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You dont’s specialize for life
Choosing a niche today and becoming an expert in that field doesn’t mean that you’ll always play there. Most probably you’ll have to reposition yourself during your career - multiple times.
Yet, if you decide to change, it must be a conscious decision putting the pros and cons on the balance.
On your course to mastery, you will look on the sides and it’s possible that you’ll find something even more interesting. In most cases, you’ll have to say no and continue your path towards your goals.
Yet sometimes the reasons to switch tracks will be so compelling that you’ll say yes and start walking on the other path. You’ll have to start from a lower position, but you’ll not be a junior anymore.
Do you remember The Sims life simulator?
You won’t have to start over from the bottom
It happened there as well that you were a top actor and you changed career to become a politician. Well, you didn’t start from the lowest activist position, but somewhere on the upper half of the ladder.
Just think about Ronald Reagen. He didn’t start from the trenches.
It can be the same for your career. If you establish yourself as a senior Python engineer and you wish to change to C++ for any reason, you might be an inexperienced C++ programmer, but you won’t be a junior developer. You will have already learnt what it takes to become an expert. You might lack some specific technical skills but the soft skills will be already there to prioritize what is needed, to ask the right questions, to ask for the necessary help.
But even if we just focus on the technical skills, you will already possess the understanding of major concepts. Probably you will be deeply familiar with some algorithms, data structures, the tidbits of programming languages in general.
Niche or not to niche
I think it’s more beneficial to niche down in something, to become a real expert on a topic compared to being a jack of all trades.
You might say that being a jack of all trades is degrading and I should have written a jack of all trades, and a master of some. But beware that you are also referring to mastery. Mastery of what, a niche or two probably.
Of course, there are different points of view, there are people who say that specialists rule the world, while others claim that despite everything it’s the generalists controlling a specialized world.
Don’t get me wrong, as my math teacher said, there is nothing worse than being a tunnel-visioned mathematician who knows and cares about nothing else than mathematics.
But always changing to a new field, changing languages, back and forth between frontend, backend and middleware is only going to lead as far.
You must pick something and specialize if you want to succeed. Being a T-Shaped person is about diversified core skills such as presentation skills, problem-solving skills, a bit of psychology, maybe project management, the practical and a bit higher than a basic understanding of some technologies. But if those are not paired with the mastery of one or two, there is no T-Shaped person to talk about, only a _-shaped (under-shaped) person and that’s not very seductive.
When only mediocre skills come across each other, you cannot expect extraordinary results. On the other hand, when you master some distant areas such as some technology and a business area, ideas will have sex and new great ideas will be born. It was probably Elon Musk who said this, though I couldn’t find a link. He definitely mastered multiple fields.
Passion will make you grow in your niche
Yet another advantage of finding your passion is that if you have something that you care about so much, you’ll find it important to speak about it. You’ll look for opportunities to present, to share the word, to share knowledge.
Why is that so important?
There are two important aspects.
You’ll show up as a leader
You have a better chance to prove yourself as a leader.
According to Stoic philosophy, passion is a vice because when you act out of passion, you often lack calmness, while calmness is something you should always hold on to. Today passion is highly valued, some even consider it necessary to become great.
Let’s find some middle-ground here and let’s say that passion can be overemphasized and can be damaging to performance, but if the energies invoked by it are channelled well, you’ll benefit from them.
It’s also true that passionate people are more attractive both sexually and professionally. Being passionate about a topic combined with some soft skills can easily make you a leader in that area. It will not make you a good leader, but you’ll earn the possibility to prove yourself and grow.
Teaching is the best way to learn
The other aspect is that by teaching, preaching, by sharing in a good way, you will become a teacher yourself.
Teaching is the best way to know more about a topic.
When you try to explain things to other people, you’ll first have to ask yourself questions! The same question - and even more - you’d expect the others to ask you. You’ll have to make sure that you what you think you know, you know it really well and that you can respond to the questions of your “students”.
Still, people will ask you some questions that you won’t be able to answer, and that’s fine. You’ll have to go back and find the answers yourself. OK, maybe, the “student” can also help to find the answer, but it will not solely be up to him.
You’ll be more interested in the details, you’ll think differently. You’ll always think about could you explain that to someone else, do you really understand it. And if not, you’d go back and change it.
You need a cause
All the changes that affect all your career come simply from caring more about one topic.
The other way is also true. Without finding a real cause, and real purpose, a topic that you are passionate about, you’ll not be able to grow beyond a certain point.
And don’t be discouraged, finding that purpose requires a lot of work. You were not born with that passion. You have to find it.
Once you find it, keep in mind that you are not committed for a lifetime. The changes that it induces in your life are more important than the topic itself. You’ll be a learner, a preacher, a teacher, inevitably an expert. Being an expert is more of a long time attitude than a matter of subject. In case you have to or want to, you’ll be able to change your subject of expertise.
For me, the beginning of the road to expertise was that I was given a book from my manager and then influenced the software craftsmanship community. For you, it’s maybe different. A good teacher, somebody who you look up to, it doesn’t matter.
Whatever will be your road, whatever big an expert you’ll become there is one thing for sure that will walk you with. Failures, inevitable failures and possible setbacks that you should never make you sour, but should rather inspire you.