Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: What job can a “jack of all trades” look for?
496 points by programbreeding on Feb 15, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 207 comments
tl;dnr: Unhappy at my job after >7 years. Love being a jack of all trades. Love learning new things. Hate being stagnant. Hate being the smartest person in the room. Need something new. What roles out there fit the skill set of someone that is good at a whole lot of things, but doesn't feel like a master/senior in any one of them?


I've been at the same small company for over 7 years. I started at the bottom, worked my way to the top after 3 years, and I've been here since. For a couple years I created new positions for myself because I hate being stagnant, but there's nothing else to do here.

I'm proficient in many things and enjoy doing all of them. Development (full stack), server admin, data center management, DevOps, project management, managing teams, VoIP, routing/switching, training, sales... the list goes on.

My issue is I haven't had formal training in a lot of it, and I didn't have any mentors or people above me to teach me more because this company is too small. I just love learning and love moving forward so I kept teaching myself new things, and then using them in the company. I don't actually feel like I have impostor syndrome, but I also feel like someone that is filling these roles at another company probably knows/does it better job than I can. I'm just a big fish in a small pond here.

So finally to my question: what role/job title I should be looking for? All the searching I do points me to one specific roles. PHP Developer. Systems Admin. Network Engineer. Etc. Are there any other "Jack of all trades" out there that can tell me what your job title is, and what I could be looking for?

I have a wide-ranging self-taught skill set as well that I've developed over the last 14 years of running my own businesses. I'll share what I'm doing from a high level as it might not be the most common path.

I've been acquiring small but promising businesses that don't have the right team in place to move them forward. I bootstrap them on my own and replace my roles as the business can afford staff. Once enough roles are replaced, I'm able to start looking for the next business. I'm on my fourth business now. Sold the first two, the third is a productized service netting seven figures, and I just acquired the fourth, which is a SaaS business that I believe has great potential.

Currently, I'm formalizing this method and will build a team that can execute it much more quickly than me alone. I'll be shooting for a new business every 12-18 months to build a portfolio. We'll have a group of partners and a small staff that will be focused on getting these acquisitions straightened out and growing, then we'll install a team to run them full-time and we'll go on to the next one.

So just taking what I've been doing for years and everything I've learned from it and scaling it up to reduce the timeframe from acquisition to growth and then operation of the business.

If OP or anyone else who identifies themself in a similar manner wants to chat, email is in my profile. I'm actively looking for people like us to work with.

I support this approach. I learned a lot about online marketing and selling physical products by purchasing a struggling online shop. There's even dedicated web pages like flippa.com or empireflippers.com

I know this is probably anecdotal but have you found that buying a struggling online shop was worth the money vs starting from scratch?

Once you purchased the shop which resources did you use? Where did you purchase from? And have you gone on to do more deals since then?

This is basically me and my skillset and trajectory but UK based. Its something i'd love to do with others. I noticed you're in Seattle so not in the same country or i'd get in touch to talk.

If anyone like this is in the UK and wants to get in touch, email in profile.

This business of buying and selling businesses, I have heard a bit about it here and there but i don't even know where to start looking for people who are either selling or who are buying. I'd love to look into it as I think I would quite enjoy it. Any resources you could point to?

Buying online businesses wasn't even on my radar at the start, but I stumbled onto the first one via a blog that I followed. They posted that they were going to sell their online business and to drop them an email if interested.

I read that and immediately thought, well that's for me, so I sent them an email. I had zero clue what I was doing at that point.

The last business I acquired was though a broker; FE International. They have some interesting SaaS listings from time to time. QuietLight is another broker I watch listings from, but they are more in the ecomm, FBA, etc. space though. Less pure software. There are other brokers as well such as Empire Flippers.

There are some marketplaces like Flippa, Sideprojectors, Transferslot, etc.

You can also find a business you are interested in and call them up and see if they might be interested in selling. I almost bought a business this way last year after seeing it on Indie Hackers and reaching out to the owner. We couldn't get together on price though. I was happy to overpay since the business wasn't on the market and I believed in the future potential, but the owner's expectation was just way too out there so I couldn't justify it.

Isn't this a lemon market? Owner's expectations always are too good, or not? It is their "baby" and they are biased to think it's better than it is. A seller could hire someone to run the thing for them, so why sell unless the person needs money or is hiding something? Maybe I am too pessimistic.

Any good resources you’ve used to educate yourself? You mentioned you’re self taught so I figure you’ll have many!

That's facinating. Do you tend to buy the entity of the business, or would the original owner keep a small stake? And do you get any professional help with the accountancy and legal aspects of the original purchase?

Thus far my acquisitions have all been asset sales where I've started a new LLC, which has purchased the assets we define in the purchase agreement. I've not done any deals where the original owner keeps a stake, but I would consider an arrangement like that if asked for. Nobody has asked yet though.

I did the first three solo and on the last one I had a couple of conversations with my attorney during the process. I wanted the attorney to be fully involved on the last one because the purchase price was higher than the previous acquisitions (high six figures), but the timing just didn't work out. I wanted to close quicker than he could handle so I just went ahead.

Asset purchases aren't that complicated since you aren't brining on liabilities. Still, I'm sure it is advisable to have professionals help with due diligence, contract negotiation, etc.

i see you removed your email from profile good move. I rarely sign up to respond to someone but I think you may have been blessed to find the very unique niche that just may fit exactly my skillset.

I get companies and ideas off the ground, once it gets corporate level, i lose interest. Makes me feel I'm not cut out for that corporate lifetsyle... SO I wonder like you what can work.

Latest business venture since trying this method - service provider company, we hire various experts. Then internally we create campaigns out of pocket and as the calls come in we direct them to various industry.

  We should most definitely speak. I have several projects that fit our unqiue abilities.

  For 38 years I said i'm never going to achieve because I cannot stay in the same position once it becomes routine.... This is a brilliant approach! how can we be in contact? mrtorah AT gmail email me when you have a chance id like to see what you have going, we have a bit of financing and targeting some higher ticket niches right now.

Same here, can't find your email. I am also a 'jack of all trades' and I'm ready to wrap up my third business and find something new. I'd love to talk to you, maybe do something together, maybe just trade our stories.

Interesting, how did you acquire the first business and keep yourself afloat before it took off?

I was in college at the time, so student loans kept me afloat. I was definitely not using that money correctly, but I believed I was using it wisely.

The first acquisition was funded by a loan from my parents for $44K. That was a large sum for them, but they believed they would see it again and they have always wanted to help my siblings and I in any way possible. It turned out to be one of their better investments as I did return that money and a percent of profits for years.

After the first one I was able to continue self funding.

>The first acquisition was funded by a loan from my parents for $44K.

Thanks for being honest. It might help to put this in the first comment though.

Many people like to use examples like this to argue that people with family loans have an easy path to success.

$44k is an excellent launchpad but the reality is that most people given opportunity to take $44k would quickly turn it into $0.

I personally love hearing success stories like this and give full credit to people that can pull it off.

The other thing I also try to keep in mind: you only get one shot at life.

You can spend that one shot obsessing over what others have, how unfair things are, and whine away the decades.

The other option is to realize some may have it better than you, others worse, but that's life, so make the best of it.

"Get busy living, or get busy dying."

> most people given opportunity to take $44k would quickly turn it into $0

Yes, because giving that much money to a kid and having it pay off also involves a lot of luck.

That, or good parenting in the years before.

Still needs luck, even the smartest kid can make a wrong bet or underestimate another market player.

That's partly because most people will have baggage to attend to that a college student living off student loans would not, and will lack the safety net that parents who can loan you $44k represent. There's not much here to convince that his performance is any better than the average among people in his position.

You think turning a 44k loan into multiple successful businesses is average?

>among people in his position

That is, among college students without the baggage of full adulthood (debt, personal responsibilities, the mental and physical degradation that starts as early as your mid-twenties, and the risk aversion that comes with these things), and with the support of at least moderately wealthy parents and the affordances they bring: yes, there's not much here to show above-average performance. This individual received exceptional advantages which he certainly capitalized on, but there's no indication that he did so above the level of an average replacement.

We owe it to ourselves to be realistic about prospects.

