Meeting a specialist

Have you ever met a giant? The mythical beast that towers over you and might not spot you. You read about them in the fairy tale books but may not have met one. I have, and lived to tell the tale.

After learning iOS for the past year, I’ve always felt I have a ways to go. Before that, I started in web development and design. Doing everything from backend to frontend, but not being particularly skilled in any specific vertical. Out of all of them, I like design the most. There is just something cool about painting a vision and seeing the final product almost instantly. But in order to bring that to life, there are so many other parts that have to be done. And let’s not get into marketing, that is another challenge in itself. So having spent most of my time doing these different things, in environments of 5 or less people, it felt familiar. I could get things done, make things work, and overcome most problems with time.

It wasn’t until I started working with a post seed stage yc company, with < 20 people, that I immediately felt the difference in being a generalist vs specialist. With the company being focused on databases and mobile sdks I got exposed to a world I hadn’t really seen before. I’m used to the application layer that consumers interact with. The people there are very smart and very skilled. That is when I felt like I had met giants. Since the company works below the application layer (api’s and a database to help app developers) it’s a whole new level of understanding. A very common element in mobile design, the UIViewController, which is like an html page, was never spoken of. It was more about things like encryption, write speed, api design, threading, migrations, proper ways to query, and whats really happening with the bits that fly around.

I have heard about these things on the highest level, but haven’t seen the sausage being made in the factory so to speak.

The specialists are fast and versitile. When they encounter a hard problem it could take them days rather than weeks. Also at a turn of a dime, they can jump into another language, download the environment, and get started on building the same thing there. It is a pretty incredible thing to see and eye opening from a generalist’s perspective seeing it for the first time.

It’s like Jack and the Beanstalk. All of these new foreign things going on around you, which can be slightly terrifying at first, but you start to take it all in. You start to understand a little bit more each and everyday. You see the giants roaming around this mythical place tackling challenging problems that are just another day in the life.

I start to think, and I think it’s something that constantly comes across a generalist’s mind. Do I want to narrow down and become a specialist? I know the road will be hard but what isn’t? I have some friends particularly outside of tech that run into issues by not being specialized. Work experience is really the only indicator that people can go off of, when there are no products one has built to show.

I don’t think I will ever specialize. I like too many parts of the stack and aspects of a company to do so. But it is good to be aware of what is going on around you. What mountains, giants, and heights that exist; that one day you can reach and climb. It also important to remember your strengths and to continue to hone your skills. Specialists will always be able to do things generalists can’t do, and generalists will always be able to do things specialists can’t do. Each brings a special set of skills to the table which makes it important to recognize where you can lift things up for the company. Bring in the creativity you have from the connections you make, to help things grow in different ways that people may not think of. Use that same creativity to help yourself grow in ways you might not have thought of.

I think we all go through this, when meeting someone more skilled than us. It’s great that they are willing to help us learn. So one day, we too will roam to look at mountains around us and the beanstalks differently from above.