The template is simple: Write generic advice that sounds nice, and is never controversial. Make sure it's super vague so you don't have to take any accountability for it, you can move the goalposts of what you're saying.
If we remove all the filler in this article (more or less the entire article), it amounts to "be okay at multiple things rather than trying to be good at something".
As per usual with incredibly vague life advice from unaccomplished people, this isn't always a good idea to apply. Being excellent at something (or at least very good) has its merits. For example, I don't want someone who can write "Hello, World!" in 30 programming languages. I want someone who understands even just one programming language inside and out, and really puts the effort into improving.
> "Every Skill You Acquire Doubles Your Odds Of Success"
No it doesn't.
Bonus points if you have a modal that pops up to sucker you into a free mailing list in hopes of converting you to an over-priced life advice seminar / program / book.
There is no secret bullet to productivity, and paying $197 for this snake oil salesman's course (how long do you want to bet that "sale" has been going on for?) is not going to help you. Eat well. Sleep. Maintain relationships with people you care about. Work hard, pay attention to what you're doing and think critically. That's all there is to it.
> "Read over 500 books"
Someone bragging about the number of books they read is hilarious.
Congratulations on $1.2m in revenue and a business degree, but that doesn't make you worth listening to.
That’s my takeaway.
For a lot of uninspired and uncreative people, it’s mostly about the 3rd question, and it’s money, just money...
And they probably subscribe to a blog saying to blog everyday, and that’s how you get poor quality, uninspiring blog.
Am I not supposed to be critical of my work, and review it not pulling any punches, without being economical with the Truth?
I don't argue with the main point, which is "broaden your skills."
But the rest is debatable and not such good advice. Some of the items given in the "skill list" used as an example are absolutely unusable as it. "writing"? writing what, there's a huge difference between being able to write novels and writing technical documentation for instance. I also have a grip on "productivity", that's not a skill, that's the ability to apply a skill. A better pragmatic definition of a marketable skill, I think, would be the ability to write it on your résumé, and only a subset of the ones discussed in the article fit this definition.
In technical terms, what you are suggesting is that the article is making a claim which is unfalsifiable. But actually it is falsifiable. All you have to do is find a person who has diverse skills but is unsuccessful.
Now, the author is probably just bullshittng things out of his fingers, an assumption I make based on the lack of any evidence being provided.
Nonetheless, since stackability and doubling at each turn mean you can trend toward 100% very quickly, then you can look at people you see as very successful, no matter what is your favorite measure of success, and observe for yourself.
Now I like “social impact” as a measure of success, but it’s a lot easier to go with “f’ing rich people” because data is being compiled every year by different business magazines. So when you take the list of Billionaires, you can realize that only one thing, sometimes two, where involved.
Now if someone would like to apply a statistical analysis to this, I think it would favor The null hypothesis, which is: there is no relation between the number of skills stacked and the amount of money in ones’ bank account
Also based on the author talking about "doubling probability". What does that even mean?
I know many people like this, but I suspect the No True Scotsman fallacy would get invoked.
It’d be a bit like me trying to sell myself as a master of multiple instruments.
> They’re clearly not skilled enough at their diverse skills
One of my skills is accurate predictions, it turns out.
Per the topic itself.
I tend to enjoy many things, so skillstacking is something I naturally pursue. My take on this topic, is just to create value as much as possible. Not just for others, but yourself as well. Things like learning new software, building tools people use, workshops you can use to make DIY projects, and long term relationships.
Sure there will be mistakes, you will write cringey things like "Read over 500 books" in your about page, but it's still progression. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.
Worked for Agile ducks
I'm selective in what I will devote a large amount of time doing. If I'm reading a book for something other than downtime enjoyment, I want to make sure it's a book that I will get something useful out of (bonus points to books that provide enjoyment and usefulness).
Breadth of knowledge is useful, but someone also needs depth in something.
Would anyone consider this being "ok" at 30 different things? That is just reductive to the point of not making any sense. In the scope the post is talking about "programming" would be one thing. So 30 different languages would be irrelevant. And being able to write only "hello world" would not even qualify as being "ok" at a programming language.