There's literally millions of college students in that position every year. Its absolutely not common for most of them to start _a_ successful business, let a lone several. I've worked at companies who had far more money, more connections, and more advantages, that ended up with less. OP's an outlier irrespective of their advantages.

> the mental and physical degradation that starts as early as your mid-twenties

Degrading in your twenties (in any meaningful sense) is _highly_ atypical.

Out of the ~20 million college students, the number that come from families with $40k in liquid assets is probably not plural-millions-with-an-s, and is probably considerably less than a million. With the field of competition winnowed thusly, and again considering the myriad unearned advantages such a background generally entails, this person's success is probably far more common than you're wagering. All you're proving is that people in his class are far less deserving than we'd thought.

>Degrading in your twenties (in any meaningful sense) is _highly_ atypical.

Nah. One's twenties are a common period for mental illness to develop, as well as the period when heretofore silent congenital defects become apparent. It is also generally the first time when injuries become much less likely to fully heal, and when they may become lifelong encumberances.

Someone who hasn't experienced some form of degradation by 30 - worsening eyesight, a sports injury, onset of depression, even balding - is someone who is privileged indeed.

Why? Means little. You can put a $44k deal together, even if you're a college student with no connections. It takes vision, some hustle, and an action plan. You might not think you can, but I sure know many can (including you and others reading this).

Most sellers are open to creative deals. No money down, seller financing (this applies to real estate and software).

> even if you're a college student with no connections.

Unless you mean community college, just by virtue of being in college you are exposed to a network of people who have money.

Keep looking for excuses, you'll find them. I mean that in a firmly supportive way.

I'm not suggesting every deal can find a team. If it was already cashflowing and has assets, it is much easier to put a deal together. Software startups, conversely, often have neither and compete in a non-local market.

Raising money from friends and family is certainly a common path to entrepreneurship, but it is far from the only.

My original point was that acquisition entrepreneurship could be an option for someone with a broad skillset like the OP. How I funded the first one doesn't really impact that as everyone will have a different path and I simply took the one that was available to me at the time.

If an existing path can't be found then it will have to be made. That could mean working and saving for a while, starting a side project with the goal of it becoming a profitable business, partnering with a friend and earning equity through sweat, etc.

People are really upset with this comment because they think you're implying OP didn't do any work or that OP doesn't deserve it.

It doesn't much matter to me whether OP has "earned" their position of power, only that they had an enormous boost early in their career.

Just because $44k seems like pocket change to some people on this forum doesn't mean it's still an incredible amount of money that offers a fair amount of power on its own.

I don't see how it's relevant at all.

OP just explained what they did. Not to gloat but to explain their situation. What does it matter to you that they got help doing it?

I have 44k to invest if I really believed in something and I come from very modest means with no family help. If the stars align, it's a possibility. That's all you should take from their comment.


How does it matter? Not meaning to challenge you in any way, just sincerely want to understand your thinking.

Because it answers a different type of question: What you would do if you wouldn't have to work for a living, for the next six months.

While interesting, most of us can't relate to this situation. Having half a year worth of "fun money" to spend bootstrapping a business idea, or investng in one, is skipping the first step.

It's like one of these "draw the rest of the fucking owl" jokes:

How to become rich:

1. Get 44k

2. ???

3. Pofit!

You're saying $44K = rich, and that normal income = $88K.

If you make $88K then you can have $44K to blow just by only spending $44K, like the people who only make $44K anyway.

(Yes, yes, ignoring taxes)

I get $88K by working fulltime for $X months. Getting $44K _for free_ and then also having an entire fulltime of availability to work on a project is quite a gamechanger.

How can you spend $44K on a project and live off of it at the same time, in the latter case where someone handed you the money?

And if you are saving $44K per year, why can't you work for two years and then take one year off, having both $44K to live on and $44K to spend on a project?

And finally, didn't this start with a $44K loan, not a gift?

Bold of you to assume I have even more money.

In the scenario where you are handed $44K, you don't have even more money. Therefore, you have to work if you are spending it on some project.

The comparison you made was inconsistent.

> 3. Pofit!

Was that "Profit!" or "Poof it!"? ;)

If you have some hustle anyone can raise that type of money.

When I worked retail in college, a coworker was able to get $150k together to lease a 737 and crew for a couple of trips. He was then able to leverage his girlfriend’s boss (travel agent) to get some trips to Aruba and some other island. He netted enough to pay for his tuition, which was the goal.

> If you have some hustle anyone can raise that type of money.

If you have hustle and unearned confidence and an existing reliable network, sure.

The conveniently skipped over "getting the initial 150k" is the part of your story that most likely contradicts "anyone can".

Couldn't find your e-mail in your profile and wanted to get in touch. Very interested in going down this path, or potentially working together.

I did not expect the response I received to this post. I received 100+ emails in a few hours and had to remove my contact info as I was only expecting a few people to reach out. I wasn't intending to create a major distraction from my work for myself.

Glad to connect. Please do connect via email at ramsundhar20@gmail.com

Put in a bit of a different view point here. I was the generalist a while ago too. Worked at a consulting firm that did custom builds with small teams, so not only did everything technology wise but also interacting with clients. So did part of developer, account management, sales, dev ops etc roles. Also did everything from backend to mobile in different frameworks and environments.

I thought the same, that I was a generalist and I did also enjoy the variety. But a couple of things:

1) while I thought I was proficient in everything I actually wasn’t. When I went to a big company where I focused on a specific area is when I discovered how little I knew about the topic and how shallow my knowledge was.

2) I discovered that I enjoyed diving into a specific area and being a specialist there was also fun. Gave me a different kind of rush and ego boost, knowing I can solve deeper technical problems in a specific area.

3) you can’t be both broad and deep in everything. Best is probably aim for a T shaped skill set.

I guess short version is, maybe give specializing a go. You might discover that it’s both enjoyable and sets you up well professionally.

Point 3 is a good one, I would just aim at \pi rather than T, just in case.

How about jellyfish-shaped?

I.e., T-shaped with many descenders of various length.

Yes, this is very good too. Make it a strong tripod with accessory legs and it is perfect.

I second this. I was a sysadmin turned devops engineer at a small software company (100/150 employees) for 8 years. Basically the longest employed employee at that point. Knew everything about our systems, infra, software, customers etc. Thought I had a pretty good grasp on what I did.

Got bored after 8 years and now work for a big company as a DBA, and man, I knew so little in hindsight. Having sysadmin knowledge does make working with other teams (like infra) much easier as I feel they respect me more than another colleague but I definitely got put in my place (and love it here!).

Also specializing on databases satisfies me a lot because I feel I'm really grasping the entire tech for real this time and not just the surface.

Smaller companies need generalists more than big ones do. You’re likely best off in early stage startups, small agencies, or your own consulting business. There are also incubators and such who can use that skillset to help bootstrap multiple startups per year.

> Smaller companies need generalists more than big ones do

Big companies like Google also seem to hire a lot of generalists who have good programming fundamentals, are smart, and can quickly (i.e. within months) become productive in many kinds of projects.

These generalists then work on a project for 1-3 years. When they lose interest, they move to another Google project or leave the company.

If you really want to work on both engineering and sales, you'd probably want to run your own business or work at a very small company.

I'd have put it the other way around. Small startups can't afford specialists, not in terms of salary, but in terms of output: there's too much stuff to do and the specialist work (whatever it is) isn't a large fraction of the total.

The larger and more mature a company is, the more able it is to afford a job title which specializes in something narrower. It doesn't need to be super large; if the product is very technical, a specialist might be necessary.

The situation can be a bit different in a large company. They might want to hire a Java developer, or a front end developer. These are specialist roles, in that the people in them have chosen a professional specialism. They're commodity specialists though, so common that they're not thought of as special. It's more rare that they want someone who can do devops, UI, JS, RoR, Java and C++ - this is a generalist.

Yup, this is spot on. In our startup one of the challenges to hiring isn't a lack of money or need, but rather that we need people who can bounce around a lot of somewhat specialized topics, while generally no one topic is big enough to justify a full-time specialist.

