Generalization vs. Specialization

YarrrYarrr Posts: 15Member ■□□□□□□□□□
Hello everybody,

I've been reading these forums for a while but just joined today.

A little background:

Right now I have A+ and CCENT certs, and I'll be taking by ICND2 in February or March to finish up my CCNA.

At my current job, I'm somewhere between a level 1 and level 2 tech. Our networking is Cisco, our client OS is Windows 8, and our servers are Windows 2012, and I also manage a lot of iPads via MDM. There's no chance of a raise or promotion, so it's not like getting certified in those areas will move me up the ladder unless/until I get a job elsewhere.

My interests are Cisco routing/switching, wireless, and virtualization.

My question is:

In today's market, is it a better idea to generalize or specialize your certifications?

In other words, is there more of a demand for somebody with a smaller amount of professional-level certs, or a greater amount of associate-level certs?

Thanks for your input and have a great Thanksgiving.


  • LexluetharLexluethar Posts: 516Member
    I think there is a higher demand for professional-level certifications. There are a lot engineers out there that are jacks of all trade, but master of none. I'm not saying that if you decide to become a CCNP and do route and switch you shouldn't know layers 4 through 7. You should still know the technology and be able to know how everything fits together.

    I also believe a lot of people go through 'certification mills' to get a ton of entry level certifications but never anything on the professional level. You will see a lot of A+, Net+ and VCA certifications but you will rarely see a VCAP, MCSE or CCNP. That alone IMO will help you stand out.
  • TechGuru80TechGuru80 Posts: 1,539Member ■■■■■□□□□□
    It depends on the organization. Smaller companies generally have "jacks of all trades" because they have less budget. Large organizations generally have silo roles....networking, security, system administration, etc. If you deal quite a bit with networking, and want to go that way....CCNP is an easy choice and then branch onto other Cisco tracks that interest you. Make sure you play up the networking portion on your resume as well. Knowing a variety of areas will help but due to the knowledge required to master a subject, most only specialize in one...maybe two (and they are generally related).
  • markulousmarkulous Posts: 2,389Member ■■■■■■■■□□
    It does really just depend. If you love something and work hard at it (self-studying, getting certs, etc) you'll be marketable. Focus on doing what you will enjoy the most.
  • d4nz1gd4nz1g Posts: 464Member
    Honestly, both of them are popular in the market.

    Besides theses two main "profiles", there is one that they call T shaped professional, which consists of a professional with a Core specialization (network, in my case) and a broad range of skills (from linux, storage to programming and security, for example).

    I believe that the latter fits well on architectural/support roles due to its knowledge on how everything fits together on an IT ecosystem.

    TL/DR: I've seen network specialists banging their head against the wall during an application or virtualization troubleshoot and generalists who don't know s***.

    Btw, it is just my opinion.
  • networker050184networker050184 Posts: 11,962Mod Mod
    There are plenty opportunities for both. What I have noticed though is the higher you get on the generalist side the more you have to move into some kind of consulting, management, sales or business side of the house to keep going up in salary. Tech specialist can get paid very well while staying mostly on the technical side of the house.
    An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made.
  • techfiendtechfiend Posts: 1,481Member ■■■■□□□□□□
    It really depends on what you want to do. Do you want to work on just networks for years? How about just servers? If you do, specialize. If you'd like to work on both, generalize.

    Also a persons characteristics matter a lot. For instance, I get tired of doing the same sort of things long-term thus I generalize to get much more variety.
    2018 AWS Solutions Architect - Associate (Apr) 2017 VCAP6-DCV Deploy (Oct) 2016 Storage+ (Jan)
    2015 Start WGU (Feb) Net+ (Feb) Sec+ (Mar) Project+ (Apr) Other WGU (Jun) CCENT (Jul) CCNA (Aug) CCNA Security (Aug) MCP 2012 (Sep) MCSA 2012 (Oct) Linux+ (Nov) Capstone/BS (Nov) VCP6-DCV (Dec) ITILF (Dec)
  • elToritoelTorito Posts: 102Member
    My advice for anyone starting out in IT: generalize first, specialize later.

    Anyone could benefit from a couple of years of JOAT exposure. Being able to "see the big picture" is a skill many people sorely lack. I see it all the time in specialists and engineers whom we hire for product implementations. While I don't expect, for example, a backup engineer to know the intricacies of our ethernet network or storage network, I do expect him to be able to see beyond his niche when there's an interoperability issue. "It's not our product's fault, it's your network!" is the last thing I want to hear from a consultant.

