To Specialize or Not to Specialize: that is the $132,000 Question

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  • Very interesting topic. I have wrestled with this in the past, and have ended up choosing the specialization path. A lot of it has to do with where one ends up working. In smaller shops there is usually no option but to wear multiple hats. In bigger organizations, where one is part of a larger team, it is usually easier - and even the only option - to specialize.

    It also has a lot to do with how you want to advance your career. People who want to follow a management path will need to have knowledge on related fields to their area of expertise, so they can communicate effectively with other teams in the organization. For these people it is important to maintain high-level knowledge of many related areas and how they all fit together. On the other hand, people who are interested in a more technical path may find that specialization is the best option. As you have pointed out, the amount of technical knowledge, even within SQL Server, is becoming so vast these days, that it is becoming more common for someone to be a specialist in one area WITHIN SQL, such as BI.

    One last aspect is innovation. It is difficult for people to be able to find new and better solutions to problems without deep knowledge in their area of expertise. Again, because of the vastness of information out there, specialization is key. Of course, someone with a broader view of things may be needed to guide or prod the specialist to innovate. And that's where being an effective manager comes to play.

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  • Rodney,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I am facing that "fork in the road" now. My preference is to specialize in SQL Server administration and performance tuning however the job market almost requires a generalist. The biggest problem with being a generalist is that employers want specialists but in multiple areas and platforms. I am currently looking to change jobs but most position descriptions require extensive knowledge and experience with Oracle (ugh) as well as SQL Server (all versions back to 2000!). I study and read constantly but must do so on my own time as my current employer does not value training for their staff ("you should already know that!").

    The whole area of "cloud computing" adds another twist. I have read several articles and blog posts from noted SQL Server experts (MVPs and MCMs) that point to the demise of the production DBA and focus on query tuning and more general SQL Server database design and "Big Data" analysis. This ties directly to your comments on Business Intelligence.

    I'm uncertain what path I will chose but I know that it will be SQL Server centric as this is a great technical community! (#sqlfamily)

    BTW, Thanks for writing the DBA Tacklebox and for creating the DBA repository. I still use both of these on a regular basis.

  • Great editorial Rodney. Obviously something that hits home with many of us in similar points in our career.

    There is a position opening at my employer this summer that would be both a step up and a complete new field for me (telecommunications). I've put some thought into possibly applying. On the plus side for such a move, I'm at my best and am most content when I am learning something new. Also, should I ever want to move into IT management, it would serve me well to be familiar with more than just the Information Services side of things. On the negative, I'm not sure that I'm ready to move into a less-technical management role this soon in my career (still clinging desperately to my 30's). I've also built up considerable skills (more generalist, less specialist) in the SQL Server and application development world and not sure I want to abandon them yet either.

    Right now my plan of action is to over-analyze the situation until the opportunity passes and I get back to my regularly scheduled SQL projects.

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