Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (nytimes.com)
546 points by gerbilly on June 4, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 244 comments

I feel strongly about this topic because I'm at the point in my career where I've done several different positions instead of getting better at one and I'm wondering if I made a mistake.

I started off in the software field as a developer. I've been in the software field for almost 10 years but I've only actually spent two years as a full time developer. I've also done project management, product management, marketing, customer support, and management. I find myself struggling to fill one of those individual roles because I don't have the same level of experience as those who have dedicated themselves to those for the full ten years.

I'm currently a VP of Engineering for a small company. I know most would probably say that I've made it, but I'm looking for my next opportunity and struggling. It's hard to get a job at a larger (200+ employee) company as each role filled is expected to be specialized and focused. At a smaller company or startup, though, I kick the crap out of anyone else applying because I know so much more about the business in general and can wear many different hats.

In addition, I feel a strong benefit is that my experience enhances my ability in each other role. For instance, if I'm working on a marketing email campaign, I can use my developer skills to pull relevant data from the application that helps me focus my targeting. If I'm developing, I will specifically build small helpful tools for customer support and marketing departments because I already know what they want and they don't know they can have it. It takes a small amount of time but provides a big value.

I would probably also have a leg up on starting my own business compared to someone who has a deep specialized knowledge of enterprise level applications but no idea how to put together a customer support and good user experience.

Still, we are always looking at the greener grass, and there are times when I wish I could just apply for a senior developer role at a larger company and focus on one thing. Somehow, I don't think that my lack of React experience will be made up for by letting them know that I will be able to directly interact with the customers or set up marketing campaigns. They already have 5+ people doing those things.

I would suggest not reading too much in these self-help books. NYT, WSJ etc have great "relationship" with high-end publishers who propel several poorly researched myths but written in very appealing way. Self-help books are amazing amazing business netting 10s of millions of dollars in book sells per book. These publishers also know what sells: bottle a simple advise that is rather naive but has lots of anecdots and make claims to have found magic formula to make anyone insanely successful at everything. Entire self-help industry is disgusting because they take advantage of human vulnerability to the maximum extent with full knowledge of what they are doing. To some, it serves purpose of getting inspired for a week or month for $20 and that's their best outcome.

The main topic discussed in this book, i.e. breadth vs depth is perenial delima also recasted in multiple forms such as exploitation vs exploration. There is no magic bullet in one side or another. The art of getting somewhere is very delicate balance between two. The best approach that has worked for people is either get lucky or find people who have made mistakes, analyze their mistake and, of course, get little bit less lucky.

Absolutely spot on w.r.t. "Self-Help" movement. It has become a scam similar to all the Leadership/Marketing/Sales BS. Store bookshelves are full of these sort of books with claims that beggars belief. A little thought will show that there are so many interacting factors in any endeavour that there can be no quick, easy, ready-made and always-true solutions. And yet everybody is sold this juvenile crap and it is further propagated without appeal to skepticism. Any real progress due to actual research is further obscured by turning everything into "sound-bites" because the average person is considered "dumb" and cannot grasp nuanced ideas with assumptions and limitations. This toxic mindset has pervaded our entire society and does not forebode well for our future.

Yep and anyone reading with a bit of critical thinking skills will quickly discover they have one or two simple premises / theses and then 500 pages of fluff repeating it over and over.

Those generalist qualities can be very valuable at a large company, if you can handle the politics. Main thing is you probably will have a hard time going in through the front door as there are generally too many gatekeepers filling checkboxes. You need to go through the hiring manager or leadership recruiting directly to be able to tell your story to people who will get it.

This is great advice. Generalists have to engender a high degree of trust before they are considered reliable for some set of tasks, and if no one at the company knows you then it will be hard for you to demonstrate your skill set effectively. Telling the story of how you got those skills to management (and having good references to back it up) is pretty much the only way to gain that trust without already being in their network.

this. so. much.

I am a consultant, and i go through this process every new project. It isn't just getting a new job, its about new projects too at the same company.

Even after you got in, since a large company already has people filling all those roles, than you need to get into other people's business/territory.

It sounds really hard, politically.

I can barely pass technical bars because the last few times I interviewed I didn't understand the game well enough, but the second I'm in anywhere I start to get massive amounts of work done and make projects succeed on less code simply because my non-dev experience.

All big companies need and hopefully develop some people who are like this - its certainly part of the role I and few others had as the GOTO fixers.

This could vary from finding /building a pc for a new start when some one had forgotten to order a pc for them, fixing the BACS tape, doing initial deployments of systems including taking enough kit with us to build a network in case that had been forgotten.

The most interesting one was cracking nt4 to break into a client system - I got a break just on a power mac and didn't need to actually use all our sun workstations after ours to run a distributed attack (BT security / Squirrels) might have not been to happy (yes I did get authorisation)

I'm surprised no one has asked this, but why don't you just go and work for a startup (or small company)? You mention that you are well positioned for a role where you have many different responsibilities.

Another option is that you can start your own (you mention this too). It doesn't have to be solo. From the experience you describe, it seems like you could partner with a technical cofounder and really compliment their skills. There's a lot to gain from experience like that and it can open the door to a lot of opportunities in the future that you don't know about right now.

You haven't made a mistake. You can provide a lot of value to an organization. You just have to find the right opportunity where you can do so.

Maybe they want a higher total comp than $200-250k/yr. If they were a Director or VP at a big public company, they could easily bring in $500k+/yr TC.

Can speak from experience. My whole career has been in startups, and it's been great. But I just accepted an offer at Google. I expect to be bored out of my mind at work, but having WLB and making $400k+ a year -- without having to worry about getting a new job -- will be quite nice. I think it's a decent trade off.

But it's kind of sad that the place where I can get the most value is seemingly the place where my skills will be utilized the least. It just seems... strange.

> But it's kind of sad that the place where I can get the most value is seemingly the place where my skills will be utilized the least. It just seems... strange.

Think of it like this: The kinds of lawyers who get a lot of "on retainer" type work are the best ones. Because those people will not often utilize those lawyers, but they want to make sure they're available when needed, because when needed, they need the best of the best and they need them now.

Google is treating you the same way. They want to make sure they best of the best are available for them when needed, and not available for anyone else. By paying you $MAX_COMP, they ensure that you're there when they need you, and its a cost that is worth it to them. They hope that you do some great things for them in the interim.

I've noticed that the majority of my economic output so far has happened over a handful of weeks. The problem is that nobody had any idea when those golden weeks would happen: there always had to be some big problem that I was uniquely qualified to solve, and those don't just come along every day.

Your reasoning sounds right.

Not just reserving someone for themselves, but when your fingers are in enough pots, they’re unavailable to help a competitor and work against you.

Like buying a perfectly functioning goldmine, only to close it solely to drive up the price of gold.

But really, why be bored? If you find yourself bored, just use the new resources you have at your disposal to do something interesting! Being part of a large company comes with a number of benefits, whether it's access to smart folks, or access to IP, or access to infrastructure, etc etc ... you have an opportunity in front of you. Use it!

This is true. Thanks for the motivation. I'm hoping that I can pair with someone for the 20% time to try to launch a new project and satisfy my appetite for "starting up".

If you intend to find meaning in your 20% time I would advise you to find a way to make your project fit in to some greater picture outside the company. The FOSS community has seen a lot of side projects come out of Google and wither in a world that can’t really take advantage of them. Finding collaborators within Google should be a lower priority. It’s not quite as self-directed but you still have great latitude in choosing what to do and a better shot at making an impact on the world.

I didn’t think 20% time was still a thing?

It is. Most people don't have a 20% project though. It means less time to work on the things that might get you promoted.

But you can have one of you want one.

Sounds like you have internal knowledge of this process ... how does it work, do you have to formally tell your boss that your fridays will be spent on 20% time? do they need to give you permission? or do you just have to sneak the time in at your discretion?

The normal way it works is you accept a 20% role from another team. Teams post 20% opportunities in the same way they post transfer opportunities internally. You talk to the hiring manager and see if they'd like to "hire" you.

A common reason people do 20% work is to test the waters of another area of the company. It's also a kind of tryout for you.

You do tell your manager in this case, yes. They're not supposed to say no. Hard to say what the range of responses is in practice. In my experience managers are supportive of this.

Apologies upfront if this is a bit uncouth but if you don't mind my asking; what job are you doing which pays you $400,000 a year as a salaried employee?

I'm in europe, I guess we are a bit behind on the pay scales but that's an absolutely incredible amount of money to me; I'm genuinely curious what you're being paid to do for that level of compensation...

This is just for a regular SWE position at Google. The pay there is banana town. I'm glad to be a part of it.

Not for regular SWE. Def for one of the better ones.

SWE? Software engineer? What kind of software? For 400k I suspect you're not working on a CRUD ;)

I think CRUD gets an undeserved low reputation on HN.

A CRUD ceases to be a CRUD when one is dealing with Google-like scale and/or arbitrarily complex requirements behind each of those letters in the acronym!

I expect at Google scale C,R,U and D are each a separate specialized domains.

to own a house in mountain view.

Take a look at this table: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/20-companies-profit-per-emp...

There are no European companies on the list.

Companies that make enormous profits per employee can pay top employees a lot of money.

When people wonder why Americans work so much part of the reason is that these people desperately want to make it to the top where the rewards are lucrative. Is this rational? Probably not, because the top seems to get smaller in every field and most don't make it.

Also take a look at the BigLaw Profits per Partner. Top equity partners can make $4 million+ because they are at the top of a pyramid. Mostly this is in the US

Bored at google? Good luck.. there is so much to learn if you look.

Not using all of your skills can be a concern but you will gain new skills.


So... not that I think it's necessarily easy but how did you score such a lucrative gig at google? How can I do the same? Do they hire generalists? Thanks.

I'm a generalist as well. I can't help you out too much. It's mostly luck.

