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.

Atomic Design

Brad Frost puts forward a design approach for web / user interface design, working at multiple levels of abstraction, for which he has coined the name Atomic Design Working up from HTML tags (‘atoms’), into collections of tags to provide repeatable functions such as sections of a form (‘molecules’). These can then be combined to create recognisable sections of the user interface e.g. a masthead or footer (‘organisms’). Finally these combine into templates and pages which are the full website at different levels of detail. As an aside, it seems a shame (but also natural I think) that the atomic Read More

Digital obsolescence vs JavaScript emulators

Life is a Mind Bending Puzzle has an interesting post asking ‘if you have an obsolescence recovery plan for PC games?’ Thanks to emulators, games from 30 years ago can still be played on modern hardware. However he notes that: This unusually fortunate circumstance may not persist forever though. Technology will probably move on eventually to devices that are sufficiently different in form that even emulation is no longer feasible. Many are now predicting that mobile tablet computers will replace desktops and that closed architectures will prevail over the open general purpose architecture of current desktop PCs. Emulation may no Read More

The importance of being skeptical

Internet Explorer users have lower IQs than other browser users. It’s true. It must be: it was in all the papers, and on the BBC news website too, so it must be true. Except that it was a hoax. For many people however, that first ‘fact’ about ‘stupid IE users’ will remain long in the memory, regardless of the subsequent debunking. Get ready to correct ill-informed know-it-all’s at parties for years to come. The story ran that research had demonstrated that Internet Explorer users who completed an online IQ test were less intelligent than other browser users who completed the Read More

Bad IT day (the olympic ticket sale, PSN hack and optional alt tags)

Three IT stories came up earlier in the week that show how IT problems and decisions can adversely affect end-users – I’ve had a quick look at each in turn to understand the problems encountered and to try and learn lessons. The HTML spec making ‘alt tags’ on images optional for generated content The Olympics ticketing website overload at deadline day The PlayStation Network security breach and user data release

No Return – Facebook & StackExchange ‘break’ textarea expected behaviour

tl;dr Comments in Facebook and StackExchange sites now make enter submit the comment rather than enter a carriage return. In Facebook using shift-enter will force a carriage return. In StackExchange this will still be ignored as carriage returns aren’t rendered. Read on for full analysis of why these changes have been made and follow-on implications. So what’s the problem? Facebook and the StackExchange (SE) family of Q&A sites have both recently ‘broken’ the expected behaviour when typing in a textarea (a multi-line textbox). A notable feature of both sites is users commenting on questions or posts, entering their thoughts in Read More

Service disruption

The importance of data centre security and disaster recovery (DR) planning was highlighted following a recent incident at a Vodafone facility leading to a mobile network outage for customers in some regions for most of the day.  The accepted version of events at the time of writing from Vodafone is that “We had a break in last night at one of our technical facilities which resulted in damage done to some of our equipment“. Disaster Recovery Reflecting on what happened brings a few interesting thoughts to wholesale jerseys mind.  My first instinct was one of sympathy for Vodafone who didn’t Read More

Q: When is HTML5 not HTML5?

A: When it’s HTML. Confused? After the announcements of the last few days you have every right to ??????? be. I mentioned in my ‘about‘ page that I intended to write a series of posts looking at HTML5. To set the scene I had intended to start with a brief history of browsers and HTML implementations, working forward with detours into XHTML along the way before arriving at HTML5. Given the HTML5 publicity relating to the new logo, I think it’ll work better if I leap, Tarantino style, into the middle of the story, before a few flashbacks explaining the Read More

Who owns your data? (Is the public cloud losing its silver lining?)

Who owns your data? A large part of the hype about Web 2.0 is about the ‘cloud’ i.e. allowing a 3rd party company to look after your data for you (e.g. Hotmail, Google Documents) and potentially add value by allowing you to connect socially with others (e.g. photos stored in Facebook or Flikr). Your data is always available to you, from any HaCk3D PC (or mobile device) no matter where you are in the world and you’re protected against losing your data if your PC has problems. This cloud is turning out to have a dark lining, brought to attention Read More