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Since writing this post, I've had the opportunity to reflect back on what it means to be a “jack-of-all-trades”, and the value it holds in the workplace. What I've learned is that having this skill couldn't be more valuable. In these past several months, I've moved between different projects, and I've had to learn new skills and frameworks in order to tackle them. These are all frameworks that I was not familiar with, but they were the best option to use in each scenario, so it was necessary to learn them.
Needless to say, I was able to ramp up on these new frameworks with minimal effort because I knew what to look for and the proper way of learning them.
Following the practice of being a “jack-of-all-trades” engineer, has in fact, also helped me in leading projects and initiatives. This is not a skill that I feel is limited to engineers alone, but could be applied to any role or field. Working in a cross-functional team requires being able to grasp information from different teams and individuals to ensure that a project moves forward successfully. Being a “jack-of-all-trades” helps in this environment because now you possess the skill to learn what's needed despite how technical the conversation may be.
However, the argument between being a “jack-of-all-trades” vs specialization will always remain. In my opinion, there is no right answer between the two, but rather how an individual is able to balance the two and adjust in a specific scenario. There will be times when you simply need someone with specialization in a particular field to tackle the problem. However, being a “jack-of-all-trades” does not, and should not, limit you from building expertise in a particular area.
Technology is changing faster than ever. Every few days new technology stacks or frameworks are released that provide different optimized solutions for distinct problems. It is in this fast-paced, technological world that a “jack-of-all-trades” kind of developer thrives - a developer that has a diversified skill set and is not married to a specific language or framework. A developer that will learn the problem, evaluate it from all angles, and find the right tool for the situation.
Editor's note: This blog post below was originally posted by Bhavik in October 2015 and has been updated with Bhavik's perspective above on being a “jack-of-all-trades” since being at Dialexa.
I’ve considered myself to be a “jack-of-all-trades” since I decided to pursue a degree in mechatronics engineering - a blend of electrical, mechanical and software engineering. When I chose this discipline, I had several people ask me why I decided on this field and not focus on a particular type of engineering. To be honest, I asked myself the same question, too.
Now looking back, choosing this blended type of engineering is the best decision I could have made for my career. Going through the integrated mechatronics engineering program made me realize several things. The most important being, despite all the technical knowledge I had acquired through my coursework, the best skill that I had obtained was the ability to solve a vast array of problems. The willingness to find solutions to problems that do not have an obvious answer is what makes a “jack-of-all-trades” a great problem solver and what a mechatronics engineer does best of all. And by fusing together the principles of mechanical and electronic engineering, a new innovative approach to product design and development is created in mechatronics engineering.
According to my alma mater, the University of Waterloo, “Mechatronics Engineering emphasizes the design of electro-mechanical devices ranging from large-scale automated manufacturing systems to micro-scale sensors and instrumentation.”
The traits of being a “jack-of-all-trades.”
While they may lack a specialization, a “jack-of-all-trades” proves to be versatile and adaptable to new environments. They are not afraid of facing an obstacle, no matter how complicated the challenge. They will make use of all of the resources available to determine the optimal solution to a given problem. Whether that requires going through peer-reviewed journals or finding the right people to ask, a “jack-of-all-trades” kind of engineer has an exceptional ability to learn. It may initially take longer to arrive at an answer, but as more and more problems arise, this kind of engineer quickly learns what works and what doesn’t.
It may seem obvious, but there is a significant difference in being able to learn and being able to learn quickly. A “jack-of-all-trades” is the type of person who can quickly seek out the right information for the given problem, and once they know how to do this effectively, no problem is too big or small.
Fulfilling a passion for learning
Personally, I am always excited to work on a problem when I have no idea what the solution is going to be. That’s because this kind of problem solving gives me an opportunity to go out and learn something new. Being in this type of environment keeps me alert and helps me learn new technology with which I can later use to solve other problems.
This kind of problem solving is one of the main reasons I decided to join Dialexa - because they presented me with the opportunity to learn new technologies. During my interview, I was asked if I knew several different programming languages. To which I responded with a disappointing "no." The question that followed took me by surprise, “Are you willing to learn them?” It was at that moment that I knew that I wanted to work at this company.
At Dialexa, my job requirement has never been about me knowing or specializing in just a few specific skills. It has been about the fact that I am open to learning new software and technology. Also, it helps that I do not shy away from any given problem.
Shortly after joining the team, I discovered that my colleagues and I all share a similar trait - the life-long need to learn. That’s what makes Dialexa unique; it is a team of people from completely different backgrounds, who are not afraid of a challenge, and are willing to learn new ways to solve problems.
While every person at the company has their respective expertise, I’m confident that not a single “Dialexan” would shy away from a problem just because there was no obvious answer to it. Why is this? Because we are all “jacks-and-jills-of-all-trades” at Dialexa. The crazy ones who find joy in constantly learning new things, solving complex problems, and creating innovative technology.
If you want to learn more about what’s necessary for a complete product development process, download our free ebook, The End-to-End Product Development Guide.