    When you're comfortable in a JOAT role (I'd say about 2 years of it), look into finding a subject that interests you most, and dive in. Another advice would be to pick 1-2 sub-specializations that are heavily related to your primary specialization. For example, storage/networking knowledge would be a good companion for a VMware specialist, IMO.
    WIP: CISSP, MCSE Server Infrastructure
    Casual reading: CCNP, Windows Sysinternals Administrator's Reference, Network Warrior

  • ChinookChinook Posts: 206Member
    Specialization will bring a higher salary & more opportunity. Most larger environments work in silo's and demand specialization regardless. There are generalist jobs & often they are at MSP's. Having worked in both I have to admit I like the salary and opportunities of specialization but general style work can be more fun (and often more frustrating)

    In the future I think specialization will be the norm. IT is becoming increasing complex and that isn't likely to change. You simply can't "know it all" like you once could.
  • techfiendtechfiend Posts: 1,481Member ■■■■□□□□□□
    True specialization usually nets bigger salaries for highly technical employees because of the enterprise factor. However, there's arguably more money in architecture where generalist's knowledge is required.
    2018 AWS Solutions Architect - Associate (Apr) 2017 VCAP6-DCV Deploy (Oct) 2016 Storage+ (Jan)
    2015 Start WGU (Feb) Net+ (Feb) Sec+ (Mar) Project+ (Apr) Other WGU (Jun) CCENT (Jul) CCNA (Aug) CCNA Security (Aug) MCP 2012 (Sep) MCSA 2012 (Oct) Linux+ (Nov) Capstone/BS (Nov) VCP6-DCV (Dec) ITILF (Dec)
  • 636-555-3226636-555-3226 Posts: 976Member ■■■■■□□□□□
    You need to generalize at first so you have a broad understanding of the general environment. Then you can focus in and specialize on areas of interest or organizational need.
  • OctalDumpOctalDump Posts: 1,722Member
    The best specialists are also good generalists.

    For people starting out, it also good to generalise a bit to get a feel for different areas and where you might like to work, this is on top of the benefits from having a bigger picture view.

    Usually, a specialism will have closely related fields. So if you go into web programming, it's good to understand databases and web server infrastructures, Linux etc.

    If you are looking for a job in IT management, then good generalist skills are very useful. You don't need to know everything in depth, but if you understand generally how everything works and how it fits together, you are in a much better position to delegate out to specialists.

    Probably both extremes are not very useful, someone who tries to do everything in a field as big as IT will probably end up not doing a very good job in most areas, and at best an ok job. Someone who only understands their little bit of IT is going to have problems whenever their little bit has to interface with the rest of the IT. A network engineer that has no appreciation of what their network is serving, is probably going to have a hard time and won't be much fun to work with.

    Likely, the best path is get a general grounding in IT, a bit more depth in the field you are interested in (eg programming, info sec, databases, infrastructure, management, etc), and then aim to be "an expert" in a couple of things in that narrower field. Sort of like a triangle, a broad base and sharp point. So you might decide to go for CCIE DC and VCDX-NV, with maybe VCP-DCV and CCNP R+S, Linux+, MCP, Security+.

    Something like that is likely to pay very, very well.
    2017 Goals - Something Cisco, Something Linux, Agile PM
  • ChinookChinook Posts: 206Member
    techfiend wrote: »
    True specialization usually nets bigger salaries for highly technical employees because of the enterprise factor. However, there's arguably more money in architecture where generalist's knowledge is required.

    Even at the architect level in the Enterprise, the architect is usually a specialist. They may have some generic knowledge of the rest of computing but it's not likely to be in detail. This field is so complex now it's just not possible to commit the time to learn everything unless you quit your day job icon_wink.gif

    OctalDump makes a great point with the "triangle analogy". For example, if you are a Linux specialist you may want to have a good knowledge of storage & scripting or perhaps VMware. The storage compliments Linux (or Windows).

    I'd suggest deciding where you want to go and setting that as your goal & then filling in the blanks along the way. So if you want to work with Linux in the Enterprise then perhaps adding in storage & scripting or VMware makes sense. If you want to work Linux on the Internet you might want toss in scripting and MySQL.

    There is one place where a generalist skill set is much appreciated & that's in the SMB marketplace. A good generalist can easily become an architect in that environment.
  • techfiendtechfiend Posts: 1,481Member ■■■■□□□□□□
    I'd prefer to stay in the SMB space, I just see it as a wider variety, thus more interesting. One corner of my brain is telling me networking is what I want to do. Without the experience I really don't know. I find it challenging, which is good, but I don't think I'm very good at it. From experience I know I make above average decisions when it comes to planning among my colleagues. They aren't always good and sometimes very bad but I learn from them. This is what pushes me to architect and so far I've loved doing it.

    Management is another area, but the majority of IT managers I've met don't know much about IT. They're mainly focused on the business side. I don't care much for the business side but I really liked managing others in another field. It was really nice to see employees thrive underneath me. Not all of them did but a lot more did than did not. I do have a fairly big weakness(?) in this area, if I think they deserve a lot more than what the company can offer them I try to motivate them to move on. I've been punished for it multiple times, being good for your employees doesn't always mean being good for a company.
    2018 AWS Solutions Architect - Associate (Apr) 2017 VCAP6-DCV Deploy (Oct) 2016 Storage+ (Jan)
    2015 Start WGU (Feb) Net+ (Feb) Sec+ (Mar) Project+ (Apr) Other WGU (Jun) CCENT (Jul) CCNA (Aug) CCNA Security (Aug) MCP 2012 (Sep) MCSA 2012 (Oct) Linux+ (Nov) Capstone/BS (Nov) VCP6-DCV (Dec) ITILF (Dec)
Sign In or Register to comment.