If you study Cracking the Coding Interview, and you know that book inside and out, and you feel confident you can solve all of the questions in it (you can ignore the Java/C++ stuff if you're not applying for one of those jobs) -- you have a /chance/ to get hired.

But there's lots of smart people with those skills who fail the interview every day.

Just wanted to say thanks for your reply. This (CtCI) seems to be the most frequent advice. I guess I'll get cracking (ha!).

I think for many people, in particular people who are looking for personal development rather than just compensation, the difference between 200k and 400k is probably not meaningful.

Personally, I don't think I'd ever give up a software engineering job for a managerial position even if the compensation was higher.

> the difference between 200k and 400k is probably not meaningful.

Where these compensation packages are given so frequently (SV), it is very meaningful. It's the difference between being able to buy a home vs being forced to rent a 1-bedroom apartment.

And/or the difference between working for another 20 years while paying the mortgage, or stacking your extra cash and retiring in 10.

I'm not sure I understand your meaning. Are you saying that buying a house delays retirement? I'm not sure that is really true.

Mortgage payments gets you equity on your home, which goes a long way in retirement. Rent payments disappear, and you will have to continue to pay rent when retired.

They're saying if you make more then there's potential to save more and retire early.

Right, this, sorry if it wasn't clear. It all depends on how much extra you have. I mean, if 200k is just making ends meet, 400k means infinitely larger savings!

Well, in some cases it's considered a career change and not a promotion. In which case you might not even be paid more... :)

This is very similar to my own experience. Most of my career was at small startups doing generalist things. So I could get back into that job very easily. But going to a large public company can give a 50% comp boost, but job with more restricted scope.

I have similar struggles (double digit years in my career). I've always worked at smaller companies being the jack-of-all-trades. Given the work no one else could, would, or was entrusted to do. I get plagued by recruiters and companies just about every single day from both large tech companies to younger and startups. At almost all the big companies I get onsite at the feedback I get is I'm stronger in one area, and need to work more on another area or I'm not as strong in a specific area they wanted. At this point I feel like I'm stuck grinding LeetCode for the rest of my life to find my way in to these larger companies.

Nothing wrong with smaller companies and startups, but the pay increase and resources available in a larger company are something I would like to experience. Getting my foot in the door is a frustration though.

I have had a lot of smaller company experience (LI in profile in case you want to verify :) ). I got into large companies two times (and then left later, but that's not relevant).

Both times it was as a contractor. The first time I was employed by a body shop as just simple staff augmentation. This was in the 2000s, but I believe they are still around. I think if I'd wanted to convert to full time it would have been a process, but I definitely got to meet employees and managers from the bigco (and connect to them on linkedin).

The second time was in the mid 2010s when a friend was at a big company (his startup had been acquired and then acquired again). The friend was able to intro me directly to the hiring manager's manager. We had a friendly conversation, I had a quick tech screen and they brought me in. That would have been no trouble at all to convert to FTE (in fact they had a conversation with me that began with, paraphrasing: "how much do you like money?").

I think the best way into a larger company as a generalist beyond the early stage of their career is an acquihire, but the second best is as a contractor. Risk is lower all around (well, except for you).

I never understood why larger companies do this, I.e. either early stage of your career or as a contractor (with some possibility to FTE) and not as directly to FTE if you're a generalist. Companies do at-will employment, but I guess it is difficult to let go without evidence (I.e. performance reviews) though I'm not really sure.

When some of the contractors went FTE at a previous role, their salaries dropped dramatically (though they were paying for their own health insurance through an agency).

I'm a generalist with a longer career and similar-ish pattern to you who has worked with mostly large organizations, but I ran and sold my family's small engineering business, and have kept coding for myself in multiple ways the whole time.

I would not assume that individuals working as specialists for 10 years in a field are actually specialists. Too frequently I encounter individuals who have plateaued while their peers have actually become true specialists. There are many reasons why this happens, but rightly or wrongly, many specialists aren't what you might think they are. I'm sure a lot are actually anxious about their own abilities.

I'd personally suggest evaluating whether you are able to better set boundaries. Making a progressive change to your role is often a possibility but it needs understanding and navigation. That way you can keep what you like and get more of what you want. Switching to just being a senior developer as you've framed it might not be actually what you want, and there are alternatives to get what you want.

On starting your own business you have to come to terms with not doing everything. If you are successful you will get away from anything that is originally fun and desirable. A senior developer mentors folks and derives satisfaction from that activity. The trade-off is often less focused coding and delivery. They are technical leaders with more flexibility in how their work may look.

Your observation on running a business is good, but the key is the feelings that you'll have. If you are too tied actually doing particular tasks versus running a business you'll not be able to succeed. Also, be careful about putting down enterprise app developers. They often have a side gig outside of work that the stability enables. They also know how certain parts of big businesses function which would give your business a leg up. Startup people have good talk about product-market fit, but there are many companies you don't hear about being acquired which involve some enterprise software product that a startup would never land on. That said, the upsides to the approach are different.

The larger the organization (private sector or not), the more likely it is to favor specialists, not least because smaller organizations simply cannot allow most of the people to be specialists (there aren't enough of them to do all the things).

So, if you want positions at large organizations, there will be more demand for specialists, and the reverse is true with small organizations. Whether you made a "mistake" or not, depends on whether you would rather work at small organizations, or large ones.

Note: yes, there are a minority of generalists at large organizations, and a few specialists at small ones, but the percentages are very different.

Working at a company who transitioned from startup to large company, the thing I see a lot of "just get shit done" startupy type people get killed on is that they can't just go do things themselves. They have to build consensus and get other teams to do the work for them. Once can see this as politics. One can also see this as leveraging large groups of employees to get work done.

The other big one I see is that at a certain point companies can afford to shift from "duct tape it till we get funding" to "we have funding, we can spend time engineering solutions." Which also means that they go slow, write way more docs, etc.

It seems strange to me to call [developer, PM, marketing, support, management] anything other than a progression of increasing specialization. It looks like a perfectly straightforward path from individual contributor to executive. Everything listed here sounds like some aspect of software creation. I would certainly hope that a VP/Eng has had experience with actual development! Surely nobody assumes that you should have started out your career as a VP/Eng?

I must be what the author calls "a well-rounded mediocrity", because my career path is nowhere near as direct as that, if I could be said to have a career at all.

I would say that your issue is not to do with generalist vs specialist, its more to do with where you are in your career and how much you contribute. Once you are above a VP level you are no longer a good candidate if your resume lists "proficient in react" as a skill. Its more important to showcase what company level changes are you able to drive. For example your CV should have achievements like - grew the team from size x to y, end to end ownership of a key feature of the product that was able to drive sales by x%, etc.

On these lines generalists "generally" win. I find that when people talk about generealists vs specialists they focus more on number of things they can do. But its more important how you define the skill. You knowing and correctly identifying the data set for marketing team is way more valuable than actually being responsible for querying and putting the data together. Personally I try to spend more time on defining my tasks clearly, so that I can maximise my impact on the organisation. Hopefully this framework is of some help and you can relate to it. All the best friend!

I disagree with the article as well. Whenever I stumble upon really good engineers they are for the most part hyper specialized in what they do.

I would like to add that after I stopped saying yes to everything, my career took a upward trend. It wasn't until I said: you know what I'm python-django specifically django developer, and won't do anything else, that I started getting progressively better jobs in the area I'm actually an expert on.

Then there is the business cut cost part of it, which annoys the hell out of me. Most managers will (conveniently) tell you should be open to learning new things, because "personal growth"... the reality of the situation is that you will end up over working yourself to death covering responsibilities that should be for a new team mate.

Can you elaborate on the upward trend? You mean like going to Senior, Principal, etc.? I feel like saying yes to everything ultimately just moves you to the business side / customer side, which eventually leads to budgetary control over a larger group.

Ultimately in my experience titles mean nothing, right now officially I'm just "software engineer", you can be a CTO in a 2 man company, which is cool I guess but it really doesn't mean much.

What I mean with upward trend is that I can negotiate conditions like benefits (remote, insurance etc... ) and a better salary, etc..

I’m a generalist and it is awesome!

When I get bored I rewrite my cv and maybe skill up a bit on my own time (or at work) and re-emerge as a new xxx

I’ve gone from support to ops to development to ops to development to devops and I can tell you that I am 100 times more valuable in any role than someone who has specialised for ten years in the same role.

Being a generalist rules, embrace it and get with it just decide what you want to do next and make it happen.


Is that really a generalist, though?

In my mind a generalist is someone who e.g. knows quant finance up to hedge fund snuff and knows how to configure wsgi/asgi servers with nginx; can read and rebate legal documentation and use an SMT solver. I don't feel that anyone who hasn't eg watched the recent Jordan Peterson/Slavoj Zizek debate and has a working understanding of Ripser and UMAP can call himself a generalist.

> Anyone who hasn't eg watched the recent Jordan Peterson/Slavoj Zizek debate

I watched that debate and found it a tedious rehashing of tired old talking points and straw men criticisms of Capitalism/Marxism. To use that in any way of a yardstick of intellectual depth seems odd.

Did you, though?

The first hour was Jordan Peterson making a hacky point that capitalism is good and communism's not and Zizek doing Keith Jarret-type improv touching on a thousand topics. Then in the actual debate rounds Zizek got Jordan Peterson to agree with him.

It was an actual debate. There was a winner and not in the sense of a rap battle. The loser was happy to have had it.

"generalist" is opposing "specialist" and doesn't mean "everythingist". Someone who has done some full-stack dev, has run some marketing campaigns, and can kick out usable graphic design work when needed is a generalist (not an incredible one, but one nonetheless). What you're describing, if not a difference in kind (i.e. something other than generalist), is absolutely a significant difference of degree to the tune of the difference in degree between a mediocre junior software engineer fresh out of college and a 10x (in practice) senior software engineer with years of experience. They're absolutely not appropriate for the same set of jobs, but they absolutely are both "software engineers".

Why is the term "generalist" so tightly constrained in your mind?