I wouldn't say Google et al hire a lot of generalists per se, more like they hire generics: people who intellectually know fundamentals to a depth that can be used for anything, vs. generalists, who have experience in a range of things and an amount of big-picture sense. Generics don't need experience to be useful, generalists don't need fundamentals, so to speak. (IMO, rhetorical, not hard-and-fast rules, don't @ me)

Care to share in what positions such companies make such hires? I've looked around a few times over the years and have never found the slightest hint that they did such a thing.

I’ve been recruited for these and met people who worked in these roles. Typically it’s called a CTO or Head of Engineering. Sometimes it’s a chief architect or staff/principal engineer title or something like “engineer in residence” or they let people choose their own title.

Thank you for the feedback, I appreciate it. I like the idea of working at an incubator. Frankly I didn't realize they had employees in that way (I've never been involved with one). I thought it was more just that they provided a working space and mentoring. I didn't consider that they would employee people to actually help people. I'll look in to that.

I’m in over my head technologically with an early stage startup (mental health and psychology space) that’s fairly close to revenue. We need help in a variety of roles - AWS lambda, managing a remote dev team, integrating with another software products API, as well as product market fit and all the rest. We should have some money to spend after our next raise. Check my profile and email me if you’d like to talk further.

If you enjoy solving small business problems with SaaS and would consider living in San Antonio, TX -- email me bret@porthcawlholdings.com. We're a holding company that operates / starts new B2B SaaS solving SMB problems. Always in need of folks who can get stuff done.

P.S. We believe it's a marathon, not a sprint. Salaries are market rate, benefits excellent (on par with large tech, i.e. 6% $1/$1 401k match, etc.).

P.P.S. While message is directly to OP, also open to anyone else reading. More background in my profile bio here.

It’s less common in accelerators where companies apply from outside. More common in incubators (distinct from accelerators) when a firm wants to foster and spin off ideas. These are commonly run by investment firms or large corporations.

That makes a lot of sense. Thanks again.

I’ve worked on plenty of teams that are mostly generalists at larger companies. You need a few specialists, then there’s always demand for people who know a little about a lot of subjects, so they can just pick up tasks as needed.

Edit: although the OP is broader in experience than most.


I had the same issues for many years, but the past 2 positions have been official "DevOps" positions and they more often than not have me doing so many random things that require all sorts of skills. I love it. It keeps things interesting, and it makes me very valuable to the company because I can do whatever they need.

Sure, some places have a very narrow definition of DevOps, but that's usually the large companies/teams. If you can find something a bit smaller, then you'll have more of a jack-of-all-trades role. At least in my opinion.

Agree, but a lot of companies use this title as a CloudOps so basically Ops but on AWS/GCP

At my previous company, I work as one and really enjoyed it. I was a software engineer, but I was also responsible for infrastructure, tests, CD/CI.

Now, I'm looking for a job like this, but most of the companies just want ops people who can code a little bit for automation and support other developers work "thrown over the fence"

Whenever I see DevOps roles advertised they seem to consist of a wall of product names under "must have x years commercial experience of", which is not at all conducive to attracting a true turn-hand-to-anything generalist.

Yeah but when it's "must have x years of experience of $CLOUD_PROVIDER" that's a whole ecosystem of tools to become proficient at. As someone who does DevOps I've learned to take any hard requirements in job descriptions with a grain of salt; companies are desperate for good DevOps talent, most suck at hiring for it, and some are aware of both of those facts and as a result are more flexible on some things than they would like you to believe.

This has been my experience as well. Some companies are strict about requirements, such as the FAANG companies, but many other smaller companies just need someone who has a wide range of experience and can jump on new stuff without any problems. Obviously you have to know basic DevOps terminology, but after that everything is gravy.

Most of the time, those job requirements are flexible.

Early to mid career, the “full stack” developer has something going for them: odds are pretty high you have 7 years’ experience rather than “1 year [7] times”.

Something i learned about myself a little bit farther in was that I wasn’t a generalist so much as I was a serial specialist (once you haven’t touched something you used the be good at for seven years, can you still claim to be good at it? Turns out I can’t).

What you list sounds quite a bit like what devops was supposed to be but nobody does it that way. Instead you should probably look at small companies. In a large one the only way to wear that many hats is to stick your nose into other people’s responsibilities. At a small company there are gaps everywhere, and people are just glad when someone can fill them.

If you have any ability to mentor, you might want to look at lead positions as well, or think about what you need to get there. That gets you some management responsibilities but you still get to make things.

>what devops was supposed to be but nobody does it that way.

Can you elaborate on this?

Not OP, but DevOps was supposed to be one pool of people taking care of everything, from infrastructure to networking to coding the whole thing. No handovers (or as few as possible), people who specialize, yes, but can take on a whole range of issues.

If Mark the networking guy is on vacation, Jane the fullstack dev should be able to perform basic networking troubleshooting and implement some fix until Mark returns and possibly fixes it.

Turns out people who can do that are:

- incredibly expensive

- very difficult to find

That's my take. I imagine a kanban board where prioritized issues are taken not by people who specialize in that particular area, but by whoever has the time right now. Again, I've actually never seen that implemented, except maybe for companies that consist of nobody but Jane and Mark :)).

A good start.

In other places, it just means operations people with some basic coding chops. And they’re still a completely separate group, instead of an integrated team solving systems problems.

Make your own software product. Requires to be a jack of all trades. Coding, marketing, writing, customer support, design. Because it's only you, you don't have to feel like "being the smartest person in the room". Downside: Takes quite some time to take off.

Additional downside: may never take off and leave you financially ruined.

The former, sure, the later: Not really. Avoid insane risks and keep your skills in shape. You can always call it quits and join the machine again.

It won’t leave you financially ruined if you treat it as a side hustle and keep your main job as a source of income until you get customers.

And if it never takes off, so what? At least it will be a great learning and self-growth opportunity, which is exactly what the OP is asking for anyway.

Thank you for your comment. I often feel that a part of HN judges jobs only based on income and blames you for not focusing on one or the other and thereby losing out on income or business growth. However I, too, think that it's completely valid to stay at your main job while also working on side projects. Maybe you won't be the richest person in the room or turn your project into a huge success but being able to do stuff you love while not risking your peace of mind is worth something as well.

Find an easy job you like and work on your project on your spare time. That's what I do.

Easy salaried job puts you in control of your hourly rate. The less hours you need to put in to stay above board, the higher your effective rate is. Even moreso when you're remote since you don't have the unavoidable cost of commuting & office attendance.

Nobody with that skillset in modern labour market can be "ruined" financially. Yes, you may loose all your assets and even get into some debt, but as long as you're capable of working, you won't be really ruined.

Sure that’s easy - all you have to do is get funding, create a product that people want, market it and make money.

Product manager is great for generalist. I was a programmer who enjoyed technical challenge, but I eventually realized if I wanted to guide the direction of projects I would have to join the business side.

The challenge is endless, diverse, and there is no perfect solution to the problem if people. It is a strange domain, but being technical is nice when working with development. Worth a try if you are in to that

I’ll second this. About 6 months ago we hired a product manager who had years of experience basically being a jack of all trades. Design, web development, stat analysis, marketing, etc. she’s capable of having conversations with everyone on the team and eager to make an impact on the product vision while understanding she has a lot to learn still. I’m excited to see where she helps us go over the next year.

Let's say a programmer was looking to make that change. Where would he start? Are there training programs? What kind of company would provide a gentle introduction? Is it easier to navigate the politics of a small company creating their own product compared to a large consulting company that provides staff augmentation services?

This is a story about a developer going to project management from developer.

Speaking from the experience of a friend, they started out by talking with their manager that they did not want to be a developer in the long term. Shortly thereafter, the manager announced to the team that the developer was going to start taking on project management tasks (like managing the project using Microsoft Project and leading the scrum daily stand ups). They continued in that capacity until they officially became project manager for another team. Now, years later, they are still managing but managing managers and a much larger team overall.

Grandparent was suggesting Product Management, not Project.

Thanks, I did not make it clear enough that I understood that, yet thought my friend’s experience to transition internally was relevant.

