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Q3: Should I Specialize or Generalize in ICT4D?
Another subscriber question: Will my career advance faster if I stay an ICT4D generalist, with different jobs that focus in each of education, health, and agriculture, or should I specialize in one sector for the majority of my career?
The Case for Generalists Skills
Spreading yourself over several sectors has two key advantages. First, you will not be bored, as each sector, while similar to the others, has its own opportunities, issues, and players.
The downside to this strategy is that it might take you longer to advance into a management role when you move from one sector to another, and have to learn its new norms and networks.
Personally, this is the role I’ve taken, as I thrive on the steep learning curve that comes with a new field. However, I’ve seen peers who stayed with one sector (though not always with the same company) move up faster than me.
The Case for Specialists Skills
If you decide to focus on one sector, say civil society, you can certainly become a key expert and make good progress in your career. If its something you love, by all means, go deep and enjoy.
However, you can become typecast – forever expected to only be in that sector. Then, the longer you stay in that sector, the harder it will be for you to work in any other. This can be very dangerous if that role phases out of need.
For example, at one point I was an expert in deploying desktop computers into computer labs. Yet that isn’t a role for international experts anymore, so I had to quickly adapt or I would’ve been unemployed and unemployable.
T-Shaped Skills for Sustainability
Many career counselors talk about T-shaped skills as the best of both worlds. Go vertically deep in a particular area and then be quick to horizontally collaborate with experts in other disciplines.
The benefit of this approach is a domain knowledge that can advance your career and a network of peers in other domains that will vouch for you if you need to move out of your subject area in the future.
This is what I recommend now too. For example: being a subject matter expert in democracy and governance, yet quick to share your social and behavior change communication skills with peers in health and nutrition. I think its the only way to ensure a life-long career in digital development.