There, now your post has a Medium-worthy title.
Every blogger knows there is no money in "content mill" style writing. they publish this pseudo-self help stuff to generate leads for their ebooks and training seminars.
I believe the talent stack is a valid principle, but it doesn't just double your success if you go to toastmasters and learn how to present and at your job you have neither a commission nor any customer contact.
>> The more skills we have, the more odds we have to become successful. I like how Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, explains the concept of Skill Stacking ...
Now, I also picked up a bunch of other skills while I was there: visual design, interaction design, product design, empathy, management & leadership, some machine-learning & data science, distributed systems, how to approach a vaguely-defined problem with no clear answer and make forward progress on it, how to balance lunch & a drink on your laptop and show up late to a meeting without spilling, etc. And I had some skills from before Google: investing (professional, not just personal; I worked for a company that wrote software for hedge funds for 18 months), game design, compiler design, Django, even some PHP from my college days. And I've learned even more since leaving Google: entrepreneurship, corporate structure, identifying markets, Android development, iOS development, watchOS development, blogging, YouTube video production, Photoshop, how cryptocurrencies work, a lot more unstructured data mining & data science, what risk actually means, etc.
But when it comes to cold, hard economic returns, nothing seems to beat identifying an in-demand skill, doubling down on it until you're noticeably better than the vast majority of people a company will interview, and finding a wealthy buyer who will pay you for it. (On a corporate level, this translates to finding a growing and potentially large market, doubling down on it until you're noticeably better than every other company in that market, and finding a wealthy buyer who will pay you for it.) I kinda wish it wasn't so, because I really enjoy the learning-new-things part of life, and I enjoy learning hot new technologies or algorithms more than obscure proprietary frameworks in a megacorp. But people pay you for the portion of your skillset that is relevant to the problem they want solved, not the portion that is personally fulfilling.
I think it all comes down to the role and career path. Engineers that are specialized are way more interesting for large corporations, because they have a lot of engineers and most of them work on very specialized problems. A CTO of a tech startup should be a decent engineer, but with a much broader knowledge-base than someone, let's say, optimizing V8.
I'm currently finishing my master's degree and got a contract for after graduation for one of the best management trainee programs in Germany for a technical R&D management career path (the company has roughly 1 such position across all roles and departments for every 4000 employees) and it pays over 50% of the average starting salary. I see that as a very successful career start.
What made me interesting for the company wasn't just my internship/work experience as a software engineer (equivalent to about 2 years full-time work) that should place me among the top 10-20% of my fellow students, but my broader experience as a leader in several clubs. The best fit for the role wasn't someone specialized in engineering, but someone with a genuine interest in leading that is still capable and at least somewhat knowledgeable of software engineering.
My skills in hacking LaTeX to do my bidding or knowing the insides of Office Open XML format were absolutely irrelevant or only marginally emphasized that I can learn some niche stuff. Broadening your skillset only helps career success, when the learned skills supplement the requirements of the position.
I approve this message, Darius Foroux, and I encourage others to consider the trade-offs of "perfection" vs. "semi-rad".
(See: the Superstar effect for the most extreme examples. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Superstar_Effect)
How would the average workers or even ‘semi-rads’ in generally less lucrative fields like arts or cooking save enough for their retirements if they settle for that skill level?
(Mind you, I'm pretty sure Redzepi and Adria also know how to balance a checkbook...)
Also, most people in developing countries, i.e. most people in the world, do not have that option.
Indeed, the system is not perfect and the general outlook of it is pretty bad. But you still have a higher chance of getting a pension at 65 in Europe than in the US while being mediocre. Also don't forget automation, which I'd assume will trickle down to benefit the lower and middle European Class faster than it'll happen in the US.
Again, assumptions. The future is unsure for sure.
>Also, most people in developing countries, i.e. most people in the world, do not have that option.
