T Shaped People

Jack of All Trades

“Jack of all trades, master of none…”

How many times have you heard that in your life? In your career as an engineer? I’ve probably heard it hundreds of times, if not thousands, from working on RADAR and various sorts of radio and other electronics in the US Air Force to as recently as last week. There seems to be a feeling that if you can’t know one thing really well unless you somehow give up on knowing a lot of other things — perhaps there is some sort of limiter in our brains that keeps us from learning more than a certain amount of “stuff” in a single lifetime, or some such nonsense. We’ve all seen the Sherlock Holmes moment, for instance, when Sherlock says something about not remembering something because he has so much other stuff to remember.

And we come back to this idea: Jack of all trades, master of none.

Now I’ll readily admit that I only have so much time to read, and therefore to learn new things. I have four or five wish lists on Amazon, each of which has more than 100 books on it. I have a reading list in Logos Bible Software that’s somewhere beyond 100 books. I have a reading list in Safari Books that’s quite long, as well. I subscribe to some 15 or 20 magazines and journals of different sorts, from theology to technology. And I subscribe to a dozen podcasts, and something more than 100 RSS feeds.

And I can read about 60 to 100 books a year. I’m obviously a little backed up on my reading.

But it’s important to be lateral as well as deep. Take a look at the chart below; it might help explain what I’m talking about here.


One thing I can tell you is that as network engineer (or just about anyone living their lives, in fact), it’s important to target the chart on the far right, rather than the one on the left or the one in the middle.

What you want to become is what ol’ Ben Franklin really said:

Jack of all trades, master of one.

This is a completely different spin on things. And one I’ll be taking in this blog. I’ll still be writing on Packet Pushers about technical stuff, and I’ll be writing on my (other) personal blog about religious and worldview stuff; here I want to talk about being an engineer — from one engineer to another.

The thoughts here are parallel to a chapter in a new book I’m working on in the space of creativity and innovation from an explicitly Christian point of view. I don’t have a publisher yet, but the manuscript is almost complete, so…

Updated: The set of charts has now been given the name, “T Shaped Skills.” I’ve updated the SEO a bit so people might be able to find this post on the same topic.