>...where I've done several different positions instead of getting better at one and I'm wondering if I made a mistake.

Allow me to try to help alleviate that mistake feeling. :)

I specialised the feck out of my role[s] over the last x > decade, becoming an "expert" in Exchange in a FAANG (one guess as to which one).

It got to the point where I was debugging native code issues in Windows and making code changes to the Exchange product (as a whole), which was distributed across the world.

Now, during this time, the "cloud" went from being a niche thing to being the predominant player in the market. So, whilst I was !pde.deep in a thread, people were learning CI/CD, Azure, AWS, etc.

So, imagine my dismay at having one day been asked to seek opportunities elsewhere and, resultantly, coming to find the descriptions and requirements for "Software Developer" or "SRE" positions in the "real world".

Niche skills are good because they take years to develop and you learn skills that can help you understand/rationalise other areas that you may not have gotten before that experience occurred - but those skills can also become antiquated, quite quickly.

No one's looking for anyone who can debug native or managed software clients, anymore. No one's even looking for SDETs, anymore, it seems.

In other words, on paper, code changes/fixes that have been delivered to millions of people might be somewhat impressive but the lack of any CI/CD in production use (because other teams owned that) means an even more glaring "hole" in my experience - that someone else has and could more easily fill that role.

Companies want "right now", not "has the potential to learn this skill very easily and very quickly".

So, I had to have a huge learning curve transitioning back to the common market (and that's not a complaint, by the way, just an observation), which hindered my ability to obtain gainful employment for quite some time.

So, don't think of it as a mistake. Compared to you, I think that I've made the mistake: I'm envious of those who shifted around the start-ups and amassed quite a bit of skills, which made them far more relevant and marketable to the current market.

whether you made it or not depends on what you want. you clearly have the capacity go whatever direction you prefer, so don't judge yourself based on other people's opinions. obviously you can't have everything at the same time, but the question is exactly this one: if you had to choose, would you go in the same direction again? yeah, there's always the "what if I had done this...", but if you are satisfied with what you are doing now, then you are making it. maybe tomorrow you change your mind, but hey, that will be another day.

Wouldn't you be bored with a specialist position in one company? I get bored when doing the same thing for too long. That's usually around the 2 years mark.

I've done a lot of Rails then dived deep into mobile dev (native iOS & Android). I also dealt a bit with embedded and ended up as the bridge between a taiwanese team and a french one. Contractor life can be interesting :p

As you, I sometimes wish I could just stay in one role in a bigger company but I feel like I would not be able to fit in a box for long.

Just picked up a book called "The Second Mountain" by David Brooks. It's a shot in the dark but may actually help with the struggling you are having with your next opportunity. I'm 13 years in my job (same company!) and feel exactly the same as you. I feel like it's time for my next "trick" so hoping to find it soon.

From my experience job-seeking and hiring, it depends entirely on the culture created by the founders/chiefs, which in turn depends on their own style of skill cultivation. If they are generalists, they will likely value their ability as generalists and that of others, same for specialists. I have specialized in programming, but I am definitely a generalist, and all my best fits (including my current employer) have been working under and alongside fellow generalists at small companies. I specifically say small companies because there aren’t already teams of specialists and even the one or two existing specialists will usually appreciate anyone’s interest/help.

How would I reach you? How about you reach me. I’m looking for generalists at all skill levels.

I'm still reading the article, but I stopped halfway to point this out:

Remember the ‘10,000 Hours’ Rule for Success? Forget About It

They should not have said that. I don't know whether 10K is the actual number, but I got good at two things that I was never naturally good at, simply through years of brute force repetition: coding and writing.

I was never a born hacker -- I struggled with Visual Basic when I was 21. But 15 years and maybe 300,000 lines of code later, I have an extremely high degree of proficiency in both C++ and JavaScript, with a good level of proficiency in Java, Python and Golang. I was extremely bad at writing. So much so my fingers used to sweat when I came to the essay section of any test. But after about a decade of keeping a personal journal, I would like to think I write rather well.

Anecdotal yes, but speaking personally, I would not discount the 10,000 hours concept.

Unlike what this review seems to imply, the author of the book doesn't actually discount that concept - he says it's true for a certain kind of activity, one with reliable feedback, such as programming. Quote from the interview I linked:

"The way that chess works makes it what's called a kind learning environment. So, these are terms used by psychologist Robin Hogarth. And what a kind learning environment is, is one where patterns recur; ideally a situation is constrained--so, a chessboard with very rigid rules and a literal board is very constrained; and, importantly, every time you do something you get feedback that is totally obvious--all the information is available, the feedback is quick, and it is 100% accurate. Right? And this is chess. And this is golf. You do something: all the information is available; you see the consequences. The consequences are completely immediate and accurate. And you adjust accordingly. And in these kinds of kind learning environments, if you are cognitively engaged you get better just by doing the activity. On the opposite end of the spectrum are wicked learning environments. And this is a spectrum, from kind to wicked. Wicked learning environments: often some information is hidden. Even when it isn't, feedback may be delayed. It may be infrequent. It may be nonexistent. And it maybe be partly accurate, or inaccurate in many of the cases. So, the most wicked learning environments will reinforce the wrong types of behavior."

That is actually discussed in this review (kind versus wicked learning environments). It just isn't at the top of the article because it's not as catchy.

Would you count coding as a kind or a wicked environment? To me, it seems wicked - standards change, you switch languages, frameworks come and go. On the same token, it could be 'kind' if you isolate yourself to one or two robust languages (i.e. your career is built on C++).

Coding is the kindest learning environment mankind has ever known.

Constructing valid experiments in software development is incredibly easy. Add an assert, recompile, and see if it gets triggered.

We programmers consider it unacceptably painful if testing a hypothesis takes ten minutes.

Real life is never that clean or easy.

Will it compile takes 10 minutes. Is this good long term design or am I building a castle on quicksand takes much longer.

That's a very good point.

Even for that, though, if you define your criteria for success, it's mostly possible to measure the outcomes and learn whether your approach was successful or not. One key there is remembering that subjective metrics are valid - user happiness and developer happiness are two of the most useful ones I know of for measuring the system's overall health and effectiveness, and while they're not objective, they can still be measured reasonably quickly and regularly.

For fields like public policy, though, there are just so many confounding factors and the timeframes are so long that it becomes nightmarish, maybe even impossible, to genuinely learn anything. The subjective metrics of citizen happiness and functionary happiness that are analogous to my software ones above are worthless because of rollout times measured in years or decades and the infinite array of factors, confounding and otherwise, that go into people's satisfaction with society.

Even relatively straightforward things like farming have learning cycles measured in years for things like crop rotations.

The universe is just not a friendly learning environment.

Programming is an aberration in almost every respect, as a product of the human mind that can actually have useful impacts in the world (most friendly environments are human constructs that are not "useful" per se, like board games or musical performance or sports).

That's definitely less kind, and it's a huge problem in practice. I think it's still not that bad -- people can and do get much better at designing things for medium- to long-term maintenance over the course of a few years.

>Will it compile takes 10 minutes.

That's a sign something is wrong.

He meant it will take a short amount of time to write and then compile, not that the compilation takes 10 minutes.

Coding - kind, software engineering - wicked.

Coding is something you can learn on your own with a tool, some books or manuals, and time. The compiler provides a lot of feedback, debuggers and manuals give you a lot of information to develop your skillset. A few books on algorithms and data structures and specific domains (like graphics or network) will get you to a solid point as a programmer.

But developing systems that are high quality, multi-component, interacting with other complex systems, and sustainable is another thing altogether. It is costly, tradeoffs are sometimes non-intuitive, and you probably need to have a mentor or a good work environment to really get skilled at it, or the right kind of analytical mind. But you'll still have a lot of failures along the way and need to develop a lot of different skills.

Nah, even that is extremely kind, unless you never see how your program is doing a few years later.

Usually you get feedback within 1/2 a year. That complicated search system with your own fantastic DSL an absolute nightmare to modify? Kind feedback. Your system works fine with 100 users but falls over with 10,000? Kind feedback. You used a trendy new js framework that disappeared 2 years later? Kind feedback.

And better still our industry has tons of people who write lots of books or do podcasts or do conferences where they talk about how their projects went wrong, and how they fixed them. Whether it was the GoF design patterns, or Code Complete or one of the many others.

To me, all of that is clearly kind feedback.

Coding is kind. The dichotomy is based on feedback availability, quality, and delay. While the environment does change over time, it continues to be kind: 99% of the time, you're able to hit compile and see instantaneous, accurate feedback. Doesn't matter which language, framework, or standard you're using (except maybe Malbolge). Even debugging is kind save perhaps for heisenbugs, but that's a bit of a stretch to declare the whole field a wicked environment.

I disagree with the other responses. I think it's both. You can get very quick results and feedback for experiments related to implementation. Code compiles or doesn't, tests pass or they fail. But whether you actually built the correct thing is definitely "wicked." A lot of times subtle bugs and user feedback surface weeks or months after the fact. It can be very hard to find out whether what you did worked for the business need, which is ultimately the main point of the job.

It depends, in some regards it's kind as the results are seen immediately (is a path bringing more or less compilation errors, etc), whereas as in others it takes time to see if the decision you made was good or bad (did the architecture you chose scale).

Once you code for long enough, every language begins to look the same and it becomes easy to switch. I have worked full time with PHP, JS, Java, Python, Objective C, and C++. That's at both multiple startups and at a FAANG.

In fact, if you choose one strongly typed language and one weakly typed to know in depth (eg Java and JS) it's really easy to move to others.

The trap that people fall into is that they focus too much on learning the ins and outs of a framework and not the important concepts. Or they are stuck in a problem domain that's very thin on CS concepts, like web dev or frontend dev. You don't learn concepts that make it easy to transition.

From my own experience, focusing on CS and math (esp. stats) and systems programming have made it really easy to move around.

It has helped that in the last 10 years most of the languages have converged to an extent.

