This post is a reply to a reply to a post from Brent Ozar from K. Brian Kelly. The basic argument going on is that you if you want to be successful in the future, you should:
1) Specialize in a specific area
2) Generalize and gain as much exposer to as many technologies as possible
(This are overy simplifications of both views, I do this just for the sake of the argument)
My own view is that both viewpoints are incorrect. The key to maintaining your marketability in the future is being both a generalist AND a specialist. And to make the argument more confusing, the specialist part will shift continually.
Example 1: The pure specialist
Let's say person A is extremely adept at RGP programming for an AS400. Right now, that remains an excellent skillset as far as hirability. However, perhaps 5 years from now IBM abandons the AS400 platform altogether and moves to a Unix-based, or MS-based or 3rd-party OS to go along with its hardware. RGP is gone. Now everything is writting in IBM-SQL, or IBM-Java, or something completely different. Now person A must completely retool just to get a job. Or, change professions all together. Yes, there will be the legacy shops that are reluctant to change, but that work will last only so long. And with today's economy, can anyone rely on retirement anymore?
Example 2: The generlist
I fall a bit into this area. I know an aweful lot about datababase systems, network, servers, business process, etc. (and I mean etc., I have a wide range of exposure). However, without focusing on specific area, I limit my usefulness. Let's say I'm hired to work with SSIS. Yes, I know it, and pretty well. But the really esoteric knowledge - know - I have to look it up. It doesn't matter to my employer that I'm answer questions to others in IT about SQL Server in general, suggesting different security schemes, interacting (successfully) with other business groups, identifying concrete business rules that previously remained ephemeral - if fix the very specific issues with SSIS quickly (which doesn't rule out Google, but knowing what to look for - Google now returns so much information to wade through, you need to know your subject someone before using it), I'm fired. Period. Fair enough.
Example 3: The generalizing specialist
So let's take how I try to focus, not always successfully. I consider myself a data specialist (as in data quality, efficient reporting, storage, etc) on the SQL platform. I also know a significant amount about programming, SSIS, SSAS, SSRS, operating systems (Windows and Unix), hardware, network, business process, etc. Theoretically I could jump into any job in any area and be productive from the start and become a specialist very shortly. I may need to change my specialization very quickly at any point to maintain my marketability. Right now SQL Server maintains a very competitive piece of the database market. I'm specializing more and more in SSAS, SSIS, and SSRS (also known as business intelligence, a term I despise). But let's say in 10 years Oracle wins the database wars over IBM, MS and open source. I also know the Oracle platform and continue to try to follow it. By generalizing a significant amount of my skills, I keep a foothold into other technology areas to have the tools to cross over faster than the COBOL program in Example 1. And unlike the Example 2, I've demonstrated the ability to be a specialist and have more credibility if I build my Oracle skills ( in this fictional example :) ) and proclaim myself an expert. Heck, I can probably take many of the things I've learned as an expert into the new area.
I believe Example 3 is the way everyone should view their career. Another great example is language. Most of us on this site are "experts" (if you're from Great Britain you'd debate that) in English. But what if most of the business out there comes from China? Wouldn't be in my best interest to become as proficient in Mandarin as possible? What if most of the work moves to India, and India now decides that business should be done in Hindi rather than English as it is now? Shouldn't I learn Hindi? How about Quebec conquers Canada, and becomes a superpower? Shouldn't I learn French (or as the French would say, Quebecois)? Adaptability is important. Now if I had to learn these languages from scratch as things change, I have a huge hill to climb. Luckily I study languages, including French, Hindi and Mandarin (and 3 others - I'm trying to surpass my father who spoke 9 languages - for the most part, fluently). Now right now I stink at most of them (French is my most fluent), but I have an advantage over others should China take over the world. Don't I?
Specialization and generalization can *not* be mutually exclusive. I would advise those entering the industry to learn as much as possible, while attempting to focus on a specific area. Yes, you may not have the depth in a specific technology like our RPG programmer in Example 1, but you should be able to handle 90% of what comes your way and have the knowledge to find the answers to what you don't know off the top of your head.
That's my take. Am I wrong? Crazy? Just drunk?