One thought is to start doing it. Just start cutting out time to do pm stuff: research competitors. Make a presentation highlighting a competitors feature. Dig into your products analytics and do your own analysis. Attend a usability study. Pilot one if your company doesn’t do them. Brainstorm a new feature, solicit feedback, present the results. Ask existing pms about their jobs, what they need help with. Etc. If you like doing this stuff, you’ll get good at it. At the very least you will be more qualified for the role when you do officially get it.

You pretty much have to job hop. Look for opportunities to help sales with customer conversations. if you can be a bridge from engineering to the business then you will have a lot of value in the position. Communication is critical. You have to be able to make people feel your solution is not best. Peoole do not care what is technically best. They want to feel something is the best. And that is a hard but to crack because every customer is different.

There are some technical product management positions. If you are looking for training and feel like that route and MBA will almost certainly set you down that path. Though I did not and got to a PM position. Luck is also involved. Haha

Disagree, many companies have a way for engineers to pivot into product. The hardest part is having a frank conversation with your manager. I’ve seen many engineers become PMs within the same company

Do they, though? Do they have formal management training for engineers who want to become product managers?

I'll share my experiences becoming a PM outside of a formal program like APM. I started out as an intern and now I'm a junior PM.

You're slightly moving the goalpost with your comment, because it's not necessary to go through formal training to be a PM. Engineers are tangentially involved in the product process pretty much always. The transition is essentially about taking more responsibility over the product and spending more time driving product vision as opposed to building. Passing a PRD to your manager if you thought a feature could be done better was encouraged at my last job.

Your manager will often support you doing this. Then, if you've been doing this well, you can speak about making a change to the PM role because you've proved yourself. If your manager does not support you doing this or the company doesn't need another person in a product role, then you might need to make a change.

FYI large companies accept internal applications for their APMs, which is a formal training program, albeit pretty much for junior employees only.

One possible path is looking for products where the customers are other engineers.

If you are in a role where you could be involved in the decision making of the product(s) you work on, getting involved in that [initially informally] is definitely the best way.

Be knowledgeable about metrics/kpis (and help create them if they don't exist), help your teammates grow through coaching, and work your way to be involved in those product discussions.

If you're not in such a position, try looking for a new job. So many companies need product managers and if you come clear on your ambitions, it seems to be easy to get past that initial wall.

I've recently felt this as well... not just the direction but architecture on how they are created from the scratch...

Maybe in a few years after I get more experience in the business.

I think i love most things product manager except for probably the most important thing, managing people. Yeah, that is not my cup of tea.

a product manager generally does not manage people, they manage what people work on, and project manage.

Become a Consultant at Red Hat!

Wonderful, wonderful place to be a "jack of all trades," while also allowing you the opportunity to carve out a niche if you find you do become passionate about just one thing.

In addition to working in DevOps roles, there are a range of consulting opportunities that are diverse, which adds another layer of keeping things interesting. You can do work with small companies, large companies, government, schools, incubators. And you don't have to stay put. It's encouraged at Red Hat that you follow your passion. Allowing someone like you, to chase whatever happens to tickle your fancy at a given moment.


Consultants seem to have a very chaotic work life, traveling pretty much non-stop, being thrown to clients with no deep knowledge (in the beginning at least) and the sink-or-swim mindset...

If that's what OP (or anyone else) is looking for, consulting career might be awesome for bootstrapping one's skill and career.

Most consultants I've seen have switched positions after a year and a half or less. There are some who absolutely love it and kudos to them, but those seem to be in a minority.

No idea what consultant life is at Red Hat specifically, just some general thoughts.

I started my software career in consulting, and I echo this comment 100%. It’s a great way to build your skills, but it is not a great source of stability and there can be lots of crunch time depending on where you work. They say the hottest fires forge the strongest steel :) I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I was given as a consultant, and for the experience I gained, but long-term it’s not really the lifestyle for me.

I agree with you and this fits enough people. Many (myself included) thrive off constant action and change, steep risk and learning curves.

I started in management consulting - and even after doing startups for years - find startups too mind-numbingly boring. (But that may be me) If I'm on an internal teams - I have to work on many things at once to keep sane.

For me, management consulting (using my CompSci as a starting point) it gave me skillsets others don't replicate easily.

Agreed. Not for all, but certainly a great fit for people who love change and doing new things.

"Chaotic" is probably not an inaccurate word. It's not a career suitable for all personalities. I think it's best for someone who is hungry to learn and do something new, constantly... As there's always lots that needs to be done in the midst of "chaos", while also traveling often, like you say. That said, Red Hat has some incredible incentives (benefits like an annual 2 week company shutdown) that helps offset some of this busyness. Red Hat is also usually quite accomadating of certain life/work dynamics that are better for some, such as allowing people to work primarily remote, if it's something that an employee feels they need at a certain time in their life.

Site Reliability Engineer (SRE)[1]. Read the SRE book (https://landing.google.com/sre/books/). Study any gaps you have. Tailor your resume and talking points to the job/direction you want, meaning de-emphasize some things, while still showing your career path and depth. Look to work at a big-ish company that is respected for engineering quality, where you can learn from others and from existing good practices. It doesn't need to be a Google or Facebook sized company, something around the size of Dropbox, Lyft, Stripe, and similar would be good.

[1] Really, "Development (full stack), server admin, data center management, DevOps, project management, managing teams, VoIP, routing/switching" is a perfect fit for SRE, and SRE probably is the most in-demand and highly paid of all the related fields (software development, etc.).

It’s a fun challenge depending on the company, but before taking a job like that ask about on-call schedules so you know what you’re getting into.

I have seen this so many times it isn't even funny. Talented people start off their career at a startup and then kind of camp there forever. The "Hate being the smartest person in the room" quote is classic as well. You end up being the best programmer you ever met because... well... you are at the top of your little mound. It's not even that you are necessarily the smartest or best in your group. But who is going to challenge you? It's a no go from the start.

Young (in experience) programmers need to move around a fair bit early in their careers, IMHO. It's good for getting perspective and seeing things from different points of view. But it isn't all roses and sunshine. It will be very challenging in a number of ways, but if you don't do it you will stagnate.

So what should you do? Get a job in an area and do your best. Don't try to do everything. Try to learn from others. Get to see their perspective. Do it wrong many, many times so that you can really understand why it is wrong. Or why (surprisingly) it is not.

But most important of all, don't try to do it all. I'm sorry to say this, but you are not a big fish in a small pond (yet). You are a fish that doesn't yet know what "big" means, or else you would have asked a very different question. What potential you have to grow will be determined by the attitude with which you take your next steps.

Try freelance focusing on making MVPs or early-stage products. I’ve always been a jack of all trades, and it never felt like an asset until I started freelancing. Oh, the 3D engine you want me to optimize is Typescript, not C# as advertised or C++ as I was hoping to talk you into? Guess I’m learning Typescript today, ... Oh, your iOS app needs an AWS server set up? Never had to use AWS before (I do mostly apps, not servers, and it was a native iOS project), but some old Linux sysadmin knowledge enables me to jump in and get something running.

You’ll inevitably need to learn something brand new, and you get to pick your clients. After a few successful projects you start looking really appealing as a generalist.

Try Toptal or Moonlight, post on the monthly HN who wants a freelancer post, and reach out locally for clients.

Two things that come to mind are sales engineer (tech skills, sales, training) and consultant (tech skills, project management, team management, sales). If you've worked with a particular software vendor's products, it could help you get your foot in the door as a sales engineer for that vendor. You could also do technology consulting at one of the Big Four or a similar consulting firm. And you can leverage your reputation and network to go back into industry if consulting isn't a long-term fit. (A few years ago, I was in a similar place career-wise and went to one of the Big Four for a while. It was a good experience for me because it basically forced me to improve my weaker skills, and it exposed me to new domains outside of my areas of expertise.) The downside is that you'll travel a lot in either job.

Either a Site Reliability Engineer (SW-SRE/SA-SRE), startup founder or farmer. ;) (It's also true: farmers often do welding, machining, industrial maintenance (hydraulic/electrical/mechanical), surveying, geology, botany, chemistry, accounting, marketing and more.)

Work is real experience, don't discount it. :thumbs up emoji here:

If you're worried about knowledge gaps, here's a badass career development project -> self-pace audit a quality CS degree:

- Find the required course list for a particular university, let's say MIT or CalTech.