Like before things like generics and lambda expressions C#/Java were quite different to Python/Ruby, and js used to be quite an abysmal language but with some nice features nothing else had (still is an awful language to an extent). I think C# 2.0 and 3.5 really changed that language for the better, Java spent a lot of time getting to the C# 3.5 level.

And I remember a time when C++ was almost incomprehensible if you'd never worked in it, but now it seems to be a lot less daunting as you've got bridging languages like Rust and Go.

I must admit I've still no interest in Haskell/F#/etc. I tried Lisp about 10 years ago and it just seemed such a pain, for me I find imperative programming so much easier to map out complex interactions in my head. I also find set based programming like SQL very easy. But functional, ugh.

Agreed, I feel like most languages have converged into some kind of variant of C#. Even JS, if you count Typescript.

For multithreading, I would take functional over imperative any day though. The multithreaded code I write in Java ends up looking like functional code by way of chaining futures, but it is still hindered by the use of shared memory and synchronization (or lack thereof).

I enjoy C++, and the additions in C++ 11 and 14 are mostly good ones. But they don't do anything to make the language more approachable IMO.

neat, that's how i basically intuit the difference between playing basketball and working. feedback in basketball is immediate and (mostly) obvious; not so in many work environments. basketball for me is like a microcosm of work (working in teams, varying skillsets, differing tactics, etc), which leads directly to my oft-reliance on basketball analogies at work. =)

Interesting paradigm. It's like wicked learning environments are the SLAM of life.

Curious, how do you think a decade of journaling has made you a better writer? Most writing advice heavily features feedback, from peers, instructors, friends, editors, and so on. But journaling almost by definition prevents that. And it's not like hoisting jumpers in basketball -- you don't really know if you "made the shot" in writing, no? In the article's language, writing seems like a very wicked environment.

Not the OP, but one of the hardest parts of writing (at least initially) is simply knowing how to take the thoughts in your head and put them into words. This is a skill that just takes practice, and improvements to it are fairly obvious even without external feedback—you become much faster and your writing starts to sound better and flow more smoothly.

Source: Someone who struggled with writing and became better with practice. :)

Edit: I just want to point out that getting better at "writing" in the broadest sense is very different than getting better at specific kinds of writing, like academic or journalistic, where particular patterns are important and much more difficult to self-teach.

All you say is 100% true, at least in my own experience as well.

But none of that means you will be able to reach a certain audience. Although I have to say, I care very little about that. Good technical writing which is appreciated by my colleagues -- and being eloquent and expressive in casual conversations -- is good enough for me.

I don't know how to explain it, only that it worked. If I had to guess, I got feedback from my future self. I would often read my old journal entries, and notice errors and improvements that I would not have noticed at the time. That, I suppose, is how I know I've improved. I also read a lot, so each year I learn more about what good writing looks like and therefore have a progressively improving basis of comparison for my journal entries.

Edit: I'm not a native speaker of English.

I think often you do know, because your taste is better than your abilities, just from reading other people's work. Knowing that you made the shot might be hard, but knowing that you definitively missed it often isn't.

Relevant quote by Ira Glass: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/309485-nobody-tells-this-to...

Editors won’t help if you cannot get words on the page.

The original author is saying success, not proficiency. There's plenty of programmers who didn't end up like John Carmack. Defining success is pretty difficult. I generally agree with everything you're saying though, and it's hard to say any good programmer won't be nominally successful in their own right. Any skill-based career will enable someone to be employable, which in 2019 is more successful than average.

The counter argument is that trade-crafts (of which I include programming) are one of the clearest examples of different people have vastly difference proficiencies in the lower tiers of skill outside mastery.

The 10k hours rule is actually a misunderstanding from a paper on violin practice by Anders Ericsson. An error that the author himself explains in his book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. It doesn't mean that you can't learn something to mastery in 10k hours or less. It just means that 10k hours is kind of an invented number. Some skills require more time, some less, but all of them require purposeful practice.

The 10k rule is falling out of social favor nowadays, as are most systems of thinking that suggest success requires hard work and (most importantly) persistence.

"If hard work pays off, show me a rich donkey."

Persistence will make you a master in a skill -- and you can do it almost subconsciously afterwards.

It doesn't give you a broader culture and overview of the world though. Or at least, it rarely does.

> ”If hard work pays off, show me a rich donkey."

What a weird analogy, as if spending all night pointlessly digging hole in your background correlates with wealth. Though I think if you did have the grit to do that you will find success in many endeavors.

It takes hard work to go from nothing to something. People doing the hard work are not confused about what’s meaningful.

"What a weird analogy"

Not sure why you find it weird. There are a lot of hard working people out there. And very few of them ever go "from nothing to something" as you put it.

I don’t know where the concept of meaningless physical and mentally hard work — regardless of its effect or purpose — is somehow guaranteed to produce wealth comes from. I don’t know anyone who believes that.

You don't, but here in Eastern Europe most of the working people I know absolutely believe exactly that.

Around here "work smart, not hard" is a mind-blowing revelation for many. And it bears repeating since people forget it regularly.

> It takes hard work to go from nothing to something. People doing the hard work are not confused about what’s meaningful.

If that were true, every startup would be successful.

As opposed to success not being predicated on hard work and perseverance? I think if that were true there would be many more successful startups.

I have always liked the saying that "the only place success comes before work is in a dictionary". It's clearly not entirely accurate, because of course you can gain advantages through something like inheritance that look a lot like being successful, but there is a lot of truth in it if you look beyond factors that really are dumb luck.

The outcome of a high quantity of deliberate practice isn’t an opinion. It may be true that it’s more popular to deride top performers and perhaps try not to hire them, but we can’t help but value the contributions that people with deep expertise make to the economy, the arts, infrastructure, and so on.

Is it? My impression is that nowadays people accept hard work and persistence are still necessary but no longer sufficient.

I thought "grit" was the watchword a few years ago, but maybe what you're describing is even more recent than that.

Thanks for sharing. Everything I ever struggled with programming wise, I got better at simply by putting in the hours.

I personally think this article is kind of silly. Ultimately, depending on the field, you probably need to be T-shaped in some way - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-shaped_skills Deep in 1 or 2 important areas, and broader in others. It's a bit hard to be scientific about career trajectories too. Maybe Roger Federer could have been EVEN greater if he had committed to tennis even earlier?

I think it also matters a lot the type of career market you're in and that can be hard to define.


In a winner-take-all market, the criteria by which you succeed is quite narrowly defined & agreed upon and there are very limited slots. It's then a matter of optimizing for those criteria (e.g. publication quality in universities or TV screenwriting). In an auction market, there's many different approaches and criteria (e.g. VC investing, design, software engineering) and lots of ways to create new kinds of positions. The creator of Dilbert (Scott Adams) chronicled his journey being in auction market (writing cartoons):

"It’s unlikely that any average student can develop a world-class skill in one particular area. But it’s easy to learn how to do several different things fairly well. I succeeded as a cartoonist with negligible art talent, some basic writing skills, an ordinary sense of humor and a bit of experience in the business world. The “Dilbert” comic is a combination of all four skills. The world has plenty of better artists, smarter writers, funnier humorists and more experienced business people. The rare part is that each of those modest skills is collected in one person. That’s how value is created. "

Is it possible some of the allure of being a polymath and a generalist a bit of confirmation bias? I empathize with the worry over increased specialization, so a book with the message "specialists suffer, generalists win" feels very good.

I think this point resonates. There are often a lot of commonalities between traits and having a breadth of understanding often affords more insight into a particular, but it will always be valuable to have a true mastery of a select few. at risk of alienating others in the conversation I'd like to make a point about a game called DotA. Extremely difficult with a high skill ceiling, the game pits teams of players against one another in asymmetrical battle with 126 characters, each with distinct abilities. There is a prevailing wisdom that the game is dauntingly unaccessible because, "to understand DotA you have to play a few games with every hero." On the other hand to play well you need to specialize on a particular hero and role. However every hero has a select group of counter-heroes, which have abilities that are particularly strong against a given. Therefore the best players in DotA have an understanding of all heroes, but they specialize in a small pool of 4 or 5. There are people who are very good at playing a single hero, but they can be completely shut-down with a counter. Maybe I'm just a little over-invested in a silly game, but I think it draws a powerful analogue to life.

In league of legends, there is a concept of "one-tricking", where you have a mastery of one champion, and use that mastery to win, rather than game knowledge and good macro play. Interestingly enough while the top ranks are full of these players, they very rarely make it into the professional scene.

To be fair, the argument most often used for OTP-ing in LoL is not that you neglect developing game knowledge and macro play in favor of mastering that one champion, it's that OPT-ing eliminates all of the random barriers to entry that comes along with having to learn a wide array of champions which in turn allows for you to spend a far greater amount of time developing general game knowledge and understanding of macro play.

I know plenty of 18-25 y/o people and I am giggling when they use the term "one-trick pony" for their narrow-minded colleagues (or bosses). I am glad they are smart and are not easily impressed. Critical thinking is important.

Personally I feel that some of the gaming lingo fits really well in the real world but it might be just me.

"one trick pony" is somewhat older lingo than electronic games i think

Online Etymology Dictionary claims: "The figurative one-trick pony is 1897, American English, in reference to circus acts."


Could be. I admit I heard it first in videogames but I am not an authoritative source.

yeah the term is older than gaming, but I brought it up in reference to DoTA.

To be fair, I think Dota has much harder counters for some heroes than LOL

in the case of cartooning, the deep skill is in perseverance and making daily posts for years as you buil an audience.

i think “generalist” misses the point about deep non-technical skills.

An old recipe for success as an innovative entrepreneur is "field crossing" or in your case field combining!

In sports, one popular example is NFL players taking ballet classes.