Indeed. But most people on HN are usually from North America or WE, so you know... saying that is a bit disingenuous. You could say "most people are _dirt_ (emphasis on dirt) poor and cannot lift themselves out of poverty". Yes, most people in the world are like that, but we all know that for example this article is not directed at those sorts of people, but rather at "Westeners", who probably won't go hungry in their lives ever unless a major catastrophe happens.
They are basically paying current retirees with what the current employees are paying. A state-lead Ponzi Scheme.
The system will eventually implode.
Are they perfect? No, though.
Very valid question at the end.
No one can afford settling at moderate skill levels these days
Yeah, you'll enjoy life more if you're not working 100 hours a week like Elon Musk. But I think you'll be in general better off and happier if you push yourself.
I've always worked very hard at my career and it has paid off. I get to do lots of fun things as a result. It was hard in the moment to make the sacrifices, but that's water under the bridge now. Present and future me are very happy past me spent so much effort getting better.
That's the point. Learn to recognize when you've achieved a level of skill where you're qualified more than most, and don't have to double your effort and time to get to the pinnacle. The opportunity cost may not be worth it if you can otherwise spend it pursuing other interests.
I take it as a "whoa, slow down" message to overachievers that are sacrificing a well-rounded life on the alter of excellence. Maybe they can do more by widening their focus a bit.
> You simply have more chance of career success if you have more skills.
I think that depends on how one intends to apply those skills. Being a generalist means that you don't depend on any one particular skill to always keep you in demand, and you can do more on your own to do tasks that specialists need to do in groups. However, I think a group of specialists will always outperform a lone generalist. Because of that, I imagine specialists are in general more preferable in a company environment.
EDIT: I'm curious if there are people here that have chosen to practice a wide breadth of related skills, as opposed to lasering in to one very specific skill. Do you feel glad/happy about it, or have you regretted it?
EDIT 2: What is a generalist or a specialist is of course very relative. One's specialist is another's generalist. I also get the sense that, in the tech world, what is a specialist today, is a generalist tomorrow. Maybe that's just natural of an expanding industry.
At the company where I was the
dev lead, I first encountered outside consultants who were there to “help” us transform the company and “move us to the cloud”.
After realizing in hindsight how easy it was being a consultant - in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king - I realized that coming at AWS consultancy from the viewpoint of a software architect with some dev ops experience and some infrastructure experience I could be the two eyed king that may be had just a little blurry vision in one eye.
So, after changing jobs again last year, and taking a slight demotion (not in pay - in responsible) I’m on a four year journey to be a real “full stack consultant”. Someone who knows the front end well enough to talk to the front end guys, middleware (.Net/Node/Python) , databases, Linux, Docker, Devops, netops (at least on AWS) and maybe a project management certification.
There are a few gaps and a few more certifications I need, but I think I should have enough breadth as a consultant for the high paying jobs and enough depth to be your typical “full stack developer” to be able to land a job quickly.
I will see....
May I ask how much is the general pay in those “high paying jobs”?
But, outside the west coast and New York City. In most major cities in the US, a semi hands on software architect can make between around $125K - $150K. A consultant can make from $140K to $200K.
Do years of experience matter to make that kind of money?
But with diminishing returns. After 8-10 years. Any additional “years” of experience doesn’t matter. What you have done does.
I’ve officially been developing for over 20 years, but my first 12 years might as well been 3 years + 1 year doing the same thing 9 times.
Job hopping over the past 10 years has helped me make a lot more money but more importantly helped me learn a lot.
And by “consultant”, I mean the buzzwordy “implementation consultant”, “digital transformation consultant”, etc.
Yes I die a little every time I say it.
Reckon this is when most people establish their own business
Whether their clients tend to actually be familiar with the organisations endorsing or providing the Y certification I have no idea, but even if all it does is give them a warm fuzzy feeling, that's probably enough to make it worthwhile for the consultancy that wants their business.
I’m thinking about the AWS Big Data later, but I don’t have any practical experience in that area and I refuse to be a “paper tiger” collecting certifications with no practical experience and probably a project management certification because everyone has a PMP after their name in consultancy it seems like.