- Select a sequence of courses based on their requirements.

- Go through each and every course syllabus and textbook to learn the big ideas.

- Write and keep notes in your own words to summarize each concept.

- If you get stuck on any concept, scour the internet, MOOCs and youtube until you get it. As a last resort, SO/HN/Reddit.

- Do the syllabus homework at a minimum.

PS: I was self-taught (Pascal, assembly, C89, C++, and Java), built beige PCs, was an assistant manager at a software store (Egghead), and had a sysadmin consulting company installed an ISDN modem, made NIX and Windows place nice and helped port a BWR/PWR simulator from NIX to Win32 before I was 18. Then I spent 10 years, money and took on some debt to get a degree that ultimately proved worthless trying to appease HR people and family... don't do that.

Look for jobs that are outside your comfort zone. Leverage your existing experience to convince a new company you can do X even though you've never done X, but based on your history of doing Y which is related but not the same. You didn't know Y when you started it either, but you got Y done and know the impact on the business.

Look for Systems Engineering(not a title used much anymore TBH), DevOps, Site Reliability Engineering, Platform Engineer, Developer Experience engineer(or whatever).

A lot of these roles will be very cross discipline and non-functional. Always be on the lookout for cog-in-machine roles; DevOps can be "The buck stops at you for our companies site reliability" or "you write Chef cookbooks and test kitchen scripts all day".

Don't let anyone tell you your skill set doesn't exist. Let's face it, most college grads do the bare minimum of learning for their degree. Most people don't to TOO much more than what they need to keep their career viable. Being a "generalist" is like taking 20 electives you don't need to graduate; it's inconceivable to many people. Mediocre engineers and specialists will rail against the idea to protect their ego. Generalists will rail against specialist value to protect their ego. Don't get too caught up in the BS.

Be prepared to be pigeon-holed. Nearly every person you meet at your new employer will see your last job "title" and generalize you. Typically the only exceptions will be the recruiter and maybe, incredibly maybe, the hiring manager.


I’m also a generalist and I’ve found my “place” as a systems integrator. The work requires me to know/learn a bunch of different systems and patterns and be able to transfer knowledge across domains. It requires that I understand infrastructure, programming, and distributed systems, as well as be able to collaborate with a bunch of different teams during the course of setting up integrations and messaging systems.

I really enjoy the work and I’m very rarely bored.

Coming from an SI background, I was thinking the same thing.

It's nice to see another integrator here. What do you guys focus on?

I have a pretty similar story: Worked in enterprise for the last few years and recently I ended up leading and coordinating a "scrum" team in a technical lead position.

I do not spend as much time as I would like contributing to the codebase (the devs in my team do often a better job of it), but rather tend to act as a solution architect. I often bootstrap projects, do a lot of research and development, build proof of concepts, and overall push the team towards best practices.

I am very proud of some of my achievements (we are lucky enough to have freedom in the tech that we use and are currently testing out Elm for a small app, we moved the team from Java to Kotlin..) but I feel like I have lowered my value in the general market.

I would be curious to know in what form you contribute to your current team. I do not feel like my job is done here, but I am also going back and forth on whether I should get back to a more coding-oriented job, rather than doing my coding in my free time just to keep in touch with the craft.

> but I feel like I have lowered my value in the general market

Seeing the quality and technical abilities of scrum masters I've worked with, that statement is probably true.

That said, if you can demonstrate that you're a good scrum master that is actually technically skilled, I'd pay your weight in gold for you... Monthly...

I have worked in scrum for years now and I still have very little clue about what a "good scrum master" really does.

Mine, so far, weren't.

I gave this advice just today: Don't call yourself "A jack of all trades" on a resume or in an interview.

Instead refer to yourself as a "Swiss Army knife" or something.

The reason is that "A jack of all trades." is often (mentally at least) followed by "Master of none".

If you have something in the sciences/engineering that fascinates you enough to consider it, maybe grad school?

I guarantee that none of the IT skills you have acquired will go to waste. Plus -- by choosing a fascinating area -- you might actually NOT BE BORED!

On the other hand, if you are at all hesitant, don't go to grad school. With the wrong adviser, it will chew you up and spit you out in tiny bleeding little pieces.

Just my 2 cents...

... the wrong adviser, it will chew you up and spit you out in tiny bleeding little pieces.

Exactly what happend to me. 4 years in a PhD program with an adviser that could not have cared less about anything I was doing. I gave up after my wife left me because I was spending too much time at "work". Yeah, now I have nothing and can't get a job because 4 years of nothing looks pretty bad. (Thank god I bought Bitcoin).

If you are a “people person” IT consulting, technical sales engineering, and other “field” based technical roles at larger companies require a lot of generalist skills. Consulting and sales engineering are a lot more technical than I expected when I moved over from product engineering. The big downside is they tend to be high travel roles.

I agree, as a consultant I have grown into a generalist over time, and consulting rewards those that do.

As a concrete example, I'm at Red Hat Consulting. We have products that range from RHEL, to Kubernetes/OpenShift, to language runtimes/tools/middleware, and finally to more process focussed transformation. You can specialize, but the more of these you are competent in the more useful you become. I am in more of a leadership role now, and in any one project I am likely involved in all of the above.

The key skills you haven't mentioned are the "Soft" skills: mentoring, client facing leadership, presentation skills, etc. If these are a strength for you, then consulting would be perfect.

Shameless plug at the end, Red Hat is hiring: https://careers-redhat.icims.com/jobs/search?ss=1&searchCate...

Couldn't agree more! I love working as a Consultant at Red Hat. I do second the "soft" skills mentioned. If you're not a people person, I would say, consulting might not be for you. But it definitely rewards the generalist, jack of all trades, A.D.D. types (speaking for myself).

Has the IBM acquisition started to affect you guys yet?

Not really. From our perspective, IBM is a partner (we have lots of those) that we just happen to have alignment on both sides to work more with. That means that on the sales side we spend more time trying to find ways to collaborate. Usually there is this long awkward dance with a partner, where you're not sure who is committed and how committed they are. The IBM acquisition cuts a lot of that out, we know that we're tied together so we have to figure out how to partner together, even if we are two separate companies.

On the actual consulting side, 95%+ of consultants have seen no impact. Those that are being impacted are working on projects that have more IBM products involved. For example, some of my team is starting to work with OpenShift on Z.

After 9 years as a programmer at a small polyglot dev shop, I moved to a publicly-traded industrial hardware firm as a systems engineer a few years ago. There's a bit of overlap between programming and systems engineering (requirements analysis, testing and test design, failure cause analysis, et c.), but I knew nothing about hardware. (I was very open about this, and they hired me anyway. So far, so good.)

On the balance, I've found it to be remarkably similar to being a software generalist. You have to know something about everything and everything about something (I stretch a little, but my core competency is programming; the rest I learn as I go). You get to be engaged at all points by all people throughout the product development life-cycle. For my part, it's taught me a lot and definitely made me a more critical thinker.

Downsides include more red tape, similar mentoring problems due to personnel churn, and occasional tensions due to aligning more on shareholder than employee goals. Our project management is also a bit dicey.

I've toyed with getting back into programming full time, and the career switch has cost me a bit there. While I think my coding chops are still decent (I program daily and grab a few minutes sometimes for personal projects at home), my vocabulary has suffered, and that definitely cost me in recent interviews.

Learn about distributed computing patterns and Protocol or Open Cooperativism? https://ceptr.org / https://developer.holochain.org, https://dat.foundation/, https://scuttlebutt.nz?

Try to become a full-fledged mechatronics engineer and then we can talk about the woes of spreading oneself too thinly across too many disciplines, instead :)

In practice you could join an autonomous driving or robotics start-up/R&D group.

I feel pretty much the same and have recently applied to a position of Logistician with Doctors Without Borders.

I got really surprised when I first read about the attributions. I had never seen all my interests forming such a harmonic whole before.

