Specialist or Generalist

It has often come up in discussions with friends and former co-workers as to what type of job progression is better for career development. Is it better to stay in the one organisation and try different roles or is best to hone one skillset and apply it at various organisations?

The job I had whilst finishing university (and beyond) was the place I wanted to spend the rest of my career in. This was because the organisation of 5000 could offer various opportunities throughout my career without needing to change. The other reason of perhaps equal weighting was that this organisation provided a good working environment and my loyalty to it would reflect my gratitude for having been given the opportunity while I was still an undergraduate student. This notion eventually changed when after two years of service, I decided it was time to move onto a role that matched my profile and aspirations.

Whilst I had at one stage envisaged working there for many years, why did I decide to leave?

This was mainly due to my desire to validate the choice I made at university and to put to use the learnings in my field of study. The best way to achieve this was to pursue the role of business analyst so that I could utilise my strengths and interests to add value to organisations. So in pursuing a specific role, my career has become one where I will work for various organisations but always inside a defined role and skills set. My former colleagues on the other hand stayed on at the organisation however, they’ve since tried their hand at various roles. We are all happy with our decisions and realise there is no way to really conclude what is the best path for career development.

On the one hand, staying inside one organisations allows for the trajectory to senior management to be attainable faster. There are several advantages such as cultivating constructive relationships both within and outside of one’s section which allows for lateral movements and even promotions when the opportunity arises. Staying in the one organisation also allows you to develop a deeper understanding of the organisation’s subject matter as well as culture. Thirdly, persisting at one organisation provides a level of assurance to the employer that you are likely to stay around and add value.

In my experience, working at various places has forced me to prove my skills and worth to all employers at each role. Building rapport with stakeholders is a constant requirement and I think over time, I’ve been able to extend my natural tendency of being an introvert to a learned extrovert. Whilst I haven’t been exposed to work other than business analysis, it has allowed me to further hone my skills in this role and achieve depth in skills rather than depth in one business context.

So in the end, was it worth it?

I think it’s too early to tell but I relish knowing that I’m more confident in my adaptability and the skills I’ve developed so that I can continue to adapt to new environments or stay at one place for a while if the circumstances are favourable. Having said that the BA path is one of constant learning to the extent that it can never be mastered.

Gattaca – the film

At the request of a friend (and work colleague), I watched the film, Gattaca starring Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Uma Thurman among others.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s based in the future where babies are genetically modified and programmed during pregnancy in order to bring to this world, children who are free of illness and defects that would normally limit their potential. The protagonist in the movie was a “God child”, someone who did not receive genetic intervention before birth. Due to his heart condition that was due to kill him at age 30.2, he was unable to gain professional employment like the elite manufactured humans of his time. This person’s dream was to work in a NASA-like institution, ‘Gattaca’. To do this he would need to use the identity of an elite-human for the rest of his career.

The movie portrays two brothers who are on either side of the birth arrangements. One brother – the naturally conceived one – always wanted to achieve something greater than his potential, the other brother, while expected to excel effortlessly was overwhelmed and eventually decided that he did not want this. The dilemma is that one could not have what he wanted and the other did want what he had. It brings into question whether the fact that he wouldn’t be allowed a professional career, motivated the protagonist to actually pursue one? Just as valid, is the question is does having the potential or ease of achieving something make it less desirable?

I can see why many people identify to the film. We can all try to relate to the fact that we want something specific in our lives but there is an external or imposed barrier put in place to stop us despite our efforts. The protagonist was this reflection. A model human who was always going to be denied due to circumstances outside of his control, due to discrimination.

What I found interesting about the film is that it easily leads you to side with and empathise with the protagonist, the victim. To identify with him. It’s only after great thought that you realise that most of us are like the protagonists brother in the film. The person who had every chance to be the best, yet didn’t deliver, causing him to doubt himself and the goals that were placed in front of him. Taking the easy way out and trying to kill himself, not succeeding and being destined to a life as a paraplegic.