I would probably study for some type of Linux certification just to transition from the Microsoft ecosystem but whether I would spend the money to get it and keep it updated is another question.
In particular, to be an “Amazon Partner” your company has to have a certain number of certifications. It also helps to have some type of project management certification.
Your skepticism of certifications is well founded, I’ve come across many “paper tigers” who had certifications up the wazoo but couldn’t code/architect thier way out of a wet paper bag.
And the sword of Damocles hangs over my neck ever day. Worth it? Probably, but still not actually clear.
You seem to have an unlimited thirst for knowledge. I envy that at a personal level.
Especially if you want to.
- If I stuck with a focus on database programming from my early career, I would have a very valuable specialty.
- If I stayed more technical I probably would have weathered 2008 with more sanity.
- Being a generalist opened up some international work.
- I met my wife on a career tangent.
- I get bored doing the same thing over and over.
- My last two roles (in a long career) have finally pulled everything together.
> "But I know all these other things (that you don't care about)!"
Having the skills be related to each other is also key. If you can't mix the skills in what you're doing, in a way that no 2 specialists can easily coordinate, then that's not very useful.
I think it's a matter of making use of one's advantages, but it's probably true that it's easier for a specialist, if all they have to do is apply to well known organizations for employment, as opposed to starting a new business or applying to startups.
Now my interest is shifting to low-level computing and I'm getting my MS with a focus on high-performance computing and operating systems, but applying those principles to our cloud initiative (and after my MS is over, I plan to focus on hardware and electrical engineering MOOCs).
Where that'll take me (if anywhere), I have no idea. I occasionally regret not majoring in CS from the start and sometimes I think doubling down on the fullstack thing would be a more stable career move, but it's been a fun, weird ride and I plan to continue following my natural curiosity at least until stability becomes more of a requirement.
In short people skills, money/investing skills and work skills. You can't go wrong and the author is largely right.
Its always a mistake to assume that merely your programming skills will take you places, well may be if you are Jeff Dean.
If you are anybody else, people skills matter way above anything you can contribute anywhere. Corporations are large places, where your growth and development largely lie with the people you work with. Influencing, persuasion and in general a myriad of people skills are always what's going to make it rain. In most places what work you do is largely irrelevant to your bosses/stakeholders, in fact you could build the best possible software on earth, but their(bosses) salaries or careers aren't going to see much change because of that- There fore they largely don't care. You have to get them to like you, that's how career progress is going to come. On the same lines they can award you a good raise, a bonus or a promotion, nothing much is going to change in company financials. At their unit levels, the things they give you will largely vanish without a trace because they look at reports by a GROUP BY statement. So what does this mean? It means, while paying you great rewards they can hide you, however if you want these rewards you have to be visible to them in a good way.
There fore influencing, persuasion, psychology and range of people skills like Charisma play a huge role in career growth. No mater where you are. This is a whole different skill set which unfortunately most don't even know exists.
The other ones are obvious. It always helps if you have good skills in the work you do. Always read books on the state of the art, do projects which are in trend etc etc.
And personal finance, of course. Because the money you earn has to be useful to you.
While I agree with a lot of the author's statements, that part is wrong in my opinion. I think it is more along the lines of:
- every skill has a value
- some skills complement each other
The value probably rises exponentially with the progress (similar to how much effort you have to invest, to reach a skill level). So having many shallow skills is probably not as valuable as being very good at one thing. Likewise being more skilled than the average (median) person on multiple skills can result in a high value.
In essence: If you want to reach a good value/effort ratio spend your time on a skill set and not just on a single skill.
Being a generalist is great in terms of broadening you career options, at an early stage anyway. But until you truly master something most of the higher tier opportunities remain closed to you.
These opportunities are much rarer and often not advertised. But the competition is also less intense and arbitrary. It is also in human nature to enjoy getting better at something. This path is actually not as hard as people think, and way more fun than keep picking up new mediocre skills.
- Advertising graduate, ex copy writer, ex music producer, ex bartender, ex journalist writer, QA analyst, now self-taught programmer, now kind of in testing automation and managing infrastructure and devops.
Future is bright