Lots of great suggestions here, including JOAT doing better at small or startup companies. One other thought I'd like to add is, if what you actually dislike about your current situation is the isolation, then you should start a group for JOAT's, and set up a forum or other method in which such people can lean on each other's experience and skills. I see from the responses to this question that there are a lot of people in your situation, and it may be that what is needed is a professional organization tailored to their type of role. This would fix the issues of brainstorming, someone to ask for advice on a tech decision, sharing war stories, etc.

On the other hand, if you're really just looking for a different employer, then either find a similar position at a different small company, or go DevOps, because that is the one right now where the need is so desperate that they will hire someone with mixed experience instead of insisting on a specialist. But, beware, people who fell naturally into being a JOAT, often don't like becoming specialists after a year or so.

This resonates strongly with me. I founded a startup as the technical co founder and now do a mix of product and engineering management. I agree with many of the others here: a small company / startup as an early engineer or a technical product manager sounds like it would fit well. Or, if you have the desire, founding your own company means you get to wear many hats.

I consider myself to be a bit of a Jack although I've been doing database development / design / data mostly for the last 2 years. I've also been doing Java, JavaScript, C, .Net, mobile, some admin, DBA.

I'm currently working as a technical architect that allows me to do some low level work but also work across several areas/technologies. A senior support engineer might also do the same. I've noticed quite few integration jobs which might involve working across technologies. I'd apply for technical roles in your desired pay range and location where you have some of the skills and see what happens. You don't really know too much about jobs until you get there.

Some people really value a diverse skillset and others just want you to churn out x lines of Java code per day...

I'm in a similar situation, with a similar mindset and education (i.e. none)

Sure, a broad skillset would make an excellent case for starting your own business, but I think that being a "jack of all trades" is a sign of a certain personality: great vision and engineering talent, but lack of disciplin to really follow through.

Trying to start my own business has been the most frustrating chapter of my life. I would drop projects regularly to work on something more exciting. I never got anything done until I randomly found a job with a good boss.

Good management is crucial. Someone who can keep up with new ideas and who can delegate the burden which comes with project work. The field is in my view irrelevant; you would pick up the skills anyway.

This sounds like a full stack skillset. You want to "Jack up your trades"? Break into something else.

The next closest thing is Phone Stack Programming! That space has a lot of interesting challenges, and can leverage your current skills.

A good way to be the dumbest person in the room is to diverge hard. NLP, Security/Privacy, Image/Audio/Language Processing, Compilers, Operating Systems, Statistical Modeling.

I consider myself a Jack of all trades from the opposite side. I had 8 years industry work before my first opportunity to Full Stack. Hard switches are hard in every direction, but I am a big fan of "drowning to the top".

Really appreciate all the suggestions in this thread.

Very similar story. Beyond doing the full stack development of their web properties and internal database, design, IT, networking, I've created a marketing, seo, and advertising role handling all of that to bring in clients. It's a busy day but have automated as much as possible. Currently looking for something that checks all the boxes and that'll have me. Hardest part is remote is a must. Definitely don't have an issue traveling for work but relocation would be tough. Recently bought a house in the midwest with my wife.

Do you have any interest in partnering with someone who will manage all the technical details related to your clients web presence so you can focus on the core of your business?

I think you will do very well in IT security, those who dabbled in many things can join the dots and appreciate the bigger picture, which is necessary for security due to its "cover all bases" nature

Depends on what you do every day. Revenue is made by doing stupid pen tests. Since you are a revenue-driver, you gotta do them. And most are boring. The cool stuff like hacking hardware, reverse engineering and whatnot doesn't pay money. It's mostly a marketing gag to find new customers. Maybe you're lucky and can fill such a position.

I'm also a generalist, and I've been wondering if it might be a good idea, for my next job, to only market myself using one of my skills.

My role at the moment involves doing several different things, some of which I'm not very good at, which tends to make my work quite difficult.

I find myself being envious of other members of the team who only need to do one thing, and don't even need to do it that quickly (they probably get paid the same, too). If I had their lives, I think to myself, I wouldn't find work so exhausting.

You need to look into the book 'Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World' as it might boost your spirit a bit and also give you some ideas.

You can do any 'job'. If you have communication skills you are particularly well-suited to be a leader coordinating a team of specialists, connecting them and finding value in the overlap of their specialities.

Most of the people are too narrow now in my opinion. It is your great advantage that you can see a bigger picture than an overspecialized PHP Developer for example.

Lots of great suggestions in this thread.

Another you might consider is starting your own business.

This path is not for most people. However, being successful as an entrepreneur does require a wide breadth of knowledge, and plenty of new things you'd need to always learn.

If you go this route, keep your (current) full-time job while you start building it on the side. Your one and only test of when you're ready to go solo is your ability to make consistent profit.

I'm a generalist too, or as someone else put it - a serial specialist. You could just stagnate until you retire. That's basically what I'm doing, but for slightly different reasons.

Promotions and ratings at my company are very subjective and political. I've had quite a few people over the past 4 years thinking that I was a level higher than I actually am (I'm a dev, people have even mistaken me a tech lead), one of them even offered me a next level position. The subject and technology were not interesting and it was a dead end career-wise (prior to my acceptance ofstagnation). But I have also had a couple of managers that say stuff like 'not everyone has the potential to get to the next level' or 'I hired you because I could see you being a senior dev or tech lead in a couple years, but I don't think that anymore'.

Basically, you might be better off just accepting that you hit your peak and enjoy the brief moments that you find yourself doing something interesting rather than torment yourself with looking for the next promotion or change.

Not what I'm up to presently, but I would advise you to not worry about title and really shoot for company size and sector. In a nutshell, big companies hire specialized cogs, small companies hire general purpose cogs. If you want to be able to roam about and do everything, go for companies that are small but need the skills of a generalist to get them going.

Project managers with technical skills are worth gold in product companies (possibly in other companies as well).

Run a few product implementations at customer side and there will be no monotony.

If you grow older and start appreciating more the routine in your life you can go into product management using the knowledge accumulated on customer side implementations and finally consulting.

In my previous job, I was a data scientist at a start up company, and developed skillsets in a few areas, mostly by working as a technical lead on projects by myself. When the time came for my next role, the most important advice I got was to take the time to figure out what I want to do next, based on the skills I had.

Given that, I ended up applying to jobs that satisfied two criteria. 1) I'd be on a good technical team, and not working as a sole developer on a project 2) The company has a great learning opportunities and mentorship.

From my experience, "jack of all trades" usually just means "all the things we need, at company X, right now", and one "jack of all trades" or multi-skilled position may not overlap with another, it's entirely context dependent. Thus, these positions tend to evolve from something else in smaller, less structured companies, and one option for you would be just trying to join a similar company!

I agree with others that a smaller company seems the best fit since they need generalists. Potentially a manager role might be good if you've got the non-technical skills for it. That lets you hire people for areas you no longer want to be hands on with.

As an example, at my current job over the last two years I've done data engineering, devops, sysadmin, security, machine learning, backend api, people management, product management, project management, and probably some things I forgot about.

It does help to have a core set of skills that you are particularly good at and experienced. Mine is data engineering followed by machine learning and devops (devops being a recent addition). I avoid boredom in those areas by building better systems at every company based on past experience and the specific business goals of the company.

As a Research Software Engineer (https://us-rse.org/what-is-an-rse/) you will have a chance to work on challenging projects that require wide technical experience and a lot of learning.

I was just like this in the laser field. As an engineer, my skills were middling but my physics was good. I hung around the product managers, who were chemistry PhD fraternity boys. In return for understandable answers for the tougher customer questions, they taught me product management.

> Development (full stack), server admin, data center management, DevOps, project management, managing teams, VoIP, routing/switching, training, sales... the list goes on.

I was a 'generalist' for most of my career. I had started, run and sold a successful business that required me to touch all parts of the business.

Until a Sales Director absolutely schooled me in the theory that underpinned his work. He seemed insulted that I claimed to be proficient in sales. It was an insult to his specialism.

I would suggest you really test yourself in one of these areas before claiming you're proficient. I've never met a single person who was proficient in all the above. I've met plenty of people who could trudge along in those areas.

Have you worked in ETL? With AI/machine learning work, it's probably the most important non-AI aspect of a workflow. Getting data to an expected format is not always an easy task, and it requires knowing a lot of different things to get it right.

