Fighting Specialization

by Brian K. Jones

I'm lucky to be in a position where I am not forced to specialize on a single technology. I have always made a habit of keeping up with the job market, and it seems the trend is that the bigger the company you wind up at, the more likely you are to be staring at the same thing day in and day out.

There are people even less specialized than me - my buddy is a one-man IT shop. He's in an environment that could probably use just about one more IT guy. He's probably wishing for the luxury of slightly more specialization that might be afforded to him if there was someone else around to help out.

There are people more specialized than me, too. A family member of mine is just about the hardest of hard core WebSphere admins. Oh, he's a UNIX admin, but he got a job at $HUGECORP and I get the impression that he hasn't seen so much as a zone file ever since. It's this level of specialization I'm fighting.

Last week, I spent the week doing database development (culminating in a bit of SQL goodness you can read about on my blog) This week, I'm replacing an aging print (CUPS/Samba) server with a virtual machine. After that, I'm afraid I have a little PHP code to write for Moodle, and then I'm back into the back end on a data warehousing project. Before February started, I was upgrading (read: PXE kickstarting) a 30-node teaching lab, helping debug some weird issues on a beowulf cluster, and retiring the first beowulf cluster I ever deployed.

Over this coming summer, I hope to migrate more services from our old NIS service to our new LDAP service, which I deployed using Fedora Directory Server about two months after it was released to the world. I've blogged here that I was happy about that. I still am :-)

...And I'm still a little bitter that I rarely get to touch our networking gear.

Oh yeah, one other way I've been able to fight off specialization is by consulting. I have clients that need things set up that I have no use for or have outgrown in my day-job environment. This experience has even provided a couple of useful experiences that I brought back with me to my day job, and certainly keeps me grounded in the realities of how other organizations go about making technology decisions, and how those decisions affect the business side of things.

What about you? Are you able to fight specialization in your work? Have you suffered or been saved by specializing/not specializing? Have you turned down bigger paychecks to avoid specialization? Are you sorry you did/didn't take a highly specialized job? I'm interested in your views on this! Share! :-)


2007-02-21 17:02:31
VCD Cutter
Fred Clausen
2007-02-22 06:41:52
I fight specialisation by getting certified in all the fields I want to work at. I work at medium sized ISP and I do Unix, Cisco and Oracle stuff at the moment. Primarily Unix of course, since that is my main job function and I enjoy it. But I got a CCNA to help with networking and the NOC noticed and they enjoy explaining things and I am helping to manage to internal switches. Same applies with Oracle, get a cert and people seem to notice.
surveyor K
2007-03-01 14:57:14
I work for a $HUGECORP that used to be not-so-huge, and am fighting specialization increasingly with every year. Now at $HUGECORP a unix admin does only one thing: build and troubleshoot system level issues only. Even the system installation and system production support is being separated, foolishly. 6 years ago, we had a hand in everything from application installation and support, to oracle support, and even some configuring of load balancers and content accelerators. First they took away all my radware and bluecoats, then my HPs, and now I only play with Solaris.

While there are many ($) advantages to working for $HUGECORP, you have to actively and independently grow your skill set or you will become technically irrelevant.

Ralph Charlton
2007-03-07 22:10:12
One other way I've been able to fight off specialization is by consulting. I have clients that need things set up that I have no use for or have outgrown in my day-job environment.To know more about the fighting varieties click on knife


Rob Lazzurs
2008-06-12 05:36:46
I started off my sys admin work consulting for a company that serves a wide variety of clients and then I moved into the ISP industry.

I found that in an ISP if you are dealing more with the customers rather than the backend system there is quite a good oppertunity to learn new things and work with different systems. Each clients requirements are different which is why 'custom' is in 'custom'er.

I used to think that I wanted to specalise more however I realise these days that the only way to keep things interesting in the day job has to be adding more and more varied work. Lets face it the reason most of us are doing this work is because we want to play with (and break) new shiny things :)