From I-Shaped to T-Shaped – Why IT Professionals Need to be Multi-Skilled
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In the past, individuals were typically viewed as either generalists or specialists. Generalists have a more diverse collection of knowledge to draw from, so they can see connections and correlations that specialists might miss, but they only have broad knowledge in their domain of expertise instead of deep skills. On the other hand, Specialists have a deep understanding of a certain content area, Someone who specializes in one subject may focus all their energy on learning and staying up to date on it. They are always referred to as I-shaped individuals.
An I-shaped Individual
is characterized by a single specialty or area of expertise. They demonstrate limited general knowledge of different disciplines and prefer to work in one single job type. That is why they are depicted with the letter "I" which represents their deep knowledge and experience in a single specialty or domain.
Today, this viewpoint does not reflect the outcomes that organizations expect and need. Organizations are looking for people to be T-shaped, pi-shaped (π), or comb-shaped (Ш) :
A T-shaped individual
is an expert in one area who is also knowledgeable in other areas. For example, a developer or tester who possesses knowledge of accounting.
A pi-shaped individua
l is an expert or near-expert in two areas and knowledgeable in other areas. For example, someone who can both design and develop but also possesses good testing skills.
A comb-shaped individual
is strong in more than two areas and knowledgeable in other areas. For example, someone who can gather requirements, design, and develop and who has a good knowledge of the adjacent areas.
Since 2011, a lot has happened in the IT space. DevOps has crossed the chasm into enterprise IT, introduced a “
” approach and encouraged more knowledge sharing and cross-functionality between people and teams.
In his 2011 Forbes article, “Are you an ‘I’ or a ’T’?”, contributing author Andy Boynton states:
Many leaders today, however, feel that T people are better at fostering the diverse connections and conversations that bring exceptional ideas to the surface.
Continuous learning is a lifelong journey and as technology twists and turns according to the demands of the market, there will always be new concepts, frameworks, practices, and technologies to learn. The key is to start your evolution from I-shaped to T-shaped and beyond today – ask a colleague to mentor you, take a class, read a book, join a Center of Interest, attend a conference. Start anywhere – just start.
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