Beyond the T-shaped person: becoming star shaped

The T-shaped career model suggests that a person should have a depth of skills in a single field (the vertical bar) and a breadth of skills that enable cross-disciplinary collaboration (the horizontal bar). However to me, excelling in one area and being merely ok in a number of others feels too limiting for this agile, adaptable era of computing. It also risks becoming obsolete due to over-specialisation as the world changes.

T shaped person - breadth of skills as the bar, depth of expertise as the downstroke

I don’t want to be a Pi shaped person either, which simply adds another leg of expertise to the diagram. Instead of having deep expertise in one field, it’s now in two fields. An improvement as it allows for a reinvention from a legacy skill to a new skill, but still not really doing it for me.

Pi shaped person -  breadth of skills as the bar, depth of expertise as the two downstrokes

There are variants on the model that I prefer, including the ‘V-shaped’ versatilist described by Pete Cripps.

V shaped person - broader cross discipline skills, getting narrower as expertise grows

The versatilist approach does however illuminate the very thing that bothers me with all of this. The skills development journey in all of these diagrams is towards a fixed point of deep expertise.

By contrast, I feel like I’m floating in a galaxy of fascinating topics, and I need deep expertise in many of them to be able to deliver success for my projects and clients in a rapidly changing world. Of course I’m not going to be a polymath, deeply skilled in entirely diverse disciplines (rocket science and brain surgery?), but the skills I use span across traditional disciplines, mixing IT architecture, UX design, programming, marketing, project planning, security and more to deliver successful outcomes.

I’d like to propose an alternative approach to the T-shaped person that captures how I’m growing my skills as a star-shaped person.

star shaped person - skills growing outward into many different domains

I aim to create a map of my skills, using a polar graph instead of the traditional XY axis. My skills are growing outward in all directions with the arrow length reflecting the level of expertise, and the direction indicating the domain of skill. Areas of the graph can be used to group similar and different skills together.

I’ve used quadrants to contrast for example creative versus analytical skills. Choosing to develop a new skill is reflected by adding in a new arrow, which may grow over time to exceed the existing skills. This dynamic development of my mix of skills over time is another facet that the T-shaped model doesn’t illustrate.

Coincidentally this symbol is author Michael Moorcock’s famous ‘Chaos Star’ symbol which I find very fitting. In a rapidly changing world, sticking to traditional, order-led, straight-line thinking no longer cuts it. To survive as IT people, we need to be adaptive, quickly growing skills and expertise in emerging areas and organically reinventing ourselves as the world changes around us.

In a follow-up post I will work through a practical example of acquiring skills using the T-shaped and star-shaped approaches.

HTML5 – the ‘italic’ elements – em, i and cite

I skipped a couple of days, so by way of catch up, three elements today. Italic text is really semantically complicated. Who knew? Presenting the <i>, <em> and <cite> elements… I haven’t completed my archaeological dig, but as far back as 1995, HTML 2.0 had already standardised both <i>and <em>, with <i> used for italic, and <em> for an “emphasized phrase, typically rendered as italics”. My recollection however is that most at the time used <i>. With HTML4.0, CSS and the separation of style and content, <i> was deprecated and <em> popularised for emphasis, typically rendered as italics, but open Read More

HTML5 – The code element

As a techie, I often want to post excerpts of code on a webpage. Generally in publishing code fragments are printed in a monotype font to distinguish from the main body of text and also to more closely resemble how the code appears in the IDE. The <code> element is used in this way to highlight content that is a code fragment. Here’s a quick example both as the text and then in use: Use the JQuery <code> click() </code> function to bind an event handler to the javascript click event to perform an action when the user mouse clicks Read More

HTML5 – The small element

<small> is in the ‘4.6 Text-level semantics’ section of the WHAT-WG HTML living standard. <small> one used to mean just that: small font. It is now one of a set of elements that has been re-imagined in a more semantic light. <small> now has a very distinct meaning – it now represents ‘side comments such as small print’. This also would cover disclaimers, copyright notices and the like. <small> is a text level element, so is expected to be used within a block of text such as a paragraph, and not as a block of text. So small print such Read More

HTML5 elements

When I first learnt HTML4 and CSS I did it by digesting the formal spec, section by section. Seemed like the best way to learn it, straight from the horses mouth. I’m pretty conversant with the current set of HTML5 elements, but mainly from second hand reading of books / blog posts; also the spec is still in flux, so I thought a similar exercise would be useful again. Rather than try and tackle it in one go and get indigestion, I thought ‘how about reading up on a tag a day’. So here we are: I’ve created a new Read More