It’s easy to see why no one easily identifies with the more flawed character but most people who are self critical enough should. Unless we were street kids when we were young, disabled or addicted to drugs, we all are more likely similar to the second character. The person who is expected to do well but throws it all away. On the first day of kindergarten each year, every child is given the attention and expectation that in 20 years time, they’ll be able to achieve anything within their desire. Year by year, this possibility begins to diminish. Maybe one day, we make a realisation that we no longer want what we once did. That the pursuit of excellence is no longer as appealing as it was.

For me, as much as I could probably justify the times I didn’t succeed, I think it’s more probable that I too am like the flawed brother who perhaps has more potential that they have strove to pursue. In the end, I think it’s a film worth watching and/or re-watching.

I began this post in March 2012. I have only finished it now. My, how two and half years have flown by me.

Three things I like about Agile SCRUM

The Agile SCRUM software development framework aims to improve IT project success. Since it’s inception around the world, it has gained much support from IT practitioners.

I’ve had experience in performing a business analysis role inside an Agile SCRUM project. Here are the three main aspects I like about the framework. They are not the only things I like but the ones I appreciate the most.

Enforced communication and feedback loops

The Agile framework requires daily stand up meetings where each member of the team discusses the main achievements of the day before, what work they will focus for that day and if there are any impediments to their work. This allows for everyone to know what the team is working on and what issues exist. I found this to be really important as oftentimes, a problem which is identified by one person could also impact the work of other team members.

I also find that sharing what everyone is working on is a subtle way to keep everyone honest. In the workplace, it’s not hard to establish whether everyone is pulling their own weight and in Scrum, this becomes more obvious.

The ability to identify problems early and re-adjust

Agile SCRUM divides the work of the entire project into bite sized chunks called Sprints. These sprint cycles generally range from two weeks to four weeks however, different lengths of time can also be used. If the design of the software solution has any flaws or if the client change their minds, then this can be managed with limited impact. Sometimes an entire sprint cycle of work will be wasted but this cost is much less than changing requirements under a traditional model.

The simplicity of requirements definition through User Stories

User stories are a simple and practical format with which to convey the context and rationale for functional requirements.

The general layout of a user story is something like: As a user, I want to … so that I can …
I find that this relates the requirement in an easy to understand format while giving a rationale as to why it’s important. Each user story also has accompanying acceptance criteria. The use of the acceptance criteria further helps the creation of test cases.

There are many other aspects of Scrum that also assist in improving project success which I haven’t mentioned in this post. From a business analysis standpoint, I believe Scrum has several advantages related to communication, change and conveying meaning among the delivery team.

What I Got From a University Degree

My university degree didn’t automatically grant me a job. It didn’t give me a career nor did it earn me a promotion in my job once I graduated. To be completely honest, in my first professional job, people with less qualifications and experience got further in their careers than I did! I sometimes had to reflect on what advantages I achieved from attending university. So in the end was it worth it? What did I get out of finishing a university degree?

How to Think

Firstly, university taught me how to think. Thanks to my degree, I can now express my thoughts on many subjects. During this time, I had to research publications that align with my thoughts and present those findings in a coherent way. Even in my tutorial classes, I had to express ideas and defend them in an impromptu manner. It also helped me appreciate the views that were different to mine and understand how this actually enriches discussion on any topic.

Deal with Pressure

The degree I studied put me in situations of pressure and stress and I am grateful. This was of course more apparent during the assessment periods of each semester and heightened at exam time. Outside of university, I have also been through periods of pressure in various jobs and it makes it easier to withstand because I’ve been through this before.

Build a Network

The other benefit is that university allowed me to meet some great people. Three of my best friends that I have today I met while studying my undergraduate degree.

Strengthen Communication Skills

University strengthened my communication skills. The way I interacted with lecturers, tutors and class mates have helped me develop a productive communication style which serves me well today. Apart from day to day interactions, I learned how to improve my presentation skills. It’s thanks to the many group assignments that I learned how to collate a group effort and share the responsibilities of a joined presentation.

A university degree means something different to each person. The journey is quite unique and personal. All of which I’ve mentioned above can be accomplished without going through university. This happens to be the journey that I went through and what I came away with. I am grateful for my experience but a university degree isn’t everything. I found this out in the years after graduating. I wouldn’t change anything given a second chance though.