Ultimately, depending on the field, you probably need to be T-shaped in some way

Indeed, in technical fields such as those we often discuss on HN, it is almost impossible for anyone beyond novice experience levels not to have greater depth of skill and understanding in some areas but also to pick up general knowledge and basic skills across a much broader range of areas. I'm not a big fan of the T metaphor specifically, because I think it misleadingly suggests than an individual will only develop much greater skills and knowledge in a single area or perhaps closely related areas, but the underlying premise makes sense: there isn't really any such thing as a pure specialist in technical work, because you are inevitably exposed to many related areas even if your focus is on one specific aspect.

I haven't read the article, but I've listened to a podcast featuring the author. He voiced that determining the "chaos" of the field or game is very relevant to whether someone should focus on specialization or be a generalist. For instance, chess has more defined moves and outcomes, making it better to specialize in chess early if you want to be good, whereas poker players can benefit from learning across multiple domains. David Epstein also acknowledges natural skill is important. Perhaps Federer would have been great regardless, or even better as you say. Perhaps he would have burned out too.

What about the other millions of mediocre artists and writers with just a bit of business experience? You could probably chalk that one up to plain old confirmation bias. Had Adams been a marvellous artist, he would have considered that part cruical for his inevitable success.

There's a lot to say about striking a nerve and being at the right place at the right time. Luck, basically, just with the option to keep trying.

The rare part is the mix of modest skills in one person who happens to be producing something timely and relevant to a large audience.

Adams would (probably) have been nowhere if he'd been making hilariously cynical cartoons about trout farming.

All of us can only recognize expertise up to a certain depth. Beyond that, experts seem to be the same. So if you have broader knowledge, you will appear to know more.

And in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is a king.

In my opinion, I think most humans strive to be generalists but our economic system typically incentivizes specialists. It makes sense because from a systems perspective, the more specialized a component in my system is, the more efficiently it will perform its task leading to potential overall efficiency improvements. Assuming that machine doesn't need to adapt/evolve much or that specialized components for future adaptions are easy to obtain, it's a net positive effect. Businesses are no different than such a system (of people and their processes) so businesses reward specialist labor more because that labor rewards them more by supplying low cost solutions to consumers. Trying to find rewarding positions for generalists these days can be quite the challenge.

Unfortunately, I find this approach sort of flies in the face of human nature or perhaps just my nature and anecdotes. I enjoy digging down into subjects and fields well beyond a surface skim, but I find digging to the depths gives me little satisfaction. I start to get a bit of diminishing returns of enjoyment as the more depth I desire, time investment begins to increase (in a non-linear fashion). I would also add that in many areas I've studied, you reach a point where the information and knowledge is no longer certain and then various opinions begin to branch out from experts in the field and I find this is usually a good stopping point.

As such, most subjects reach a point where I decide it's time for something new: I've learned many of the important aspects and if I need them at some point or have new found interest, I have a great starting point.

Thank you for this comment, it's spot on.

You're not the only one that feels this way. I love the deep dives into a given topic, but at some point it just becomes too much and/or uncertain/divergent.

I think this might just be your personal preferences; I know quite a few people who are happy to focus on something very specific for years. To them, "the point where the information and knowledge is no longer certain" is where things become interesting, not where they stop.

> businesses reward specialist labor more

This is a false premise, at least when stated so generally.

Look at Google, a company that is known for compensating workers quite well. They mostly hire generalist software engineers, which I think is due to a combination of reasons:

- Google is a big established company where a lot of the work is not the sexiest in the industry. This means that people don't necessarily want to stick around in the same team forever. This means people need to switch teams every few years in order to keep their job interesting, which is much easier for a generalist.

- Generalists can specialize and go back to different work later if it makes sense. It's harder for people starting out as specialists to do this.

- There's uncertainty as to what projects will be available to work on in the future. This means that specific kinds of specialists may not always be needed.

- Many teams aren't big enough to contain all the specialists you might need for the project. Having people who can wear many hats solves this problem.

And even if you are a specialist hired at one of these big companies, you will often be doing generalist work. I’ve heard more than a few FAANG software engineers say, “I have a Ph.D in [specialized field] and spend all my time plumbing protobufs from one API to another!”

> our economic system typically incentivizes specialists

I don't think business rewards specialists. The business people (at the top) are generalists. They can recognize some specialization but not too deep. Whether you have only one eye or two eyes, they will not be able to tell the difference.

> you reach a point where the information and knowledge is no longer certain and then various opinions begin to branch out from experts in the field

I would argue this is the horizon of the expertise. There might be deeper expertise behind this horizon, but you cannot see it because you cannot make sense of the different opinions (without more expertise).

Great way to put it.

When looking at this like coaches and players, players are often the experts and coaches are often the generalists. We all know, though, in business, coaches tend to get paid WAY more. So it behooves most players to become experts, in order to be the best player, so that one day their efforts will get rewarded and they can ascend to coach-dome.

But there are many, many coaches that were never experts. Some of which are privileged psycho-sociopaths who have worked their way up the coach ladder by playing that game, which is a different exercise entirely.

This leads you to the question, is it better to be a coach-coach or a player-coach? Furthermore, how does a new coach (who is not a sociopath) compete against both coaches and players trying to be the next coach? Where is the lane for the natural, generalist coach?

All lanes are hard, but the generalist-coach lane is very hard for those without an MBA, and without certain cut-throat tactics, which seem to be the base playing rules in that lane. Then, even if you get the title, earning the respect of the player-experts is another challenge.

Generalists may have their day, and lanes-per-niche may be more or less difficult for generalists, but it is not such a triumph. From my perspective, at least.

I'm a generalist, I hate specializing and it feels like a curse rather than a triumph. I have reasonable general understanding of a huge spectrum of topics but little skill of actually applying most of them. I feel excited about everything and pain about concentrating on a single. Every time I start doing something I feel like I hate doing it instead of learning about something else. The sense of not having enough time to learn everything almost puts me in panic. I tend to attribute this to ADHD. Small doses of desoxyn (meth) help a lot (and nothing else helps) but you can't get it legally outside the US. Every employer wants a specialist and I can't blame them.

> Small doses of desoxyn (meth) help a lot (and nothing else helps) but you can't get it legally outside the US.

Be very careful with this. I've been in the same boat but it's not one you can ride forever, the older you get the bigger the physical toll this is gonna take on your body.

Consider looking for an alternative that isn't as "hard", cannabis can be that once you found a good strain for you (Sativa weighted hybrids) and a reliable supplier for it.

Sadly that's pretty much impossible if you ain't living in a place where it's legalized. Illegal drug suppliers are rarely known for the consistency of their products.

Don't worry. I know how to do it the proper way an don't do it anyway.

I've once gotten 2 grams of pure crystals rather than pills, done a lot of research (the "limitless" movie inspires to invest in such a research first, reddit and quora are great places to start), experimented a lot (with practices and supplements to take to protect the body from the bad things it does and mitigate tolerance growth) and came to the point when I could marathon for a week without sleeping without even having hangover once I stop. The feelable negative results were (after I've found a proper way) almost none but over-concentration (narrowed mental view), disregulated blood sugar and butt ache caused by 22x7 concentrated working sitting on a chair. Nevertheless I stopped and don't use it and my actual working dose I used on some occasions (but the experiments) to concentrate for hours was almost homeopathic - 3 minuscule sand-like specks a day. I've even helped some addicts to quit gracefully.

As for weed (which isn't legal at my location either yet quite easy to get with little or no risk of prosecution - people use to smoke in the streets and cops walking by don't care) I've tried smoking it (in tiny doses, my body is very sensitive to all the substances) regularly for some time but didn't really like it and now I don't even know where to get it (as well as any other illegal substances, the dealers I knew have vanished over time as I was an extremely infrequent buyer and I don't bother to look for new). It made my mind a way less sharp, some strains made me sleepy, some strains made me crazy, the only thing the weed actually was great with for me was sex.

If you happen to know particularly good strain names I'd love to know too, however. I once met a guy who offered 9 different strains and I haven't bought any just because I didn't knew which I could like.

BTW the only thing other than meth that used to help was 1/4 pill of xanax (especially stacked with sunifiram). But it's almost impossible to get. I was lucky to get 4 pills once so I could take it 12 times and leave a pill for for a rainy day. I've also tried bromozepam but it doesn't do the job for me.

The thing is that the human body suffers just as much from wear and tear like anything else, and if you have ADHD then this can affect you even worse due to a proneness for repetitive physical behaviors due to stimming.

Crystal puts a lot of these behaviors into overdrive without you even noticing, regardless of how much you do to alleviate the side-effects, they will still take their toll.

I'm now in my mid 30's, and even tho I haven't done a lot of crystal in my life (probably 3 grams max, I never needed much because the effects were super strong even in tiny doses) I'm now at a point where even the smallest dose will give me troubles with my jaw bones and (otherwise healthy) teeth simply due to the wear and tear of the induced teeth gnawing, it's not something I can or want to do anymore.

For a cannabis alternative, you might want to take a look here [0]. Just be aware that even with a list like that, you will still need to experiment because these effects can vary greatly from individual to individual, so you need to figure out what works best for you.

A good addition to that is CBD oil orally taken when taking a tolerance break (every 3 weeks I take a 1-week break) and can also serve as a life-saver if you ever end up with some strain giving you anxiety/too much of a psychotic high.

As a general rule: Sativas are on the more active end, Indicas are usually the ones sending you to sleep, hybrids can be anything between them.

You might also want to consider a different method of application than smoking if those effects ain't doing it for you. Vaping is healthier and surfaces the effects differently, the same holds true for edibles. Canacaps are not that difficult to prepare, it's just cannabis infused oil put in capsules, but can be very effective (long duration) and you can use them without everybody around you instantly smelling it.

Tho, always be careful with edible dosing, even experienced "stoners" regularly underestimate the potency of edibles.

Take care and I hope there's something useful here that will help you find a more natural remedy to keep you productive and healthy.

[0] https://www.leafly.com/news/strains-products/best-cannabis-s...

> teeth gnawing

Just wanted to say this: supplement [a lot of] magnesium and chew bubble gum :-)

Thanks for the answer and the link.

