One of the ironies of life, at least working life working in the website field in America today, is as you get to know more and more about a multitude of subjects, the actual perception about you is that you actually know less and less about each of the subjects. In other words, if you increase your knowledge further and further about a specific subject, become certified and codified and study your way into being a precision oriented tool, especially a technical subject, you become more and more valuable as an asset to the business, as opposed to being knowledgeable at many areas. To me it is totally counter-intuitive. The actual opposite is probably true in the end. But as you who work on the web know, specialty knowledge is dollars and cents!
But, if you get general knowledge about a ton of things that are relevant and related, that means you are flexible, you can move around in your career and be more of asset. That is how I think, and it is always has been my mantra. But that’s not exactly what is happening in large corporations today when it comes to building out the web. In fact, smaller companies, especially in Internet jobs, have followed the bigger companies down this anti-general knowledge path to the point where we are at a point of no return. (By the way, I can program, have an MBA, I am an SEO expert, have managed large tech teams, have written 5 books on Internet subjects, worked in startups or big corporations and have a data/web analytics emphasis) Web employees have become cogs in the wheel, where they are the best cog around for now because that is what they have to do. This ultimately happened because corporations got desperate in these specialty areas and we had to flee being generalists and managers and choose a cog to fit into or get left out in the cold.
The problem is, down the road, when that extreme specialty gets switched out by a new tech, like a year 2000 bug consultant, that cog becomes irrelevant, and those of us over a certain age have experienced this, you either become a new cog and go through training or sit on the couch. The programmers only know programming. Some programmers only know C. And some C programmers only know C++ and some of those only know Objective C. The designers only know design. The marketers only know marketing. And each specialty gets more specialized.
It is one of those conundrums of our working life, especially in corporate america.
It appears to large organizations that having workers specialize in a particular category is the best way to direct people, train people, manage them, hire them and sadly enough fire them. Every job specialization/field has a life of it’s own and they do end, sometimes very quickly.
Specific Knowledge, GOOD! Too Much Knowledge, BAD!
Years ago, in my first large corporate environment I worked for, Bell Atlantic, which became Verizon Wireless, there was a general consensus that learning and knowledge was a good thing. Outside of Bell Atlantic/Verizon, I have found that the world is upside down and inside out.
Specific knowledge GOOD. Too much knowledge in many disciplines BAD. It makes no sense to me, but it is what it is.
The worst of it is when I hear of a job that is something like Web Analyst III. That is just like the most unappealing job title around. Would that mean that there is a I and a II? It all sounds a little like we are being funneled down paths that don’t make much sense. Literally we have to hide what we know to find work in the environment that has been created by a head hunter culture. I’ve done it. We are in a world where our knowledge gets us eliminated as a job candidate, not accepted. But there was a time when general knowledge was a good thing, and overall good for the organization. We can give this role a title finally. Manager. Where did the manager ultimately go?
What Happened To The Manager?
Managers were eliminated in the corporate world, during the first rise of the consultants in the late 90s, when employees first discovered they could switch to being a consultant and take the corporation to the bank with a hard to find category of knowledge. I saw some guys go from $40k a year to $130k overnight. So a ton of tech people got even more specific in their careers to get higher pay. I know of a specific consultant who made more than the president of Bell Atlantic Mobile, over $400k a year in the 90s and he sat in the basement of the building at the time. So, the rise of the high-paid tech consultant brought a wave of thinking into corporate america that the emphasis of their budget should be to find these highly paid guys who were more like parts of the structure of the building than employees. It was more of an emergency situation and a reaction than a strategy. It just happened! Hot-shot programmers calling the shots and they did on the salaries. All the dollars and emphasis shifted away from management levels to getting the right tech people in place to grow and survive and the long term thinking that made big corporations great went kaput.
The Real World Sucks
Even I left my management role and became a consultant/programmer because of this. I made more money right away than managing a team of 10 engineers and programmers. The problem with this change in the way corporations work is the structure of corporate management went from 50% management to 10% management and it lead to the elimination of the management structure. The large chunk of employers became consultants. Internal employees got less interested in being generalists. Internal employees got crap pay for that period of time. They suffered, especially since pensions were cut and things got dicey in terms of keeping a job.
Corporations did move their dollars into the high paid tech, but they did it at the price of management and general knowledge. It can be one of the reasons large corporations today are considered stupid when it comes to change.
Large corporations just don’t have the workforce ready for it. They are not generalists. They are all specialists. Google and Amazon are no exception to this rule. Today they are leaders, but in the next wave of corporate tech, they may not be leaders. Hard to believe this, but I have seen Yahoos, Gateways, Dells and Excites come and go already. You may be too young to remember them…
The Money Comes, The Money Goes
Slowly but surely corporations got smart and the high paid tech was shifted to jobs overseas, to web agencies and other consulting services and the corporate costs leveled out, but the management training and management in general never came back in vogue. It was left to a few people in charge and a belief in little to no management structure in most corporations. The 2000s introduced the flat organization, with few levels. And management training became a bad word. At one large employer in Miami I worked for, they considered management training was sitting at your computer running something called Mind Leaders. It was ridiculous. So there really is no incentives still in corporate america to pursue general knowledge. There is MBA knowledge. I have one of those. It is not exactly the breadth of knowledge I am talking about. An MBA is more about learning all about general subjects that will allow you to be able to learn in the future and manage teams, not really knowing hard knowledge in multiple areas that are pertinent to your industry. It just makes you a good learner. My father had recommended I study Finance in my MBA because finance is a hard knowledge that does not change and he was correct. Did not listen to him there, but I did get an A+ in Advanced Finance…with McDaniels, the toughest of the tough finance teachers at FAU. My father also felt the MBA was a tool to keep getting work and it would help, but I am finding that not to be true. I think he was wrong there. Today, I am less apt to recommend an MBA to people today because for tech people it can be more of a red herring than a help.
Are you stuck in this situation? Well, it is what it is. I am still in the middle of my own tech company working part-time and a company I am a partner in, but not enough money coming in or benefits to get by. So I go to work when I can find it. I am willing to work full-time for the company that needs what I have to offer. The problem is that what is left in the job market is these very specific areas of work that only use about 1/5 of my knowledge, but I am willing to play the game and get the work done. That is really what I like to do, get the work done!
Have a great day. If you like my articles please follow me and connect with me here on Linkedin or on Twitter at @dgudema. If you are looking for an employee contact me, either a full-time consultant or a full-time employee and you want to get any of these tasks complete, I can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org, my personal email address. Will work here in Florida, remote or come to you. I am willing to travel to just about anyplace. Just write me. I have managed teams of 4 to 20 at 3 corporations. I have been a CTO at a startup that went from 0 to being sold in 3 years. I have managed websites that have had as many as 30 million visitors a month. I have taken a website from 8,000 visitors a day to 50,000 visitors a day. I have worked on a team that grew from 0 to 120 cities in size and scope running events in every large US and Canadian city. Below is every job title I have worked in. Contact me if you need consulting or an employee in any of these areas:
CTO, Vice President Technology, Online Marketing Director, Director Web Development, Web Manager, Web Analytics Manager, Web Analytics Consultant, Web Analyst, Product Manager, Web Developer, Ecommerce Strategist, Marketing Analyst, Internet Engineer.
Have a great day. Once again, our group StartupPOP is running a tech startup pitch event in Boca Raton on Tuesday, September 11th at 6pm at Cendyn Spaces. We are expecting over 50 attendees and 5 startups will get up and pitch. We are signing up people on Meetup and will have our Eventbrite page up shortly.
Have a great week.