Broad experience is good, but don't become a jack-of-all-trades Let’s look at John Hart for a moment. He’s been a rugby player, a rugby selector and a rugby coach. He’s essentially worked for the same organisation, but he changes specialties every so often. He’ll be changing specialties again soon — I hear the All Blacks need more water carriers. Up until now at least, the specialty changes he’s made have been good for his career. The same can be said in most industries, including IT. And at least in IT if your team makes a mistake the nation’s media doesn’t berate you … unless, of course, you’re involved with an INCIS-type project … People often write in to our Question and Answer section in Computerworld asking about changing specialties. Most of the time these are good career moves, but it pays to think about what you’re doing very carefully so you don’t become a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none. Director of recruitment firm Wilson White Doug White says the time to get broad experience in a variety of disciplines is at the beginning of your career. "A person who has just graduated should have a crack at everything — being a network administrator, a developer, a systems programmer, a database administrator. After that, you find you are able to decide more easily where you best fit and what you like best." In smaller companies people often do many of these roles all at once, while in larger companies you might have a set period at each of the different tasks to give you a good grounding in the industry, so you know what to specialise in. New Zealanders generally have a good understanding of the whole of the IT industry, says White. "That’s why the Kiwi IT person has a good reputation overseas. They know Kiwis are good at a whole lot of different things. If there’s a fire to be fought throw the Kiwi at it, he’ll fight it." Once you’ve had about five years’ experience in IT you should then know what direction you’re heading in, according to White. "You should then start specialising in a field you’re good at and one which you like and stick at that as long as possible before thinking about being ‘the manager’." He says people often aspire to being the IT manager and get there by the "tender age of 30". They do that for five years, realise they’re bored and want to get a job back at the coalface. "I’m seeing that a lot. A lot of people, having reached the top, come back and say ‘I liked where I was before and this role of being an IT manager and wiping people’s noses and bottoms is not all it’s cracked up to be.’" He says you should continue on for as long as possible in your specialty area before "being put out to grass as an IT manager". (Bet you didn’t even know you’d been put out to grass, did you, IT managers? Hate mail to White rather than me, please.) You should also think about where any moves might take you. Are they helping you towards your end goal? White says if you’re a DBA (database administrator), for example, who wants to get into networking, you might experience a dip in pay while you get up to speed, but you’ll do well at it if you enjoy it. "It’s almost saying to go where your heart says to go rather than your head … and sometimes your pocket." Have you changed specialties within IT? What’s your experience been? Mills is Computerworld’s careers editor and can be contacted at email@example.com or ph: 03-467-2869 or fax: 0-3-467 2875.
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