It definitely has its drawbacks. There's no enduring satisfaction to specialized positions, likewise jumping between various interests is untenable from a career standpoint. Still, we can indulge in novelty in our own time, or even break the rules at times. The setback I most identify for myself is that it keeps me from investing in "mastering" a domain. The idea itself is attractive, but maybe there's nothing to it except bragging rights. As long as you're always studying something, you're effectively doing the same thing as "mastering".

To me, a generalist is someone who does have skill in application not just knowledge about topics. At least in my world of software engineering for the internet.

Epstein's book is not for you. His "generalist" is 95x magnification instead of 99x.

Look up "Refuse to Choose!" by Barbara Sher. I'm like you and her book(s) taught me that I don't need to feel guilty, self-loath, or suffer insults for being this way.

It would be really strange if a high dosage of dexedrine didn't at least get you 80-90% of desoxyn.

I'll read about it and try to get some to give it a try (never heard of it before). Thanks!

Googled it, it's just dextroamphetamine. 1. you can't get it legally where I live either (concerta-ritalin and a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (only gives me anxiety) I can't remember the name of are the only thing doctors can prescribe) 2. I've tried it illegally and it didn't help - it indeed calms me down (feel so serene) and helps to concentrate but... on listening/watching/reading only, not on doing (while desoxyn concentrates me on doing and I stop wanting to learn).

Money quote: “I am a polymath. You are a generalist. He is a dilettante.”

Yes Minister calls these 'irregular verbs':

"I give confidential briefings, you leak, he has been charged under section 2a of the Official Secrets Act"

"I have an independent mind, You are eccentric, He is round the twist."

Apparently Yes Minister isn't the origin of the concept though: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotive_conjugation

I feel like with so many people suffering from Impostor syndrome these days, it's probably "I am a dilettante. He is a polymath".


This is opposite of what I'm experiencing in the job market.

As an example, I'm looking for a data scientist job and as you might guess, it is a very broad field. So, I thought I would learn the basics of machine learning, deep learning, required maths and programming and then I would search for the job and in whatever field I'll get the job like Natural language processing, computer vision, supply chain analytics, time series analysis, etc. , I would learn that and specialize in that field. But when I started looking for job every start-up wanted that I know current state-of-the-art techniques of their field, which is simply not possible as each start-up specialize in a different set of techniques, for example, some want deep learning, some statistics, some time series analysis, some big data processing frameworks like Apache Spark, some recommendation system and so on and so forth. As a result, I'm still searching for a job and somewhat have lost passion for data science.

So, the only learning that I got from going through this process is whatever field you choose, you have to specialize in that field to have a great career.

The somewhat counterintuitive solution to this is to first figure out what interests you, learn a lot about it, and then go look for the organization out there that needs that particular skillset. Or as Venkatesh Rao put it [1]:

"First become a key, then go look for a lock."

Yes, there's risk in that, and no, there's no guarantee that whatever you specialize in will be useful to someone. But the advantage is that you're basically guaranteed to love your job, because you chose the job yourself and then just pitched a lot of corporations to see who was offering it. There's also a self-respect boost to being in the driver's seat and thinking of your career in terms of which organization gets to be lucky enough to have you work for them.

[1] https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2018/03/29/the-key-to-act-two/

How we define “basics” is important.

We have to earn the generalist label - the generalist has his own form of specialization.

From what I’ve seen, the successful generalist’s command over the basics is so strong that you wonder why they never specialized deeper. The generalist has a good mental map of the territory and solves problems very proficiently, though perhaps not as quickly or rigorously as someone more specialized in a specific sliver of the problem domain.

(anecdotal from my own journey learning how to program and initially feeling frustrated by the lack of market for generalists)

Generalist here went from engineering to design and psychology [0] to psychology and anthropology [1]. Lately been eyeballing economics and political science.

When I started, I just couldn't see myself doing the same thing for the rest of my life and I branched out. I took opportunities that presented itself and the ones where I was thrown into (thank you mentors). I did try to specialize in engineering but I went from embedded systems to GUI to front-end to back-end to data (mining/analysis/visualization) to systems design to (developer) operations then ML and technical management. I just can't help but be attracted to the next thing but I don't stick around long enough to be absorbed by it.

I usually start the 'next' thing as a side project or side gig. If it becomes interesting enough I change my main role to it. In a way I've become a specialist at being a generalist.

Fear of the unknown doesn't frighten me, it excites me. Somehow I've come to love chaos and making sense of it. Few people and companies bet on this behaviour of mine and we both walked away with satisfaction and wealth. But life as a generalist hasn't been easy. I've had to deal with imposter syndrome often. Always ended up learning on the job.

It wasn't just jobs/career though... I find myself relocating to new country or continent once every two years. Financially it's a nightmare but its a price I'm willing to pay.

[0] https://ux.stackexchange.com/users/13276/rayraegah

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19712234

I read too much Heinlein at a formative age, but this quote from Time Enough for Love always struck me:

> A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Most things are possible for most people to do if they bother and take an interest in it. Quite often people will just throw up their hands and claim they can't do something, rather than rolling up their sleeves and giving it a go.

I believe the common value of being a generalist comes from the fact that you might be less prone to being biased or locked in a tunnel vision when evaluating a situation, since generalists would typically have a more complete world view under various angles and multiple lens. Specialists are often biased with their specialized knowledge and would only know how to apply it even when trying to solve problems outside of their expertise. As they said, when all you have is a hammer then everything you see becomes a nail.

The second law of thermodynamics indicates that our modern world will only become increasingly more chaos, which certainly seems to have been the case so far, therefore possessing the ability to assess the world with an unbiased mindset and under such clarity can be a huge advantage.

Though the most important value from being a generalist probably comes from getting around the diminishing returns effect. We are approaching a state where it’s becoming harder and harder to generate new knowledge in any particular single field, and yet the possibility and potential to combine existing knowledge between various different fields are rarely explored and still widely open.

Most people only specialize in a single track of expertise, they are either a doctor, a mechanic, or a fisherman, but they are rarely both. Those who possess knowledge of any two industries and are able to effectively combine them together will have the potential to generate a completely new piece of valuable information. This in turn will lead to more creative ideas and innovations. In a world where everything becomes increasingly saturated, this is probably the reason why being a polymath or a generalist is going to become much more desirable in the near future.

I agree with this, it is good for skillsets to cross pollinate and it makes you better at both.

Another divide is development and design, those that can do that produce amazing products. You see this more in the gaming or interactive space but it makes you less biased and understanding of the problem points, and best parts of both verticals.

Specialization over generalization is why lots of large software sucks today and small companies or startups win, they employ more generalists, design/develop crossovers and full stack product focused t-shaped employees. When teams are huge, specialized and care is removed. The chaos of more communication channels (N(N-1)/2) encourages just staying in your lane rather than viewing the big picture. Small teams with generalists are where the best products are made due to everyone going beyond their lanes/channels and viewing the big picture.

I think generalization is best in startups or small groups including gaming/interactive especially with hyperfocus on a product. Making the product good in all aspects, and caring about them, from design to development, presentation to production, and especially maintenance and iterative growth. Once that is established, teams can grow and specialize, but innovation and creative growth is harder.

I don't think the fields and people used as examples for the point are well chosen.

Sports is very unique because it is a lot more physical than intellectual compared to just about anything else. Meaning there are completely different aspects at play when it comes to being top brass.

Prominence in arts and music seems to only be loosely correlated to the raw skill itself. Cue everyone's favorite meme about modern paintings which are just lines.

This means for the average reader this seems not really relevant at all, because there is no proof you can project anything from these people right and wrongdoings to "normal" careers. How to become a top notch wind turbine mechanic? How can I become "that embedded systems guy"? Until someone got more on that, I'm sticking to the 10000 hour thing with a breath and depth that feels right to me...

I am just listening to 'Art of Manlines' podcast where this topic is discussed. There is a lot here to take in. You should read yourself, I wanted to bring one point that seemed to stick out to me.

He mentions Tiger Woods vs. Roger Federer as two ways how you get to greatness. I don't think they are taking into account that maybe both of them are excellent athletes and that whether they started in childhood like Tiger Woods, or after dabbling in different sports like Federer, both thrived once they got into where their talents were.

Also, both have strong parents that pushed them, even if Federer mom didn't want him to play tennis, she is a tennis coach.

Anyhow, I don't think this take into account innate talents enough.

I'd like to add that "innate talents" are probably fundamental brain skills.

I work in education and there is a strong tendency to now focus on developing cognitive skills which help you to learn something instead of learning something and hoping that this will develop the cognitive skills.

I guess with sports or other mechanical skills (playing an instrument?) it must be a similar thing.

These feel-good articles resonate with everyone and lack substance. "Why you are awesome, and how to be more awesome" is the siren song of tech industry best sellers. These articles are the horoscopes of HN

Triumph is a strong word. I personally enjoy being a generalist (have been an analyst, PM, and dev), but in my experience companies frown upon it and they will try to put you in jr roles despite having experience in various areas. On the other hand, I think my propensity to want to do a lot of things is probably my brain telling me that I shouldn't be joining a company or take a role where specialization is valued more highly than not.

I think being a specialist vs a generalist, from the perspective of earning power, is a question of risk and reward.

There is a bias in favor of specialization for the economy as a whole. This is why specialists get paid more (engineering major vs English major), in general. However, I consider this a riskier path since specialization is more likely to lead to earlier obsolescence. Thus I would say that there is a bias in favor of being a generalist for the individual, since it keeps more options open. Being a generalist is the safer path, since you can move around more easily, and you're less likely to fall off the top of the hedonic treadmill and lose motivation.

You need to balance specialization - to maximize earnings now - with being a generalist - to maximize earnings later - according to your own risk preferences and external demand for various skills. It is possible to be safe as a specialist if you specialize in something that is in demand for your entire life (such as surgery), and it is possible to be such a generalist that your career never takes off.