Presales consulting (also sometimes called Systems Engineer, Solutions Engineer, Sales Engineer, Sales Consultant or Solutions Architect) can be a very fun and rewarding job with lots of personal growth (but of course there’s a spectrum). So if you love technology, sales and Business you could explore that. You’re basically part of a sales function within an organisation and your role in the sale centres heavily around solution definition, architecture and security (incl objection handling), business case creation, (some) detailed product demonstrations, vision/thought leadership etc. I’ve been doing it for like 15 years or so and love it.

I would market yourself as a generalist. Small and medium sized companies under rapid growth need generalists more than anything; especially if your soft skills are good and you can mentor/lead other engineers.

I went through triplebyte as a generalist and it literally changed my life; I had lots of competing offers well beyond what I thought was in my reach.

My role is now 'engineering manager' but I was hired as a staff software engineer; but into an org on a stack I had zero experience with.

If I did it again I would probably do the same thing; but I would also be looking at sales engineering roles; something I wasn't really aware of at the time.

Look into the security field. Your broad base of knowledge from bottom to top would be helpful.

Find a great security team and hope that they will bring you on and mentor you.

Security is a great specialty for you in that it is very broad and always changing.

Well, your ultimate goal should be to be an entrepreneur or a the technical co-founder (and #2); but that's not only easier said than done, it's not for everyone. Is it you? You and only you can know that answer.

In the meanwhile your best bet is to market yourself to cash-strapped startups, pre-prototype to hack together the product/service. You might have to work for a dozen or so start-up that fail before finding the rising star; In such case make sure that you get enough equity so that, by the time "professional management" comes in, you're protected by your equity.

In my experience, the job market looks for a specific niche. You are well compensated for a niche technology instead of generalist "jack of all trades". (e.g Salesforce, AWS, Mulesoft, CyberSecurity etc)

Even though a person has experience with lot of tools and languages, I believe it would be better to market yourself with specific set of tools/technology/language which are in demand. This has been my experience and worked out well.

If you have any questions, my email is in profile. Good luck with your search.

I will run contrary to many suggestions already here. It seems (from the 3 example titles you give) that you want to stay technical/individual contributor. If that’s the case, you can absolutely take your breadth of skills to a big company, whether an established tech company or a technical team within eg the F500. I personally identify as a generalist also, and I (through complete accident and happenstance) moved into cybersecurity (not appsec to be clear, appsec is a team within cyber). Basically one of the most lucrative niches out of my broader range of experiences. It has worked out well for me.

Tl;dr - figure out which of your experience areas align with an area that’s either lucrative to you or of high interest for you for other reasons, and pursue that at a large company. At higher technical levels, your soft-skill and cross-dept experience will further accelerate your career.

Not so much a role as the team I think a lot of people with wide reaching skill sets enjoy. The platform team. Basically responsible for cross cutting concerns between teams. Lots of infrastructure. Lots of defining best practices. Lots of jumping into projects to save them. Team kind of ends up being the roving jack of all trades team that dives into really hard projects that no one feature team has the skill set or time to focus on.

Hey. Do you want to work with a startup going through good scaling up growth? Also, want to learn from your experience on VoIP and scaling the infra. Let me know?

I have a similar background and went into technical management. I found that i didnt like the people management side of things and preferred delivering new things to help the business and so i shifted to a project management role. I now am involved in delivering cutting edge new solutions for our business but dont need to be hands on, my tech knowledges also helps in discussions with engineers - hope this perspective helps.

Try looking for a top digital agency. I know they get a bad rap from HN, but good ones do a ton of interesting work for a big variety of different clients and product types and there is usually wide open opportunities to dip your toes in pretty much every aspect of every kind of digital product. They're also active in a ton of different markets so don't need to be in SF or NYC.

I have a similar situation, I enjoy building electronics, increasingly analogue, projects, Finding efficient ways of deploying hardware (Wireframe spot welded). Using interesting software (Like M/Mumps, have a look you will be impressed). Really am a jack of all trades master of none, but I have a lot of fun. I dont have a lot of billable work which is a bit of a problem at times

If you have some discipline and can focus on projects you are the perfect candidate for starting your own business. As a business owner you need to be able to do many different things as you start out. Eventually you'll need to focus on one role but that's in the future and you can always start another business if you feel the need.

The SRE role seems to be the most wide role there is. By definition you'd have to build systems in a highly available fashion some guarantees. Systems like databases, queues and orchestrators. You will have to be part of the design of the deployment pipeline, the user management, the secrets management, etc. Hell you might end up being part of the security boundaries too (container, node, namespace?).

Since you'll most likely be part of setting up the deployment pipeline, you have to understand to some extend various git flows. You might end-up consulting developers on how to build applications that will run on a docker container, what are the best practices and what pattern the app must follow (e.g. circuit breaker) in a micro-services environment.

You surely will want to automate some management. So apart from DSLs like terraform and configuration management systems (puppet, chef, saltstack, ansible) you will have to write some API here and there, an application tailored around the need of your systems. This application might end up being written in python, ruby, golang or C.

Now, consider that you have build the CI/CD, the orchestrator, alongside the entire pipeline and logic to drive an application from staging to production. You'll most likely be on call and you'll have to deal with networking issues at TCP, HTTP or DNS level, load balancing, autoscaling, etc. You might have a say on that query which is too heavy because the data is un-indexed because, well brings down the database every now and then.

There is no role I can think of in a modern institution which has the breadth of technologies that an SRE (or DevOps engineer as they are often called) will have to gain expertise.

In short you have to be: A medium-level programmer in terms of concepts, have networking experience, learn dozens of new tech, face ever-evolving problems eventually at scale, design end-to-end systems, debug applications others written sometimes without having context, understand trade-offs of new tech stacks only to explain it to others (which might end in a PITA due to the back-and-forth but you'll eventually end up knowing lots of things you didn't ever thought about).

If you like all that, then an SRE role is ideal IMO even in medium to big corps.

NOTE: The role could be called SRE, DevOps engineer, Infrastructure Engineer and/or quite a few other things depending on where you work. Responsibilities tend to overlap significantly though.

I've been an SRE / DevOps for nearly 20 years (well, the role has changed quite a bit since it was called "sysadmin") and wanted to thank you for this excellent description.

I often wonder whether I should start pivoting to full-stack or at least back-end development, in order to better position myself for technical cofounder / startup CTO opportunities (DevOps expertise isn't the most valuable skillset in the first few months. Ability to quickly whip a product prototype together at a hackathon is.)

But you've just reminded me why I love my job so much !

Did you ever think about becoming an entrepreneur? You have an interesting set of skills that would give you at least some start, of course, you would have to learn some things about marketing and branding. Check indiehackers.com maybe you get some ideas. I have the same problem as you, it seems product managers and CEOS have multiple skills.

You could consult if you enjoy the human relationship and light project management aspects of being a jack of all trades.

SRE (Site Reliability Engineering) or CPE (Client Platform Engineering) or DevOps.

All of these will use 50-60% of your skills.

Any you can shift your focus to. I don't see a future being a JOAT, especially not if you're transcending vast ecosystems like Windows, Linux or proprietary and open source.

Choose one such ecosystem to focus on, but within that can be many exciting things like Javascript and Python or Rust and Embedded.

You should consider starting your own company, or being a CTO for an early stage co.

The last time I felt this way I went to go work on VR software and learned all about 3D graphics, game development, and real-time networking in games for a few years. I recommend it.

Product management is an excellent role, the jobs are not easy to land. You often need specific product execution and delivery experience.

In addition to job title, consider also company size/phase. Small companies benefit from and appreciate generalists more.

You are not alone. I am also a big fish of your kind, was living another pond until recently, I started my own business

How do you know what to do? I don't like being a big fish but I have no ideas for my own business.

Jack of all trades is okay, but it's best if you pick one thing that you like best and specialize in it. Your other skills will help you in your day-to-day, but the deep specialization will help you with career advancement. Also don't forget to change the "one thing" if it becomes too untrendy... PHP developers aren't making what they once did, although PHP is still used all over the place.

"Jack of all trades, master of a few" is a better ambition. If you are in your 20s, your first goal is to become master of at least a couple of trades. Roughly 1-1.5 per decade.

