Technical Knowledge : Breadth and Depth

I could have titled this blog “Professional Knowledge : Breadth and Depth “ – however thought that since my blog focuses on a niche readership,  “Technical Knowledge” would sound more appropriate . Anyway, often times at work discussions come up on how mastering a certain subject area leads to growth , especially for technology professionals. Depth plays a key role in technology professions in leading to both job satisfaction and growth. So is depth more important that breadth? I think both are equally important, and they both contribute to an individual’s job performance and satisfaction.

Why Depth?

1) Depth in a subject area establishes you as an expert – the deeper you drill within a subject area focusing on niche fields the better you will do at the design and execution level. Depth is instrumental in achieving high quality results, thus better performance by you as a professional. Say for example , you develop a mastery on ‘Design Patterns’  with regular practice and study – your expertise in that area could play a pivotal role in robust architecture and solid implementation of the architecture which will take the project a long way for years to come.

2) All technical projects / undertakings are team efforts – not individual heroic endeavors. An ‘expert’ in each area of the technical solution will be required to fill the places as opposed to some one who just knows a little bit of all. For example , a software project may have a ‘Single Sign On’ expert just handling the Authentication aspect of the solution where he/she is the ultimate ‘go to’ person  for it. Hence having a niche expertise helps you build your value within  the organization almost always to fill in that spot of your expertise across different projects. A key to job security especially for those who work as consultants.

3) Depth can easily make you a ‘Mentor’ or ‘Leader’ in your area , very important for your own job satisfaction . Let me give you my own example in this case. All along in my career , I made careful choices while consulting – I chose to take up projects which were ‘ASP.Net and C# ‘ centric – this quickly helped me establish myself as a mentor as well as a lead in those areas allowing me to provide expert help and guidance across projects. This leads to great satisfaction , sense of value and achievement.

“Having a niche expertise helps you build your value within  the organization almost always to fill in that spot of your expertise across different projects.”

Why Breadth ?

1) Breadth gives you a vision , an ability to see beyond the purview of a narrow expertise. For example, a business problem can be solved either with a Client Server Architecture or Service Oriented Architecture. If you do not keep up at least with what SOA means , it’s application at a high level , your problem solving abilities are stunted by lack of broader knowledge.

2) If depth establishes you as an expert , breadth can establish you as a sound thinker. A ‘subject matter expert’ may not necessarily be able to lead the overall project , whereas breadth

sound thinker

helps in being a leader and decision maker for the whole project. A typical software project has BAs, QA , Developers, Designers , Project Managers etc. – a professional with a broad understanding of how each works can listen and guide everyone effectively .

3) Breadth just makes you a lot better communicator – it’s easy to communicate in areas where you are deep , however breadth enhances the conversation power many fold because you can quote examples from beyond your forte. A great asset for meetings , hallway brainstorms and white board discussions. This can lead you to opportunities that you want to explore to grow as a professional.

 “Breadth gives you a vision , an ability to see beyond the purview of a narrow expertise.”

The power of knowledge is immense in IT : having both depth and breadth will round you up as a sound professional as well as a leader. Practice gives depth and study can give breadth , combined the result is a highly valued professional.  I always feel in technology you can ‘Read your way up’ –  a small investment in time of may be even an hour a day makes a big difference , it keeps you abreast with the new stuff.  I think if one has the time , if say you work 9 hours day , may be extending it to 10 hours by adding that extra reading time at work itself will better prepare you with your project work in applying and understanding better techniques.

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