Can you explain how your car works? For many people, the explanation would be something like this: “I open the door, sit down in the driver’s seat, and I turn the key in the ignition. The engine starts up. I put my foot on the brake pedal, then I put the car in drive. I release the brake and press the accelerator, and it goes. I use the steering wheel to navigate the car where I want to go.”
Would you take your car to a person to be repaired if they could only explain this much to you about a car? For most people who drive cars, this much knowledge is enough. But for people who design, manufacture, maintain, and repair cars and car components, it does not even begin to scratch the surface.
Also consider the car hobbyist. This person probably changes his own oil and can even perform a few other basic maintenance items himself, like rotate the tires and check the brakes. But would you ever bring your car to him after a major collision to be repaired? Definitely not. In that situation, you want someone who specializes – who, when they see the snarled mess of metal and parts, either knows how to unravel them and fix them or at least knows what other kinds of mechanics he might need to call to start repairing the mess.
If this is the kind of quality we demand from the people who fix our cars, why do we not expect more out of the people who bring IT solutions to businesses? The effects of their work are longer lasting and have a greater impact on a business’ bottom line than just one car repair. And yet there are software engineers who don’t understand the kinds of networks their programs will be installed on, and there are network administrators who don’t understand how to optimize their company’s systems to run certain programs for the purposes collaboration and business efficiency.
It is for that reason that the IT industry really needs to re-think its concept of “specialist.” A person might specialize in creating websites. They understand the design process and what kind of code is needed for a clean and attractive site. But do they understand the hosting system the site is going to be on? Can they troubleshoot if the site goes down unexpectedly due to a server error?
These are the dangers of “specializing” in the narrow sense of the word. Rather than just learning some HTML and graphic design, our web designer might benefit from additional knowledge on different hosting systems, both Linux and Windows based. Then, rather than saying “that’s not my department,” they can offer efficient solutions that make them that much more valuable to their client or their employer.
It is the diverse “specialist” who understands not only his own component, but all of the components surrounding his and how they affect the overall system. Having tunnel vision is tempting. Many people are comforted by convincing themselves that the only need to learn one particular aspect of their chosen field. But just as an auto mechanic wouldn’t stop his education at conducting oil changes – even if that’s mainly what he’ll be doing for the first part of his career – IT professionals need to ensure they have a deeper knowledge than just their particular niche. They need to be acquainted with the areas peripheral to their own.
This lesson applies in SAP professionals as well. It isn’t enough for an SAP consultant to only know SAP. On the technical side, they must understand how to set up a computer system and network that will run SAP successfully and efficiently. With emerging new technologies on the rise, they also need to understand cloud computing and mobile access. They should know how to troubleshoot a Windows machine and be familiar with programming for the purpose of building apps that will customize SAP to their clients’ needs. On the business side, they should understand their company’s industry and business processes so they can adapt the SAP system to its particular needs. Only when they have this diverse background that lets them implement, troubleshoot, and adapt, will they truly be specialists.