I have found that there are two approaches to continuing IT career growth: Growing Organically (aka Pyramid Skills) or what I like to call “Going for the Jugular” (aka Needle Skills.) Both are viable methods for advancing your career and working deeper into the field.
Growing Organically means accumulating a broad base of knowledge covering many bases before moving on to more advanced learning within a specific area. This approach means that it will take some time before you have an opportunity to spend working with advanced skill sets but it has many advantages also. By growing your knowledge slowly and evenly you have the chance to get a solid appreciation across the IT disciplines. This is important because almost all job roles involve a tremendous amount of cross-discipline interaction and by understanding the technologies, functions, roles and challenges or different disciplines you will have more ability to work within your own as well as to work with people in other areas.
Taking the time grow your knowledge base, to ensure a thorough understanding of many discipline area basics will slow immediate career growth but provide a more powerful foundation for increased growth later in the career and provide more stability to allow for greater changes as the field continues to grow and change on its own. By accumulated a strong base of knowledge across many areas you will be much more capable of withstanding job changes, reassignments, role changes, etc. IT is a field that expects great changes over very short periods of time and specific skill knowledge is not generally as highly rewarded as broader knowledge and experience will be over time.
Taking the time to establish a firm foundation from the beginning will provide for safety as well as making continued education easier and faster in the future.
Going for the Jugular refers to specializing very easy on in a very select field of study. This could include XHTML Web Development, C++ Programming, Solaris Systems Administration, Cisco Networking, etc. This type of skill development allows for very quick development within a highly concentrated area of study and does not provide the obvious large base of knowledge that learning more organically will do.
I refer to this as developing “needle skills” because it is a slender vertically aligned knowledge set involved. Knowledge will go very deep very quickly but available job roles will be extremely specific. The obvious advantage to developing “needle skills” is that one can focus on areas of interest to the exclusion of other areas early on in the career and pay scales will increase more quickly during the early career years.
By going for the jugular there is a long term career consequence of reducing the ability to move into management as well as making only larger organizations with more specific available job roles good career targets. This cuts the potential job field almost in half in many cases.
Choosing between modes of study requires deciding between a tradeoff between short term financial gains and long term stability and greater total career growth. I recommend taking the time to become well versed in many disciplines – even those that are less exciting and interesting because the advantages of this method will become evident within very little time and can be critical during early career years when jobs are scarce and being picky about job role is not a reasonable option.