Re: Specialize or Die?

Subject: Re: Specialize or Die?
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2001 13:57:14 -0800 (PST)

> The main speaker presented himself as a team leader, who is hired to
> virtual teams. He claimed that in the very near future we will only see
> consulting work as a member of highly-specialized virtual teams. To
> this, he only uses persons who have experience in a specific area or
> industry.

I've heard this for decades and it never happens. Not at least in the way
most "visionaries" present it. One of the reasons it doesn't happen is
because of control. Its hard to control geographically diverse teams. And
most people are unable to manage themselves.

And who wants to pay extra for some "virtual project manager." Project
management is a terribly overrated "profession."

> I dropped the speaker a line, letting him know of my availability as a
> writer. I have very diverse experience, and have always seen this as an
> asset. In fact, the current virtual project leader picked me because I
> diverse interests, and experience with systems and networks.
> I wonder if this topic interests anyone on the list, and how you would
> answer a very simple question like the following:
> Q: Do you have a specialty within tech writing that you prefer?

Specialization vs. Diversity is an age old question. However, what I can
tell you is that specialists generally make more money and can survive
economic turmoil better - provided their specialty is in demand.

Which is the real kicker. If you are an expert at bending spoons, and the
art of bending spoons is in high demand, then obviously you will be able
to have a lot of work and charge high rates for your services provided you
market them properly. However, if spoon bending goes out of style, no
amount of expertise is going to keep you employed.

This is one of the reasons technical writing is taking it so hard right
now. People have a very hard time seeing the value of tech writers when so
many writers produce such bad documentation.

The real challenge is not "specialize or die" its "adapt or die." You
must adapt your skills and presentation to fit what it hot in the market.
Overly generalized resumes and a promise of "knowing a little about a lot"
doesn't make you stand out. Anybody can be a generalist. I know generally
what makes a plane fly, but would you really want me documenting those
engine parts? Or would you want some other guy who has spent his entire
life learning and studying planes?

The generalist theory sounds good, but it doesn't deliver its promises.
Its really an issue of core competencies. If somebody tells you they are
good at everything, do you believe them? No, because nobody is good at
everything. That is impossible.

Thus what sells is valuable "core skills" that can be applied to a wide
variety of problems and a set of specialized skills that demonstrate
unique-ness. Hence, this is why all writers in the software industry
should have extensive skills with things like programming, operating
systems, and networking. These are core skills that can be applied to
numerous issues.

Then from there branch out into special skills in say health care,
defense, or finance.

Specializing is also a good way to remain employed during lean times. If
you have skills in a particular area, and that area is in demand, then
you're far more likely to be hired for a job.

Think about it: you have two job applicants. One claims to be a good
writer and a generalist who "learns quickly." The other claims to be a
good writer and knows your industry extremely well (and can demonstrate
that knowledge). Who do you think gets hired?

Beware the trumpets and promise of "generalization." If you have special
skills, market them. A company (at least a smart one) is far more likely
to hire a writer that understands their industry than one that doesn't.
And I pity the firms that hire writers that don't know their industry.

Andrew Plato

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