Monday, March 14, 2011

Generalist Vs Specialists- Where should the balance be?

Last week, I was car pooling with one of my colleague who works in a different department- We were generally chatting about life, work et al and he wanted to get some counseling from me on management [I don’t know how come; he suddenly assumed that I can do career counseling for him :-))]. For the sake of simplicity, let us call this person as Mr. Techie [MT in short]- MT has around 8 years of experience in the Oracle platform and he wanted to get in to management. I asked MT a simple ‘WHY’- whether he did not like Oracle or Larry Elisson or he just got bored with it. Interestingly, MT replied that liked/loved Oracle but he felt that he is not progressing well in his career and he feels that by getting in to management, this perception can go away and he can see more GROWTH. When I probed him deeper on what he means by NOT progressing well in career, he candidly told me that he gets irritated when managers GROW even though the bulk of the work is done by him or people of his ilk. So in totality, MT decided that it was worthwhile to drop his Oracle expertise or a technical career and pursue a career in management- He also wanted to check on part-time or full-time MBA degree as he felt that this will determine his success in management [There are certain management institutes which sell this very well]. He was kind-off mesmerized on the MBA thing – I strongly felt that someone would have told him that MBA is a pre-requisite for pursuing a career in management.

If I abstract this at a higher level, it boils down to your decisions on your “path”. Why do you need a management career when you are good in technical area? Why do people flock for MBA’s when they really don’t know what is in store for management? I agree with Scott Adams again on producing more “pointy haired” bosses! Why cannot we specialize in the area where we are and not get distracted? There are certain folks who have a natural flair in management and they do well irrespective of an MBA. These are tough questions and I can understand that it is tough to go on a path with considerable self-assurance! But I also feel it is an area of improvement/challenge for IT service firms to get technical folks to do technical things for eternity. Outside of India, I have seen project managers who have 20 years of experience just doing project management or program management; I have also seen Technical folks doing coding/technical tasks for 25 years! They feel assured and secure in pursuing their line of expertise- The firm also gives them the scope to do that. Why is it not possible to do it here? The obvious reason for this is the exponential GROWTH of the industry and this has set the expectations for everyone to move up and up[irrespective of the fact whether they are capable or not- This is more relevant in management]? The key challenges from the firm side are to create a degree of security/assurance and keep the technical folks motivated in the same area/space for a longer period of time? The challenges from a individual perspective is to stay focused on the ‘path’ which is difficult with the level of distractions today [cannot imagine a dumb management boss who is more successful than the particular individual who is smart in his core area]!

Coming back to Mr.Techie, I asked some pointed questions to him, viz.,
• What are your goals?
• Are you loving doing your work in Oracle platform?
• How do you know that you will love your work in management?
• Are you ok if you fail in management?
• Are you ok to move in to a generalist role from a specialist role- That’s a big sacrifice in my mind!
• Who told you that you need MBA to get in to management?- This is another common myth!
• Why don’t you do a trial and error role in management before doing your MBA?

Mr.Techie obviously felt as if he was shaken and stirred by these questions- He got the message and figured where I was coming from! Smart boy! I specifically told him not to give any answers right away and asked him to ruminate over these set of questions before looking at part-time MBA as an option. Maybe he would have cursed himself on having car pooled with me! I guess the same is true in many sectors or many industries. Do I need to be in Sales or do I need to be in marketing? Do I need to do the lathe work in the workshop or do I need to open a new lathe shop? Do I need to do day-trading for someone or do I need to do it myself? Should I be in corporate banking or should I be in investment banking? These are definitely worthwhile pondering questions but it has to be associated with multiple ancillary questions before a decision is made.

Just making a decision and then blaming it on others or generating self-sympathy will not work! The other good idea is to do less analysis and move along the path that life takes you and enjoy what you have got rather than aiming for something and losing your sleep.

I also want to connect Malcolm Gladwell’s book called ‘Outliers’ where he brings in the concept of 10000 hours of work [,9171,1858880-2,00.html ] - If you have done more than 10000 hours of work in a particular area, then you can actually call yourself as an expert or be successful in that area. It is not about the talent but about the 'work' that you put in that particular area. Being in the middle looks cool, but you should not do more analysis- Just enjoy the ride and stay committed!


Six Sigma for all said...

Hi Prakash,

It would be a all time pleasure to have a career counselling from you...

Coming to what you rightly said, In the 50's & 60's there was a saying that you need to suceed to need to be a master of any trade however now there situation is that the jack of all trades with some extent of mastery in a domain / trade is was is looked at. If this is coupled with Leadership skills then the ladder of sucess would be somewhat easy for the individual.
Many folks actually dont understand the hidden truth in the word "Management" It seems that management is all about managing a program, team, project, CSAT etc... However its all about developing strategies, identifying opportunities for growth, implementation of straties and being proactive for change with the changing scenarios...

Please correct me if I am wrong...

Veena T said...

Really nice post and excellent career counseling you provided. I also feel we need to improve our tech track a lot.One of my good friends is quitting since in the tech track , Clarity on goals and progress was not there even after couple of years there. She is joining as tech architect elsewhere. Not sure why we are not having this track firmed up.

Anonymous said...

hi prakash

nice one this is


King Jatin said...

HI Prakash,

Very rightly said that a person should be Master of One. But this actually does not works for everyone as every individual has different goals. There are Guys outside who are core developers or Analyst for more than a Decade and they are happy with that.

But in India its more of a Show Off and preference of money is more than what you are expertise in. This vicious circle goes for everyone whether its a newly graduated boy or a 8 year exp techie. Another point is that as a general perception(may not be applicable for everyone) growth comes only when you are at at higher level from where you had started and MBA gives you that ladder to go through it.

May be if you have spend a lot of time in a firm then there can be a possibility that they would appoint you as a Manager or whatever without a MBA degree. But in Market scenarios MBA is a must to be either a entrepreneur or be at the CEO level.

One cannot always say that being on a Management level that you are a Generalist. Those guys are also specialist, like you take any sort of example like a CEO of a telecom company or Owner of Facebook Mark Zuckerburg who is probably not doing coding now but he is the person behind all the idea and started all the application on its own, similarly Google, Microsoft, Infosys lot of examples are there who actually dared to move ahead in their life apart from what they are expert into.

Its more about goals and where you want to be, as a Human Race we are continuously learning till the day we die. SO our Brain server needs to be upgraded with Ideas and thoughts.

And you cannot stay at a position for your whole life where your Manager is earning 4 times your salary and you after doing all the laborious work still go to home and plan your budget.
See again everyone has their own point of view, there is NO fix definition of Success it varies.

Just to conclude, have your goals go for it and at the same time see to it that you are also healthy at your personal budgets.

Cheers ;)

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TechnologyLearner said...

Hi prakash,
awesome article. I am following up from the date when I joined photo and even in cognizant too. Please write lot of articles about career path.