Diversify to Specialise
In my article Think Beyond your Code I spoke about how in order to become an expert coder, you need to think about a lot more than just the code you need to write. This is something that is relevant not only to software programmers but to pretty much every profession that you may choose to partake in.
We certainly want to become specialized in our industry because experts often are seen as the most valuable players, especially in terms of remuneration where companies are prepared to pay top dollar to maintain critical expertise. Jack-of-all-trades, while equally useful are often less valued because there is a perception that it is easier to become a jack-of-all-trades than an expert in any particular field. However it is perhaps a small irony that will not everyone should try to be a jack of all trades, any real expert will need to have knowledge of many other facets that affect their chosen field of specialization. In other words, the best specialists may also be jack-of-all trades in their profession anyway.
However, beyond just that – I have also found that the people that excel best in their careers are also the ones with the most hobbies that may often fall outside of their chosen profession. Whether it’s writing, playing music or even actively playing sports – becoming heavily involved with other activities broadens your experiences, but also allows you the time to focus on your specialization area.
No person can work at something 24/7 without experience some form of mental fatigue. And while we need to constantly learn and develop our skills, we are doing ourselves a disservice if it’s all we are working on. Trying out new things gives our brains some time to relax and take in new skills which will only make it more effective in deepening the area we want while also broadening our horizons and thought patterns, opening us up to additional ways of problem-solving. At the same time, we don’t all work one way and we will likely have differing interests to others in our profession. Developing those other interests could potentially bring something different to the way you think and perhaps diversify you from others in your field – creating something different as you specialize more.
And it doesn’t just stop at one hobby, but as you take on more different types of hobbies that are different from the other (i.e., not just replacing sport with more sport, but trying out cooking or pottery) you expand on your thinking further which only heightens your ability to specialize further. It sounds strange, but makes sense provided one does not put too much on their plate and thereby give themselves no chance to develop a strong enough area of specialization in anything.
While my area of expertise lies mostly within the software development realm, where problem-solving is definitely enhanced through skill diversification, studies have shown this benefits most other areas of thought and thereby represents not only a healthy way to develop your brain, but also a great way to enhance your career and become better at what you do. So, get out there and try new things. You might be surprised at how much more you might be able to achieve at work.