That said, as in most things, I think the middle way between extremes is the best way, for the most people.

Is he questioning the findings of Anders Ericsson or saying that they don't apply in certain cases. I read his previous book and it was interesting and also a bit of an assault on Ericsson work, arguing that in Olympic sports, the best are so good that genetics triumphs. You can spend years getting better at swimming but if you don't have an elongated torso and long reach it won't matter.

I would argue that from my experience generalization is not welcomed at all. I'm a founder for 3 companies (in order of starting: ran its course, successful exit, wound down). I have a huge array of skills that I have learned but because I've been a founder and kind of have to have been involved in everything my skills are too general.

What's worse is that there seems to be a real push back against serial founders who are looking to transition from founding companies to working for another company. I've A/B tested my resume with changing my latest startup title from Founder to Product Manager and even though the job requirements state extensive startup experience required, being a founder gets rejected for not having the relevant experience, whilst being a Product Manager I get to the next round as my experience matches what they are looking for.

All in all it's becoming a rather depressing affair.

That has more to do with HR laziness and keyword sniping. Want to hire a product manager? Does the person have "product management" somewhere in their resume? Good. If not, pass. That's how crude the process can get, and that's how it's practiced in plenty of places.

Which as a generalist I find very interesting. I have been in startups at which I was a tech lead but also a Product manager. Depending on what I would want to do next I would put one or another on my resume.

Perhaps the most apt example here would be Steve Jobs whose broad range of interests in things like typography, design, and computing, came together into something greater than the sum of its parts.

The “intersection of technology and the liberal arts.”

Or, to use a more dated example, like "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"...

The Jobs case is instructive also because it was this exact lack of focus that got him fired from Apple the first time. Remember him wanting the factory machinery painted bright white? It served no engineering or business purpose, he just thought it looked nicer.

How different might his story have been if Toy Story bombed, Pixar went bust and he never came back to Apple?

Specialist v Generalist is an interesting discussion for sure, but looking at personalities in isolation and ignoring the environmental variables aren't going to help average people decide where on the spectrum they want to end up.

I dont like when they dont define the subject. eg if you're a "fullstack developer" are you a generalist or a specialist? If you're an artist who does some web design work are you a generalist or a specialist?

You are a web (or app) developer, definitely a specialist.

Specialists flourish in such “kind” learning environments, where patterns recur and feedback is quick and accurate. By contrast, generalists flourish in “wicked” learning environments, where patterns are harder to discern and feedback is delayed and/or inaccurate.

This is sort of like the switch in thinking in AI in the '70s (?) where it became clear that teaching computers to get better and better and playing chess or deducing propositions was never going to produce intelligence, and that we were going to have to teach them to see and move around on their own instead.

Great point. Something to be said about complete & perfect information[0] for some pursuits, vs imperfect and incomplete information for others.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complete_information

"Let’s say, as a crude approximation, that Success = talent + practice + luck. Those who are richly endowed with talent [or luck] may find it easy to excel in multiple domains, to be Renaissance men and women, to be decathletes of life. (The example of Leonardo da Vinci comes to mind.) The rest of us, however, must lean heavily on the practice part of the equation. If success is what we’re aiming at, then perhaps we should seek out the “kindest” learning environment open to us and give it our all. If, on the other hand, we want to live well by sampling a smorgasbord of human goods — learning a bit of quantum mechanics, running a marathon, playing viola in an amateur string quartet, fighting for local justice — then we might be doomed to fall short of transcendent achievement."

Have a lot of salt on hand when getting advice from the successful and famous.

I wouldn't really call Roger Federer a generalist. He's the number one tennis player on the planet and specializes in tennis more than anyone under the sun. Maybe as a kid he played other sports but don't we all? I don't think this generalist concept was fully explored in this article.

That being said, I frequently worry about this concept of generalist vs specialist and which will yield a better or more impactful career. Despite the negative connotation of the word "generalist", I do believe people that have wide skillsets with some specialty are pretty valuable. But I think it depends on what you want to do and what you want to impact. For inventing a new medication, maybe a speciality is a way to achieve that. For starting a business, maybe generalist is the better toolset.

I think it's ok to be either, I just wish I could be both. :)

> For inventing a new medication, maybe a speciality is a way to achieve that. For starting a business, maybe generalist is the better toolset.

I feel that for any end result, you can define the concept of overspecialization. Taking the medication example - you likely want a specialist in biochemistry involved, but if said specialist is actually a specialist of a particular metabolic pathway, they may arrive at a partial solution, and miss the insights that come from being aware of other pathways and how they interact.

Some problems (and I suspect biology already has plenty of them) may also be tricky in the sense that they simultaneously require breadth and depth that's near-impossible for one person to have simultaneously. Those problems will need a mix of extreme specialists with some "less deep" specialists.

I prefer the Econtalk interview with the author: http://www.econtalk.org/david-epstein-on-mastery-specializat... (there's a transcription below, if you prefer reading)

There are two kinds of generalists - those who think they are and those who actually are.

The distinguishing feature of the latter is that they are polymaths in the making, a journeyman polymath if you will. They have sufficient depth in multiple fields and produce works that demand attention, whatever that might be. The former, on the other hand, is just a bits and pieces guy living in delusion who doesn't know anything beyond elementary knowledge in his "fields of expertise".

To use a cricketing analogy, since 'tis the season, people like Richards, Tendulkar and Kallis are true alrounders (generalists) whereas people like Robin Singh, Madan Lal and Andy Bichel are just bits and pieces guys who are useful on that odd day when specialists and generalists are having a bad day.

Not sure we should be surprised:

Most people aren't specialists. If they're the academic type, they studied a bunch of things. If they're sporty, they played a bunch of sports. If musical, they tried a bunch of instruments.

You can get pretty good at a number of things without being top of the field. But you don't have to be top of the field to be chosen to do the vast majority of jobs.

Golf vs Tennis: Golfers have won stuff in their late 40s. You're competing with a huge field of experienced people. Tennis players tend to bow out a fair bit sooner, so it makes sense that someone who didn't pour all their energy into it specifically could compete. There's also a question of whether there are specific intransferables in each sport, but I'll leave that to experts.

Here's the recent EconTalk episode with the author.


I have not read this book but based on the article, I feel the concepts in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers > This book. Relationships do not prove causality, but David tries to with the stories of Van Gogh and Tiger Woods and Federer? The examples in the article leave me frustrated because professional artists and sports icons are not a repeatable success. Using those people as examples of success is bad data. I don't comment, this article bugged me for some reason. My takeaways are: Specialization matters, how you find 'your thing' is up to you. And figure it out well before you turn 40, unless you are Van Gogh.

The ideal worker in today's economy is "T" shaped ('shallow' knowledge in many areas, deep in a specific area) with the ability to move the "fulcrum" of that "T" based on market needs.

The class of 2019 will probably have a career of 45+ years, the economy is only going to get more dynamic and winner take all in my view -- your domain focus will probably have to change every ~8-12 years.

As a programmer, I feel like we have great flexibility in this regard. You can work on mobile, you can work on the cloud, or the web.. in banking, semiconductors.. insurance.. hell, even for government if things get tight.

If you must specialize in something, try to be sure first that it isn't something that might go away. (This includes many techish things!)

Which means that you must have a general-enough idea of how permanent some skillset is likely to be. Getting paid to do what you enjoy doing most is great ... until innovation wipes out the demand.

Another danger: over-specialization. You might not want to become an expert in Company A's gear unless those skills will port to openings at B,C and D.

Sure they'll love you today, but will they love you tomorrow?

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

-- Lazarus Long (Time Enough For Love, Robert Heinlein)

I'm remaking my CV in preparation for a possible shakeup after years in the same job and keep hemming and hawing about the word "generalist". So many people are "hummingbirds" (they come in touch with this and that flower and cross-pollinate) that call themselves generalists. I'm more of a "bites deep into whatever problem is thrown his way".

"Polymath" would be a better fit but it's a bit self-aggrandizing.

I'm curious if anyone here has thoughts on 'Operating Manuel for Spaceship Earth' in this context. A quote that has tuck with me for a long time is 'specialization precludes comprehensive thinking.' I generally agree with this, and have tried to be a generalist to the degree that it is allowed in today's workforce.

This is very simplistic thinking that neglects demand. Markets tend to favor specialists (and specialized companies). Selling yourself as a generalist is challenging as differentiation is inherently difficult.

Given opportunities and resources generalists may outperform but such positions are rare and access is often gated by check for specialization.

For employment relationships, yes. For freelance, I would say it's quite the opposite, where you have a much bigger pool of gigs you can accept as a generalist. And if you are in full-on mercenary mode, it also allows you to capitalize a lot better on hype-topics, where as a good generalist you can ramp up on the required skills pretty quickly.

As I understand it, the "Do 10,000 hours" idea is about achieving expertise. It doesn't mean that you had to have to started specializing and achieving that expertise when you were 3 years old. So I think that the premise of the article, though not necessarily that of the book itself, is a straw-dog argument.

I’ve found that it is best to specialize early in your career but at some point you’re going to hit a ceiling and then it’s better to be a generalist for more architectural and leadership roles - even if you want to stay hands on. It really helps in consulting (true consulting not staff augmentation) to be a generalist.

I think the Federer and Woods anecdote is not really pertinent. A true generalist doesn't want to be the best; they just want to achieve above average proficiency, or below average mastery. Examining people like Putin, Leibniz or Ben Franklin might be more worthwhile.

Being the best seems more about Ego, when being good enough seems more about optimization. My sweet spot is knowing enough to be able to evaluate the fitness function, once that happens the feedback loop is complete.

> Putin

What? Politics as much aside as possible, why put him next to Leibniz and Ben Franklin?

He is a lawyer, bilingual speaker, master of 2 martial arts, intelligence agent, prolific outdoorsman, and president. He also sings, paints, and plays the piano. Is this not enough to qualify someone as a generalist?

