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Specialist or Generalist?

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Which is best for you - multiple vendor certs or be an
expert in one area?

There seems to be a lot of speculation about this including
some very bad advice.

I should start out by saying that you need to work out what
it is you want from your career and be very careful about
listening to uninformed opinions. I know of several people
with zero contracting experience and who have worked for
one company their entire career dispensing advice to
unsuspecting newbies on forums.

Generalist - you can work across several vendors such as
Microsoft, Cisco as well as a few other area. By the very
nature of the role you will be okay to good at many things
but quickly hit the limit when dealing with a complex
issue on one of the platforms.

At this point you will have to raise a support request or
call in expert help.

You will be suitable for helpdesk type roles, maybe up to
level two or working for small to medium sized company
who can't afford to have a dedicated person for each role.

Specialist - you are at a high level for one type of
technology and have dedicated yourself to becoming good
with one vendors technology such as Linux, Cisco or MS.

You have narrowed the type of role you can apply for but
you will be involved in higher level work requiring the
services of an authority.

This type of role is suitable for a larger company who
has a dedicated person or team for different parts of the
network. You will often be called in for project work and
probably gravitate towards contracting.

Which is Best?

There is no actual best. If you want to be doing more
support based work and more variety then you will go
for a generalist position and try to please all people. If
you want to focus your time one vendor then you will
naturally become a specialist and be able to command
higher salaries or contracting rates. You will also be
lifting yourself from the lower level support based roles.

The choice is yours.

Paul Browning


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1 of 1 people found the following comment or review helpful:
If you specialise in security, you need to be a generalist too!, January 6, 2013
By timwilliams - See all my comment or reviews    
I like this blog - because it pretty much sums up a career dilemma that I suffered with for about 20 years - before I finally discovered IT Security as a specialism that requires an extremely broad general knowledge plus some deep knowledge in certain areas. I don't know if there are any other disciplines like mine, but there probably are. For example if you are deep in IT Service Management and Software Configuration Management you can be both a generalist and a specialist. Just a thought!
3 of 3 people found the following comment or review helpful:
ompletely understandable, July 8, 2011
By madams - See all my comment or reviews    
Well this hasnt been commented on in a while but since I'm new here I figured I'd comment. I too am a generalist - lots of desktop support, scripting, packaging which had employers looking at my resume like wtf? - i was spread thin in all the areas. I would always be the "best" candidate for helpdesk jobs or low-end support. I found myself in a vicious cycle of jobs. I then decided to switch to telecom which now I'm trying to specialize primarily in MPLS/VPN R+S and basic transporting (T1, T3, OC-N) (I'm currently in a voip role though) I like this side of the gate and looking at it from where I've come from I cant suggest generalizing to anyone. Being a jack of all trades, master of none just puts you in a mediocre stage which is hard to break out of.

just my 2 cents.
0 of 0 people found the following comment or review helpful:
Specialist or Generalist, October 20, 2010
By MarkaaHill - See all my comment or reviews    
Having worked as a IT Manger for many years, my role has predominantly been one of generalist, as I employ technicians with the specialist skills to deliver the solutions. My issue is that as a generalist, I am less employable without the certs, but still have experience in many areas that should benefit any employer. However, I have since specilaised within the networking arena, (as well as Database and Service Support) as that is where my interests lie.
It is this specialisation I hope will see me employed beyond where I am now - which unfortunatley has me unemployed and still looking for work. (That is not a plea by the way) ;-)
0 of 0 people found the following comment or review helpful:
Great Views, October 15, 2010
By Paul - See all my comment or reviews    

It is all of course my viewpoint and you have to choose what is right for you. My feelings are that if you take on too much you will be average (at best) at them all but of course a router guy could easily do Cisco and Juniper. If you start crossing into VMWare, Linux and Microsoft then I really think you are cert chasing.

If you want to contract I'm telling you 100% that you will be specialising in as far as either desktop/server side or network.

Great comments though.

0 of 0 people found the following comment or review helpful:
So many Opportunities, October 15, 2010
By pwilko - See all my comment or reviews    
Great article Paul.

There are so many different opportunities. Lot depends where you want to live.

Big Cities have more opportunity to specialise, while smaller cities and towns you need to be an alrounder. Hopefully that will change as business accept the work anywhere methodology.

Alrounders probably have more people interaction, so if you are more a people person, that might be the way to go.

0 of 0 people found the following comment or review helpful:
My Experience, October 13, 2010
By richrose23 - See all my comment or reviews    
Great Article...It can e debated for infinity and there's no right answer. It would be great to master/specialize in one area but in today's environment if your only god in one area you can find yourself without a job. With mergers being common and your new company has enough Cisco or MCSE engineers, where does that leave you? I think you need to step outside your current specialized area and expand your knowledge.
0 of 0 people found the following comment or review helpful:
Also somewhat disagree., October 13, 2010
By Destinova - See all my comment or reviews    
In the networking world today you can't lock yourself into a silo. Look around at the partnerships Cisco alone maintains - NetApp, VMWare, Citrix, Apple, etc. You can't throw a rock at a networkers conference without hitting a VMWare person. You have to be able to understand and work with the other products you are going to encounter or you will find yourself the switch-config monkey or the guy staring at CiscoWorks all day waiting for SNMP traps to give you something to do.

Even then you have to know how your devices are going to interoperate with other vendor's gear. What's the proper switch configuration for the new SAN we just got? How does VMWare handle VLANs? Nexus 1000V anyone?

Cisco certainly doesn't keep themselves locked into routers and switches. Neither should you.
0 of 0 people found the following comment or review helpful:
Not Unsurprisingly I disagree, October 13, 2010
By erratictoad - See all my comment or reviews    
Paul posts some great thought provoking info but I don't always agree 100% with him and that's my perogative.

In the case of multi-vendor stuff then absolutely yes go for them - however what you can't do is do it in a half-arsed way as that will guarantee a lower level role. Most of teh guys I work with that are working at a higher level are all able to cover multiple topics / vendors / areas.

And it isn't always true that the more specialised you are in one area the more interesting the work becomes. In fact I'd go so far as to say if you specialise solely on one area / aspect / vendor then you will likely become bored with it very quickly and wonder why you ever got in to networking.

I frequently have to point out to my server colleagues that their conclusions are wrong or not well founded but I can do that because of my background with servers.

As to *nix and scripting then these will always be useful especially if you do end up in a level 2, 2/3 or 3 role as the likelihood is that YOU WILL be dealing with multiple vendors and only knowing one will hinder not help you. How many firewalls use a backend that is *nix based? How many load balancers are command line driven only?

But - as Paul says, YOU need to decide what you want and how you will get that. I say, just be sure you'll be happy in your choice.
0 of 0 people found the following comment or review helpful:
Fantastic, October 11, 2010
By Thirst4Knowledge - See all my comment or reviews    
Great flipping artical

This put a final nail in the coffin for my thoughts "I must learn about linux , I must learn to script , I need to look into VMware"

This kind of mentality has kept me imprisoned in an "ok ish" job with an absolute **** of a manager who wants you to know everything and pay you a receptionits wage
0 of 0 people found the following comment or review helpful:
Great article., October 11, 2010
By vladccie - See all my comment or reviews    
Great article to address the frequently asked question. Which is Best?
- There is no actual best.

So everyone has to decide for yourself, and the article provides some food for thoughts on the subject.

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