On the folly of becoming the “product expert”
Blog: Column 2 - Sandy Kemsley
This post by Charity Majors of Honeycomb popped up in my feed today, and really resonated relative to our somewhat in-bred world of process automation. She is talking about the need to move between software development teams in order to keep building skills, even if it means that you move from a “comfortable” position as the project expert to a newbie role:
There is a world of distance between being expert in this system and being an actual expert in your chosen craft. The second is seniority; the first is merely .. familiarity
I see this a lot with people becoming technical experts at a particular vendor product, when it’s really a matter of familiarity with the product rather than a superior skill at application development or even process automation technology. Being dedicated to a single product means that you think about solving problems in the context of that product, not about how process automation problems in general could be solved with a wider variety of technology. Dedication to a single product may make you a better technician but does not make you a senior engineer/architect.
Majors uses a great analogy of escalators: becoming an expert on one project (or product) is like riding one long escalator. When you get to the top, you either plateau out, or move laterally and start another escalator ride from its bottom up to the next level. Considering this with vendor products in our area, this would be like building expertise in IBM BPM for a couple of years, then moving to building Bizagi expertise for a couple of years, then moving to Camunda for a couple of years. At the end of this, you would have an incredibly broad knowledge of how to solve process automation projects on a variety of different platforms, which makes you much more capable of making the type of decisions at the senior architecture and design level.
This broader knowledge base also reduces risk: if one vendor product falls out of favor in the market, you can shift to others that are already in your portfolio. More importantly, because you already understand how a number of different products work, it’s easier to take on a completely new product. Even if that means starting at the bottom of another escalator.