issadevs logo svg


Visit my Instagram profile at issadevs
Issa Jean Marie author profile picture

Issa Jean Marie

@issadevs founder

1st May, 2023

Is it better to become a specialist or a generalist? How do you decide?

Is it better to become a specialist or a generalist? How do you decide?

As Ingrid Andress said in “Both”, you can’t do both.

It’s usually hard or impossible to do multiple things at the same time. It’s like living with two different personalities. Imagine being a musician and a therapist at the same time. It’s hard, isn’t it?

Those are obviously love stories and imaginary situations, but professionally speaking, someone can have more than one different expertise and manage all of them. It’s hard, yet possible.

It’s better to know the difference and benefits of having more than one area of expertise and being a single-edged sword. Let’s discuss it, shall we?

Who is a generalist?

A generalist is someone with skills and knowledge in a variety of professions. Someone who is able to perform competently across different domains or fields, rather than specializing in a single area. For instance, someone can have skills in design, people management, programming, and robotics at the same time.

A generalist is characterized by having no single area of specialization. When you ask them what they do, they will ask you what you are offering, because they are flexible.

Pros of being a generalist

  • Broad market

    Due to their skills in different areas of the profession, they are flexible and have various opportunities because they are suitable for different positions in different industries/areas.

  • Opportunity to become entrepreneurs

    With their glimpse into different areas, it is easy for them to manage people they understand. Generalists tend to be empathic as they usually know what it’s like to be in a certain industry. With this ability, it’s easy for them to start a successful start-up as they touch every corner of the company.

  • Easy to become a specialist

    In a blink of an eye, they can switch their careers. Their expertise in different fields allows them to specialize in whatever they want. Because they already have the foundation, it’s not a hustle for them to master it.

  • People skills

    They work in different fields, hence they build different personalities. They understand people both technically and emotionally (if I may say). They know the feelings of a developer when they are facing a bug, and understand how a PM can be frustrated when a sprint passed the deadline.

  • Better communication

    Knowing technical jargon, and knowing how it feels like to be someone, makes generalists great communicators. It doesn’t always mean that all generalists are great communicators, but it always means that the greater generalist you are the greater communicator you can be.

Cons of being a generalist

  • Average salary

    Their lack of expertise in specific fields makes them average employees. Their knowledge is usually not strong enough to demand higher salaries. Generalists usually know the bigger picture instead of mastering every single detail, and this makes them assistants, entry-level employees, or never experts in a specific field.

  • Untrusted by bigger organizations

    Bigger organizations always look for the best of the best, and as I said, generalists are never the best at anything, they are good at many things.

  • Continuous learning

    With the disadvantage of not being the best at anything, you have to be good at everything if you are a generalist. You have to keep learning and opening different career paths to make sure your market is broad enough not to lose a job.

  • Slow career growth

    A specialist can say that they have 15 years of experience in for example project management, a generalist lacks this opportunity. In those 15 years, a generalist has worked in 10 different areas. This makes it hard for them to grow their career at a certain level where they know for sure that they are needed.

  • High competition

    Because you are not the best, so are other many people.

Who is a specialist?

Have you ever gone to the hospital and been sent back home because Doctor X is on holiday? That’s a specialist. A priceless person, someone irreplaceable.

A specialist is someone who has a high level of knowledge, expertise, and skill in a particular area or field. Specialists tend to master a single sub-field of a bigger field such as medicine, law, or engineering…. They are often highly respected and sought-after for their specialized knowledge and skills.

Pros of being a specialist

  • Higher salary

    A specialist is one in a million, this makes their skills unique hence their salaries are higher compared to the generalists’. Their ability to do what others can’t makes them wanted by bigger organizations and their remuneration becomes more attractive.

  • Less competition

    As I said, they are one in a million. It takes a very long time to master something and many people aren’t willing to take that risk, this makes those who do invaluable.

  • Deep understanding of the field

    Specialists have spent so many years in a single field that they literally know everything. They focus their skills development on one specific field and they become so good at it that they understand almost every single detail.

  • Fewer trainings

    Their deep knowledge and skills in the field allow them to start working on day one after joining the company. I mean everyone needs a probation, but specialists don’t need special training to be on board.

Cons of being a specialist

  • Limited career opportunities

    Focusing on a narrow field can limit your career options. If there is a downturn in your industry, or if your particular specialization becomes less in demand, you may find it difficult to find job opportunities.

  • Lack of empathy

    Focusing on one field for a very long time can hinder them from understanding other people’s work, leading to less empathy when communicating or collaborating.

  • The constant demand to expand

    To be a specialist, you need to be the best of the best, and it’s not easy. You have to keep expanding, learning, and trying to get ahead of everyone else.

  • Stagnation

    Specialists may become too comfortable in their field, leading to a lack of innovation and growth. It is important to continuously learn and seek out new challenges in order to avoid stagnation.

After considering the various pros and cons of being a specialist or a generalist in programming and other fields, I believe that the decision ultimately depends on personal preferences and career goals.

While a specialist may have a deep understanding of their field and command higher salaries, they may also face limited career opportunities and a constant demand to expand their knowledge. On the other hand, a generalist may be more flexible and have a broader market, but may also face slower career growth and lower salaries.

Ultimately, the decision between being a specialist or a generalist should be based on individual factors such as interests, marketplace, and career goals.

However, I advise career (such as the software industry) joiners to focus on one field at a time. By taking this approach, it becomes easier for you to transition to another one whenever you need to. Besides that advantage, it makes your learning process more faster and efficient.

Other articles

Follow me:

Visit my Instagram profile at issadevsVisit my LinkedIn Profile at issadevsVisit my YouTube channel issadevs

©Copyright 2023 - 2024