Yeh no offense to Comrade Putin but his KGB Career dint reach the heights.

The headline is misleading. What makes Generalists more valuable is the rate of change. That is, as change increases, the ability to adapt is essential. It's not the (less valuable) skills you had, but your ability to pick up new skills (that's more valuable).

On a somewhat related note, I often wonder why Poincare is still considered the last of the Universalists/Generalists. I believe Von Neumann would be a strong contender to that title.

Von Neumann was definitely a modern polymath

Specialization gets you started so you can afford a family and home. Generalization gets you into upper management.

And stay there until you get pushed out of the org. It's better to stay specialized as long as you can to avoid upper management.

Many techies reach a point where they go: "Oh crap, now I have to move into management." More money but less fun.

I'd advocate doing both. Be a generalist but specialize in something.

I feel this at odds with my personal experience, and I am a generalist

> Which leads to a caveat. Miranda is a very talented fellow; so are most of the other “high fliers” who crop up in “Range.” What worries me is that this emphasis — what social scientists call “restriction of range” — might skew Epstein’s moral just a bit.

I'm surprised that Dunning-Kruger wasn't mentioned here. High-flier generalists are especially vulnerable to self-deception. Their charisma, and the adulation it generates, conceals the consequences of weak understanding of specific topics. This species of generalist is very vulnerable to being blindsided by nuances readily apparent to those who have taken the time and effort to master a topic.

The Dunning-Kruger generalist tends to end up in a position of power, often with disastrous consequences. The current US administration's cabinet is full of them, for example.

Best example of this would be Steve Jobs haranguing the CEO of Dow Corning, telling him he didn't know anything about the chemical structure of glass.

The Dunning-Kruger effect would apply just as much to a specialist as it would a generalist. No matter how specialized one gets, there’s always the possible cognitive bias that they think they know more than they do. There’s also the risk of tunnel vision and compartmentalization, where the specialist, unaware of of relevant information existing in some other silo continues to try to fit round pegs into square holes.

You could even argue that the Dunning-Kruger effect applies MORE to specialists than generalists, as generalists are already approaching problems as if they don't have as much experience as a specialist and are more likely to research and learn as part of the problem solving process instead of assume that they are already experts at this and make a mistake.

So true. It’s the feeling of, “the more I learn the more I realize I don’t know.”

I feel like most successful generalists approach problems from a perspective of "never stop learning" that is contrary to a false sense of confidence.

In other words, my perspective as a generalist is not that I already know enough about a topic (enough to be dangerous), but rather that I don't know many things but know how to learn quickly.

I think there is some truth that being a generalist requires a degree of confidence and charisma to constantly wade into things out of your depth, but without a healthy dose of fear and respect for the unknown, you're likely to get burned before getting very far.

A Dunning-Kruger generalist just seems like someone who has always gotten lucky with projects and has never had to reckon with running up against their lack of knowledge.

From my own experience, being a generalist gives you more job mobility. I've gone from web frontend, to server side, to Android and iOS frontend, to mobile infra, now to ML. And keeping things varied keeps me from burning out.

However, specialization will move you further in your lob ladder at a faster pace. The risk is if you specialize in the wrong area, and then that area becomes stale. You'll have a harder time switching to something else.

It's strange how the "Jack of all trades" phrase changed over time. The original phrase was:

"Jack of all traits,

Master of none,

Still better than a master of one"

The original phrase is much more against specialisation, however omitting the last two lines makes it almost belittle generalization... The meaning of the phrase has basically reversed over the years.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_of_all_trades,_master_of_...

> "Still better than a master of one" is a recent addendum to the phrase.

Your wikipedia link says the last line is not included in the original phrase

Something similar happened with "Blood is thicker than water", a phrase used to convey the importance of family, where the original quote is "The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb", which conveys the exact opposite, that ties you make yourself are more important than family.

According to Wikipedia [0] it's not as clear as you make it out to be.

[0]: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_is_thicker_than_water

My favorite is "Great minds think alike" the full expression is "Great minds think alike. Fools rarely differ."

In the reference you cite, it says ""Still better than a master of one" is a recent addendum to the phrase."

Whereas it says "Jack of all trades, master of none" (without your recent addition) is from 1721.

See also https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/jack-of-all-trades.html

From your link:

> Originally, this wasn't the case and the label 'Jack of all trades' carried no negative connotation, the 'master of none' part being added later.

So it went through three separate versions flip flopping in meaning.

Not that I dispute it, but that sentence is marked with [citation needed] so it should be taken with a grain of salt...


“premature optimization is the root of all evil”


“Programmers waste enormous amounts of time thinking about, or worrying about, the speed of noncritical parts of their programs, and these attempts at efficiency actually have a strong negative impact when debugging and maintenance are considered. We should forget about small efficiencies, say about 97% of the time: premature optimization is the root of all evil. Yet we should not pass up our opportunities in that critical 3%.”

I frequently see people use that cropped quote to justify paying no attention whatsoever to performance, which usually bites them in the ass (or would have bit them in the ass, if the standards for software weren't so low these days).

The root of evil changes over the years, nowadays it seems shared mutable state is the true root of all evil.

Mutable state is a common form of premature optimization

It certainly cycles back and forth.

In this day and age where hiring managers filter folks based on alphabet soup lists of tech and hum and haw over not 8 years of one of the dozen things and ... it's not even a thing it's a just file format ... and they can't stop using Java and JavaScript interchangeably damn it!


It's easy to get frustrated by the demands folks have for ... both.

I love learning how the English language has evolved.

Public service announcement: If you're into this stuff-check out the Allusionist Podcast: https://www.theallusionist.org/listen

It's full of fun stories like these. One of my favorite language nuggets—the word "guys" is an eponym—most historians trace it back Guy Fawkes.

There's even more ways you could twist the original:

- Jack of all trades and master of one

- Jack of all trades and master of all

- Master of all trades and jack of none

- Jack of all trades and master of some

I mean... the world needs specialists.

Would you trust some random generalist to design the airplane you're going to fly in?

Would you trust people with no general knowledge to design something composed of many different mechanical, aerodynamic, electrical, electronic and human systems?

Specialist programmers see no problem on reading values from an unreliable sensor and overriding the pilots decisions if the values are bad.

The world needs generalists to govern specialists (but not in the way the US government operates).

> Remember the ‘10,000 Hours’ Rule for Success?

No, I do not. Because there never was such a thing. What there was/is a rule of thumb to say it takes 10,000 hours to be "expertly proficient" at something - which is not to be confused with being successful.

In other words, putting in 10k hours does not mean you'll play in the Premier League or star in a Hollywood film. It simple means that if you ever hope to do either you'll have to put in at least 10,000 hours.

The media wonders why some of us are so critical of them. Yet they constantly fail to do their job properly. It's a miracle more of us aren't more critical of their monkey see monkey do approach to publishing.

After listeningt to Epstein's conversation on Econtalk, I don't quite recognize this article's accuracy to his beliefs.

HN linked to a blog post about having a strong bias against books that are made by journalists who aren't experts in the field. I find pop psychology books by journalists with this "anecdote/study/lesson" formula tiring.

It is unfortunate that it's not even surprising that the NYTimes no longer requires writers to actually know the real meaning of sayings they invoke. Nor that editors don't catch misuse anymore. "Folk wisdom holds the trade-off between breadth and depth to be a cruel one: “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” [...]".

Cool, cool... the saying continues, though: “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”.

That's not the "full saying". It's an alternative, in my experience far less common, version of the one used by the author.

I’ve never heard your extended version before. I wonder how common it is versus what you’re criticizing...

A fair thing to wonder, but then you might also not know the actual original is just ""Jack of all trades" without the "master of none", part, which got added much later and completely changed whatever the original meaning was.

Uhh... no? I knew that. My point was that _you_ were wrongly criticizing the reporter for not knowing the “original” meaning of a phrase. _You_ were wrong about your extended version being original and you’re also wrong about it being common. I was trying to be nice and let you know you were wrong by using the phrase “I wonder...” I wasn’t actually “wondering” lol.

Based on your recent comment, it seems like you were offended or maybe you just don’t understand how these things work at all.

I wasn't, I do, and this is getting weird =)

I've only ever heard people correct the phrase to the longer version, so clearly we just live in completely different linguistic worlds. Bubbles are a good thing to bust through, so: thanks.

“Completely different linguistic worlds?”

That must explain it, and you’re welcome.


seems to imply they are correct and you are wrong actually. Or at least the one you use is not the original.

yep, that's been the conclusion so far, but you don't get to delete you comments after it's become a thread, and you don't even get to edit it after a few hours, so that comment is there to stay, apparently.

I disagree. Look at the post-college careers of General Studies majors compared to any specialized major. Our current society rewards specialization and niching.

Dabbling is low-risk/low-reward; specialization is high-risk/high-reward.

General Studies major is the one people take when they hopped between other majors for too long. Often never achieving any real depth beyond sophomore level in any subject. They're dabblers, not generalists.

Generalists actually achieve competency in several fields. Dabblers don't.

Academia is not the real world, and they always seem to be struggling to be Useful.

A generalist who can program, market, and run a business is likely going to be better at making good decisions over someone with only 1 of those skills.

Forget about Academia for a moment.

Decisions about what? The low-hanging-fruit software companies have already been built; the most successful new software companies are all about a specific vertical, and this requires specialization.

Trivially, yes it would be best to be 100% expert in programming, 100% expert in marketing, 100% expert in business, and 100% expert in whatever the business domain is, but that isn't feasible. That's why most new start ups have a founding team, not a founding superperson.

I'm not buying it. What companies are you thinking of? I feel like I will either find them seeking out a generalist for some subset of their workload or a company that is just as young and valuable that hires massive numbers of generalists (e.g. Uber, Postmates/Doordash, WeWork)

A general studies major doesn't ascertain that you have a basic competency in any desirable skill.

The kind of generalists we are talking about actually have the competency to at least make MVP quality work in a few areas.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact