ve touched on before, technology companies will demand a great deal from you, but only a handful will allow you to develop your interests and expertise to truly master them. Personally I think it’s ok to have “specialities” as these are usually a few skills from a vast list that you maintain that you’re super really good at, and there’s no shame in that.

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