As I’ve considered how to steer my career path, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about how to build and present skills to potential customers and employers. Experts often suggest to specialize and appeal to a specific niche. But then other experts say that companies don’t want narrow focus specialists and that they would rather have well rounded cross disciplinary skill sets.
As I thought about how to reconcile those two viewpoints, it occurred to me that perhaps it would be possible to combine the best of both ideas by looking for an overarching theme or business objective that ties together multiple skillsets. In other words, build a higher level niche where the value proposition is that the whole of the combined skills is greater than the sum of the parts.
In my case, I have a strong background in enterprise software development, database administration, and network engineering. I also recently kicked off a project to add information security to my portfolio. That left me wondering whether I was a developer, engineer, or security guy. Then I remembered a comment that Buck Woody from Microsoft made during a presentation to my local SQL developer’s group meeting last month. He pointed out that he thought of himself as a Data Professional, not just a DBA.
I can position the Data Professional role as an umbrella concept that can encompass the development, DBA, network and security skillsets. As a Data Professional I can deliver value by enabling a business to create, interact with, and securely store their data. That may consist of coding an application that accesses data in a database (developer), optimizing SQL queries (DBA), developing and implementing a backup strategy (DBA, infrastructure), adopting encrypted storage (security), designing an enclave network to keep data safe (network, security), or developing and deploying a business continuity and disaster recovery plan (security).
This concept can apply to any group of skills, not just IT. It’s important to remember that when you’re marketing yourself (or anything else for that matter), it’s always about benefits, not features. Employers and customers don’t care if you’re a Renaissance man. Skills and experience are only of value to the extent that they fill a customer or employer need. The challenge is to find the overlap between your interests and specific needs that customers or employers find valuable, then find ways to map your skills and experience to those needs.