Breadth vs. Depth

scenicroutescenicroute Member Posts: 56 ■■□□□□□□□□
I'm trying to make some decisions on where to go from here with certs. I haven't been in IT all that long, and my initial thought was to get several entry-level certs so as to give myself a wide foundation. But now I'm asking myself how wide is wide enough? I don't want to make the mistake of treading too long in the waters of entry-level certs thus spreading myself too thin.

How do you know when it's time to pick a path and start climbing the ladder with a narrow and precise focus? Do you let your job and career dictate this? Or is it better to just follow your interests before your work decides them for you?


  • mbarrettmbarrett Member Posts: 397 ■■■□□□□□□□
    Your work will always play a part. If you're interested in being certified in something obscure/obsolete, the world will not exactly beat a path to your door. Unless you are a rich eccentric, you will eventually become interested in something that 1) pays the bills (or allows you to get ahead) and 2) makes you happy. Don't sell yourself out to a skill that pays a lot but makes you miserable. But don't be a starving artist, either. It's a balance. I once saw a quote from Mark Cuban that you should not follow your dreams, follow your effort. Dreams don't always let you get ahead, effort does...
  • scenicroutescenicroute Member Posts: 56 ■■□□□□□□□□
    I'd say my interests are pretty mainstream at this point. But I don't want to become comfortable pulling the low-hanging fruit, if that makes sense. I've seen people in the industry get a dozen entry-level certs, and they become very comfortable doing so. They keep doing it because it's not much of a challenge, kind of like playing the same video game over and over again that they beat three years ago.
  • EANxEANx Member Posts: 1,078 ■■■■■■■■□□
    Having been doing this for over 20 years in a wide variety of settings, I can say that breadth and depth both have their place. My favorite staff are those who have been-there-done-that with a lot of different things (breadth) but then decided to concentrate on one area.

    How wide is too wide? You should spend your first few years in the industry exploring things as the opportunity presents itself and have an idea what your preferences are by year 4-5. Yes, that means if you're in a call-center role four years in, you're probably not doing yourself any favors. By ten years in, I'd recommend that you have an area you want to concentrate on. This allows you to apply for the high-end jobs in that specialty but you still have a background in other areas in case you get laid off and need to get something going now.
  • scenicroutescenicroute Member Posts: 56 ■■□□□□□□□□
    4-5 years is longer than I would have guessed. I was feeling this fire to pick a direction before the 2 year mark.
  • OctalDumpOctalDump Member Posts: 1,722
    Wide enough probably includes a little programming (scripting counts), a little database, a little systems (Linux, Windows), a little networking, a little security, a little virtualisation, and a little cloud. You don't need certs in all of those, just enough knowledge to talk intelligently about them and know where to go for more info. There's some natural synergies, so for example a DevOps person would have some scripting, some systems, a good amount of cloud/virtualisation and hopefully some security, or a typical Sys Admin would have some scripting, systems, virtualisation and networking, maybe some database, and hopefully security. A networking person probably also has a bit of systems, virtualisation, good security, and great networking.

    Of course, there's also all those soft skills like dealing with people, time pressures, project work, presentation, documentation, processes, analysis...

    The challenge early on is getting the breadth of meaningful experience. Usually smaller organisation that require more "jack of all trades" are good for getting breadth, and the "people" skills. But they tend to be bad for depth, and more formalised skills in projects and process (eg ITIL). So then you need to move into a different organisation to pursue a specialty and develop those other skills.

    Getting specialised does tend to be the best way to get your career moving up. As long as you pick a specialisation that will be around in 5 years. Choose poorly and you're back at the bottom. Safe bets today are networking, the Windows ecosystem, DevOps, security, and cloud.
    2017 Goals - Something Cisco, Something Linux, Agile PM
  • paul78paul78 Member Posts: 3,016 ■■■■■■■■■■
    How do you know when it's time to pick a path and start climbing the ladder with a narrow and precise focus? Do you let your job and career dictate this? Or is it better to just follow your interests before your work decides them for you?
    This is one of the topics that I usually will comment on as I believe that I am one of the few on TE that have preferred to take a broader approach. Partly because I have a range of interest and I do not like to focus on just one area as technology changes.

    I also tended not to pick a path but moved in the direction that I was interested. I started my career as a software engineer. But I've also worked in operations, infrastructure engineering, enterprise architecture, and currently more around risk management. However, I am essentially in technology management so perhaps having a broader viewpoint served me better.

    As for depth, I focused on the industry that I was interested - in particular financial services. I've only ever worked for fintech and financial services companies or with tech companies which predominantly service financial services.
  • RogueAdminRogueAdmin Member Posts: 12 ■□□□□□□□□□
    What is your purpose: More money; move to another job & company; more responsibility; etc?

    Seems the next step is CCNP route, MCP & MCSE route, or CISSP route. Which feels more appropriate?

    Unless you have something great going for you (e.g., MBA from a well-known school), being a generalist doesn't do much for money or career advancement.
  • DatabaseHeadDatabaseHead CSM, ITIL x3, Teradata Assc, MS SQL Server, Project +, Server +, A+, N+, MS Project, CAPM, RMP Member Posts: 2,557 ■■■■■■■■■□
    What's your objective?

    Personally for me I like to deep dive, I have found great returns on that strategy. Others like Paul have found success with a generalist approach.

    Whatever approach you go with you have to buy into it 100% and hopefully you enjoy it....
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