Some Thoughts on Specialization

These days software developers are categorized into two common buckets, generalists and specialists. Neither category has an inherent advantage over the other and often times the pros and cons of a categories are contextual. In this post, I'm going to share my current thoughts on these categories and how floating between them has impacted my career.

Aaron Bos | Friday, November 11, 2022

The world of software engineering is expansive and constantly growing. Trying to keep up with changes to hardware, software, languages, frameworks, etc. can be exhausting. For this reason it may seem like our best option as developers is to specialize and focus on a particular area. For some, this may mean focusing on frontend or backend technologies and for others the specialization make come in the build and deployment processes or cloud architecture and infrastructure. No matter the area of specialization the end result is a more fine-grained focus on a smaller surface area of topics.

Specialization is surely a great option, but we can also aim to be generalists as well. Having a general knowledge on multiple areas or domains can be a huge asset for an individual or team. The ability to tackle any problem that is thrown at you is invaluable. The "jack of all trades" developer may not have a deep understanding or expertise in a single area, but that is overcome by having a broad knowledge of multiple areas.

In my opinion it is best to try to sit somewhere in between a specialist and a generalist. In my career I have found that periods of specialization can be very rewarding, while also leading to a bit of burnout if done for too long. When periods of generalization have been sprinkled in over time, I've found myself being reinvigorated to solve a new set of problems and challenges that I wasn't facing during times of specialization.

No matter what category you fall in always remember that there is more to be learned and new challenges to be solved one way or the other. Getting bogged down in specializing on a specific technology? Look for opportunities to take on new problems in a different area. Feel like you are being spread to thin working on too many different areas? Aim to focus on a subset of those areas to really deepen your knowledge without worrying about all the extra stuff. Who knows maybe what we learned while specializing in one area will have a profound impact on the way we approach problems in a completely different technology.

As always thank you for taking the time to read this blog post!