When we were at school, and college, and university, we were rewarded for knowing a lot about a little. As we narrowed our interests in college and even specialise in university, we focus all our efforts in one area and we are thrust into the workplace with that one thing we are any good at, what a vulnerable situation to be in.
I didn’t go to university so I never specialised, although I considered it, but when I went to college (twice) I studied 8 different subjects. In the UK, the majority of students will take on 3 subjects in the first year and reduce to 2 in the second year, honestly I didn’t really get that concept when I was younger and it definitely shaped my future. I didn’t do well enough across so many subjects to warrant a place in a good university and I ended up in the workplace earlier than a lot of my friends that I looked up to.
Looking back I thought I had put myself in a weaker position than my peers and assumed I would forever be working in jobs packing cigarettes, or selling paint, or carrying drunk students from their vomit sprayed toilet cubicles and out onto the street to sober up and continue on their journey to specialisation – happened more times than I can count.
I set myself a challenge and joined the military for a short period before opting out most of the way through training. I put in about 18 months of my life to this endeavour and it was probably the most valuable period of development in my life. I learnt from this experience that I (or indeed anyone) can achieve anything and go further both physically and mentally than I once thought.
With the help of some friends I found my way into software development and progressed from there. I never became particularly good in one language or discipline but I was happy with the wide varying areas I could speak of confidently. Over the years I saw gaps appear in the organisation and I gladly filled it, learning from the ground up and ensuring I was capable of dropping into any role when it was needed. Knowing a little about a lot has made me more valuable to my company and given me the safety net of being able to move from role to role should my current job not work out.
It pays to know a little about a lot because it gives you the flexibility to do what you want in work and move more freely from job to job (should you need to) and be a highly valuable asset to your company. Too useful to ignore might be the modest way to describe it.
Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know”, but make sure you ensure the next time someone asks you that question again that you can give a better answer. Learn what your colleagues are doing in other departments, you might just find the direction you want to move in an organisation, at the very least you will be able to move should your department become redundant. Learn more and more, don’t let the end of your educational years be the end of your education, you are far more mature now and in a better position to know what you need to learn and as a ‘grown up person’ you can choose what you want to learn!