As an employer I look for a balance. I look for the ability to have deep knowledge in at least one area, but also working knowledge in more areas.

Think of it as an S-curve that is steep in the 20s and flattens somewhere in the 50s. Those first 10 years after graduation are a bit special. This is where you either become really good at something, or you become mediocre (or worse).

(If you are a programmer and I see you spending 2 years on each programming language before moving on to whatever was trendy at the time: slim chance I will hire you. You will probably give lots of entertaining talks to conferences, but you will not accomplish much in real terms. I've seen people piss away decades of their lives like this, only to end up at the bottom of the food chain)

This sounds like good advice. I'm also employed at an early-stage startup and enjoy peeking into different areas in order to become proficient enough to be a founder myself at some point. In contrast, I rather disliked my first student job in a more established company after a year for being too specialised. Someone mentioned that a pi-shaped knowledge would be a good thing to aim for - I guess especially if they integrate well. I truly enjoy doing both Full-Stack Web Development (leaning towards backend) and Data Science (Python).

Smaller company. Master their domain. Streamline all their business processes. CTO role or something like that.

Why don't you just do contract short term work? This is where a jack of all trades has best prospects.

Depends what your trades are. Devops/security jack of all trades are super in demand for consulting.

Kind of sounds like you could be in a leadership role. Do you like working with people?

Surprised that no one has mentioned solutions architect. Sounds like a good fit to me.

quality assurance, either straight up manual testing or automation. in my experience, way less stressful than any other hat i,ve worn: sysadmin, netadmin, coder. salary will be about 80% of a dev, still decent.

To me, all of those roles are the same “IT” job. I’d expect all of them from the same person. There are plenty of people that are bobsleigh racer butcher quantum physicist night club deejay art critics applying for C# financial database platform architect roles.

Consultant, and develop some specific targeted cvs to give companies.

Fullstack Developer?

Btw big companies like FAANG interview generalists all the time.

They do, but in my experience most really broad generalists don't sufficiently fit into any given box. (One interview loop at a FAANG I was asked to come back three times for three teams--one systems, one backend, and one mobile--andmy backchannel feedback was "they all worry you'd get bored." Which was probably true.

There are definitely generalists at FAANGs, and they've got license to kill, but it seems like they were hired specifically at a certain rarefied level or they grew into the role over time.

You are not alone. I am just in another small pond.

Early startups love jack of all trades

Move into managerial/sales role.

the full quote goes: jack of all trades master of none but better than a master of one.

Maybe launch your own company?

Solutions Architect

sysadmin is the standard one. CEO is the other. :)

Support engineer

> Hate being the smartest person in the room.

More likely than not this is not true. Dunning-Kruger effect and all that.

Especially if, by your own assessment, you are "proficient" in devops and sales.


Oh shit.

>I've been at the same small company for over 7 years. I started at the bottom, worked my way to the top after 3 years, and I've been here since. For a couple years I created new positions for myself because I hate being stagnant, but there's nothing else to do here.

I've been there and I thrive on it to this day. There are ups and downs with this, but you have something that will serve you very well if you choose to have a change of perspective/attitude.

You can either take this as a blessing or as a curse. Have you thought about going into an executive role and leading the company in a larger capacity, and helping it grow further?

At a certain point you have to drop off all of these duties that you are performing so that you can leverage the people you have around you.

You may think you still enjoy doing all of these things, but this stagnancy is going to haunt you, because there isn't an infinite growth in these areas. People, and companies, like predictability. Your voracious appetite is an anomaly. And you can't keep it up forever, either, because eventually you'll just plain get tired of it.

>I also feel like someone that is filling these roles at another company probably knows/does it better job than I can.

Questionable. There are a lot of muppets in other companies that don't know what they are doing.

Did the company grow over the years that you were there? I'm assuming it's not as "small" now as it was when you started. If so, you grew along with the company and you have a very good grasp of how to introduce and manage things within a company over time as it grows (ie. transitioning/pain points).

>What roles out there fit the skill set of someone that is good at a whole lot of things, but doesn't feel like a master/senior in any one of them?

People here are already playing Startup Bingo bullshit.

I doubt working at a startup will satisfy you, because that shit will feel like Groundhog Day much like how it currently does for you. You'll get to go through all the same nonsense over and over again.

Furthermore, the startup hustle is far riskier (with even less guarantee of a payout) than the position that you are in, because your position is much rarer. Anyone can choose to start a startup. Very few people can choose to be at the top of the food chain in a company that is alive (and healthy, I hope) after 7+ years. You didn't stumble into this position by accident.

You can leverage knowledge you don't know you have to do things that you couldn't do at a startup, all while having financial backing, a solid team and processes in place.

>My issue is I haven't had formal training in a lot of it

Most of what you know that is vital (that you've dismissed, I think) has no formal training. I can get formally trained monkeys to sling code all day if I wanted to, and while it wouldn't be done as well as I would have done it, it would satisfy the larger picture and keep things moving forward. Sacrosanct words for "engineers" who keep themselves busy writing more useless unit tests I'm sure.

>So finally to my question: what role/job title I should be looking for?

Before you jump ship, see what options at the top of the company pyramid are available for you, because if you leave and go elsewhere, and if you market yourself as a "PHP Developer" or "Systems Admin", you'll more than likely just move the clock back by 7 years and have to start all over again, in a different company, doing the same shit you've done for the last 7 years.

While I don’t disagree with the options for generalists others presented, I wholeheartedly agree with the advice to explore your options at your current company before you jump ship. Talk to your supervisor or an exec decision-maker you trust. If they recognize the value you’ve provided, they will bend over backwards to craft a role to keep you. And if they don’t, that will be the time to pursue the other options mentioned here.

Are you sure you're a "jack of all trades"? It sounds like you have interests that cross different domains, but can you execute in those domains? You're not likely to get a job as a generalist if your pitch is "I like everything", unless you can demonstrate your accomplishments across a broad range, which takes years to develop. With only 7 years expereince, it is not likely you've achieved that.

That being said, I think you are a budding generalist and should continue to take focused jobs in multiple areas and develop your depth professionally.

There is a reason why generalists tend to be in the 40's and 50's: it takes a long time to get there.

EDIT: I want to point out that over 30+ years in the industry I can say that the "generalist" disposition is rare. MANY engineers just want to put their heads down, do their one task, and grind through life without ANY upsets. Seriously, I've left companies, come back after years of absence, and seen people doing the same tasks they were doing 10 years ago. That's fine if that's your jam, but having the desire to learn and grow and be new at things is RARE. So run with it!!!

Seven years is quite a long time. That's just over two whole years at three separate companies! For somebody that can execute that's plenty of time to build a portfolio of accomplishments.

Agreed, but these are accomplishments at two years of expertise level. Two years is enough time to understand something, and that's generally the time required to demonstrate a promotion from "junior engineer" to "engineer" at big corporations. I guess it depends on your definition of generalist. I expect at least 3-4 areas of senior level expertise, which is 15-28 years in the business. Our definitions differ if you think it is someone who has dabbled in 7-14 things at two years of depth.

Both opinions are equally valid, BTW. I'm not sure there is "watermark" of what makes a generalist.

On the extreme far end, I know people who claim to "speak several languages" and basically know how to say "yes, no, please, thank you," and consider that sufficient to make the claim. Maybe that IS sufficient. I'm not actually sure, but the cynic in me says, "no."

On the other hand according to the Foreign Service Institute(Department of State) it takes about 1k hours for a native English speaker to reach "proficiency" at speaking and reading "Languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English": Level 4.

If your full-time job for seven years were learning spoken languages, you could become proficient in 14 of them. Or maybe you want want to learn 7 of them and leave room for nearly all level 1-3 languages. Maybe you just want to spend 2 hours a day M-F(you slacker!), you'll only be able to learn Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, German, and.. Dutch.

Funny, there's a submission on HN today about a person learning french to "B2" level in 12 months, and this guide was provided:


I didn't know there was a stratification!

Another "jack of many trades here". I can write super fast assembly, can do db, networking, web, sysadmin stuff. If anybody is looking to hire for part time remote work.

Applications are open for YC Winter 2022

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