Lesson 4: Jack of all trades, master of none


*This is the fourth part of a series of posts I am doing about some six lessons I wish I had known better in school

First let me apologies for the interruption in the posts, I was otherwise engaged and was nowhere near a computer. By the end of the week I will have done the remaining posts. So let us get started!

Jack – A man of the common people; a lad, fellow, chap; especially a low-bred or ill-mannered fellow, a ‘knave’

The earliest example that can be find in print of the actual phrase ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ is in Charles Lucas’s Pharmacomastix, 1785:

The very Druggist, who in all other nations in Europe is but Pharmacopola, a mere drug-merchant, is with us, not only a physician and chirurgeon, but also a Galenic and Chemic apothecary; a seller of drugs, medicines, vertices, oils, paints or colours poysons, &c. a Jack of all trades, and in truth, master of none.

So Jack used to do everything and as a result was a master in none. Have you fallen into the same trap? Are you a software developer, a network guy, the repairs guy, the salesperson, the CEO, the project manager, the CFO and also the business developer? Is your core competency all the above? Do you apply for any IT job as you feel that you can fit in any of them? This does not only apply to people in the computing field, each career has several options.

There is a however a small spin to this line of thinking.Most people take this saying and inter-prate it to mean that you can only do one thing in order to succeed; I beg to differ. We generally have two kinds of individuals; generalist and specialist. Generalist a little about everything, specialist know a lot about one particular thing. However, we have people who don’t fit in any of these categories. They are neither specialist nor generalist. So how do we classify this group?

There is a reason campus is at least three years; it gives you time to discover yourself. During my first year I loved networking. The biggest to this, I guess, was the lecturer Mr. Kaguongo. In the second semester things changed, we had a different lecturer who taught exactly the same things although less effectively and with way less passion. Despite insisting that he was a guy who loved practical lessons we only had two the whole semester! In second year I did web development, both back end and front end development. In third year I focused on back end design and in my fourth year I ventured into cloud computing. This forced me to learn some system administration as I had to work on EC2. As a result over the four years I was able to experiment with various things. My core competence is software development but at the same time I can do limited system administration. I dropped networking completely and I would never apply for a networking job.

My advice, don’t be a jack of all trades but rather specialize in a sector and be the best you can be in it. However, before you choose a field try out several things first.

*There was a second part to this lesson, the cocoon mentality. I will do it as the next post and so we will have one extra post instead of the promised six

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