The civilized world is very comfortable with the manufacturing process. It has been in place for hundreds of years, first in a small setting involving skilled craftspeople and apprentices. Typically in that time, an craftsman would take a project from start to finish with the help of a few skilled assistants. With the industrial revolution of the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, though, all of that changed. Assembly lines became the norm. One person would be put in charge of one particular segment of the production process; they would know only that segment, however simple, and would repeat it day in and day out. This system revolutionized production, reducing costs and increasing efficiency and productivity across the board.
Now, a couple hundred years later, things have changed again as we shift more and more from physical goods to dealing in information technology. Despite these changes, however, old habits are dying hard. The assembly line is still in place, only it’s filled with architects, coders, developers, and quality control people. Despite all of the potential for fast innovations in nimble environments, we insist on retaining this assembly line setup, which, like the sole craftsman labouring in his shop, has become inefficient and clunky in the face of how fast technology is changing.
Additionally, conventional wisdom is telling people to specialize. Knowing one thing really well is held up as a sure-fire way to have a job. What isn’t explained is that this job is just about all you will have. Unless you build your skills, it will be very hard to turn this job into a career.
You may be backpedalling right now as you read this. After all, in IT, you know that it’s easy to become dangerous by just knowing a little bit about a lot of different things. You may become over-confident in your skills in a particular area where you had previously only dabbled with some moderate success. It isn’t hard to envision the kinds of catastrophes you can create with just “knowing a little” about something – security breaches, network malfunctions, system outages, and so on. But consider the consequences of being a member of that assembly line and not knowing what’s going on in the layers above and below you. When push comes to shove and positions start getting shipped overseas, who is going to be left holding the reins – someone who understands each component of the IT process, or someone who was just really good at that one particular niche?
Furthermore, as business change, they will demand more out of their IT solutions. Who is better equipped to deliver – someone who understands how to implement networks along with developing software solutions that are flexible as a business’ needs change, or someone who just knows how to build a website?
SAP offers solutions to both sides of the problem: businesses who demand more out of their IT departments and professionals who simply cannot do everything at once. Rather than attempting to guess at what tomorrow’s business problems will bring and trying to develop skills that will meet them, SAP provides a flexible environment that is still of a manageable scope. It requires knowledge in the area of networking in order to implement and maintain the systems on which it is installed. It requires understanding the underlying computer systems and their corresponding operating platforms. It also requires knowledge of SAP itself and how the guts of it function to run the business, and what kinds of development can take place within Netweaver to build on those functions for each individual business’ needs. When broken down into those components, it is a manageable and flexible environment, creating a situation where the IT staff can know a little about a lot of the SAP system and where they have enough background to build on a business’ needs and specifications without having to learn an entirely new system. This flexibility also gives IT professionals the time to learn about their underlying business, which, as we have said before, is hugely important to someone looking to build an IT career with a good company.
In addition to allowing IT professionals to generalize in a way that is not dangerous to their health or their careers, SAP also provides ample opportunities for career growth. It is a popular platform for enterprise-level companies, so those who choose to learn it will always have career prospects. Those careers will also always be engaging and rewarding. In our typical IT cycle, there are often times where one part of an IT team is busy while another part cools its heels – this is the danger of specialization. Designers often can’t help programmers and vice versa. But in SAP, a developer might be filling the same shoes as an implementer, and can then transition into a maintainer and “upgrader” as the cycle progresses.
Becoming bullet-proof in the IT industry may seem like an impossible task. It is simply not viable to learn everything about the field in order to ensure you will always have a job. But by taking a more general approach to your skill set and understanding the layers around you, and the business you work for, you take several steps forward into becoming a “big picture” person capable of maintaining a lasting career rather than a mundane short-term job.