Find Your Strength: An Argument for “Specializing”

Tags: development, expertise, positioning, resume, specialization, value.

Specialize_blog illustration-2 post

My wife, Lindsey, is a video editor. I say this in order to say that she is not a video director, a shooter, nor a color correctionist—she is an editor of videos, a story-teller.

This is not to say that in her many years as a professional video editor she has not taken on all of the aforementioned roles—often directing or shooting a friend’s music video, or color correcting a project that has a smaller budget. But if asked directly what she does, she would say she is an editor.

Why is this so significant? After all, many young freelance editors will often list as many of their skills as possible on their curriculum vitae in order to increase the range of work they can take on.

Likewise, when I was getting my first web development contracts, I would always put web design and Flash animation on my resume. I felt like it was important to cover everything, and I made the mistake of listing every skill I had instead of focusing on my strengths.

Certainly in the area of web development, a tremendous amount of value is placed on being a person of many talents. Having a working knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are requirements. Understanding of at least one development “stack” (LAMP for example) is desired. Experience with new technologies, mobile app development processes, and popular site frameworks (like WordPress or Drupal) will show up on the list as well.

Skillset diversity seems to be encouraged, so isn’t being proficient in many areas beneficial?

Isn’t being proficient in many areas beneficial?

Yes of course, but only to the end that it can lead to a better foundation for specialization. Having working experience in shooting or color correction allows my wife to be a well-rounded editor, but specializing adds a level of professionalism and security that being a “jack-of-all-trades” lacks.

Focus on Your Strengths

Editors can expect to make a specific day rate and start a project at a specific step of the process (after shooting, after footage is prepped, and before sound and color are corrected). In the same regard, a developer that specializes in Rails development can expect the designs to be done, the front-end code to be written, and the staging server to be prepped. It’s their job to build the server-side foundation on which the house will sit.

Certainly, a Rails developer should be experienced in JavaScript or CSS so that they will be ready to integrate the important AJAX calls into the front-end, or properly style new elements that may not have been considered before development began—but when the collateral needs of being an “every-man” are not the priority, a developer can focus on building the best version of their part. Specializing defines their value, and in turn they can rely on other specialists to make the best decisions in their respective areas of expertise.

Specializing adds a level of professionalism and security that being a “jack-of-all-trades” lacks.

The wonderful thing is, for developers, there is no lack of things to specialize in. All one needs to be an expert is tenacity and passion for learning. This might mean taking extra nights and weekends to hone your new Node.js skills or put the finishing touches on your brilliant jQuery plugin—but every hour spent is positioning you for more fulfilling (and likely better paying) work doing something you really love to do.

Subject Matter Experts

At Barrel, we’ve recently created a “Subject Matter Experts” (SME) team, encompassing various areas of development where one or two people in the company excel. The members of the team are responsible for continuing to grow in their areas of expertise, teaching others, and sharing new and exciting things within the group.

This new focus on “Specializing” lets me relax when hurdles like payment APIs or mail-server integration rear their ugly heads. I can turn to Jessie, our API SME, to help with the burden of writing an integration class that works nicely with my existing CodeIgniter project. For hefty JavaScript solutions or stylish CSS3 animations, I can turn to Patrick, our resident front-end SME.

Additionally, by defining and focusing on those specialties and encouraging communication, experts at Barrel are able to help their fellow experts (and the dev team as a whole) become more proficient at all aspects of the development process. My JavaScript becomes cleaner and more intuitive after every talk with Patrick—and studying the integration Classes written by Jessie helps me solve the same problems quickly the next time around.

That’s why we encourage developers at Barrel to specialize in different aspects of their field. It’s a key step to increasing each person’s personal and professional value, giving them an identity, and allowing them to do their best work. I can feel my value every time I help someone with a PHP app development problem.

Cut the fat off your resume and get the jobs where you can focus on doing what you do best.

So, I encourage you, specialize! Dedicate the next year to some aspect of your work that will help you stand out. Cut the fat off your resume and get the jobs where you can focus on doing what you do best. I promise it will be worth it.

Illustrations by Andrea Horne

  • Kingsley Harris

    I couldn’t agree more. As a designer I’ve dabbled in a bunch of different roles and I can attest that after deciding to focus on my individual strength and the strengths of my studio, I’ve never been happier or more successful.

  • certifyD

    Great perspective. When the norm is trying to be everything to everyone, it makes sense to showcase our strengths and ultimately the kind of work we are most passionate about. In the end it can make us better define our goals, career path and acknowledge that collaboration will help us learn those things we are not as comfortable with.

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