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CAREER DEVELOPMENT

How being a ‘master of none’ helped my career: Part I

The art of fusing your personal and professional skills

What is a master of none?

Jack of all trades or master of none are ‘trendy’ alternatives to the term generalist.

This term is one way to categorize the animal species inhabiting our planet. In this article from National Geographic, there is more information about it.

If we leave the animal world behind, we can define a generalist as a person competent in several and different fields or activities. Its opposite is a specialist: a person who concentrates primarily on a particular subject or activity, or a person highly skilled in a specific and restricted field.

Is there a book about it?

I believe there is more than a book about this topic, but one that seems to be the most renowned is Range, from David Epstein.

The primary goal of the author is to prove the following statement is true:

Generalists may take a little longer to find their path in life, but they are more creative, can make connections between diverse fields that specialists cannot. This makes them more innovative and, ultimately, more impactful.

I recognize myself in part with this statement and I will explain why, in particular about ‘taking a little longer to find their path in life’, but I don’t agree on ‘makes them more innovative and, ultimately, more impactful’.
It’s quite difficult to take a position here, I don’t see things in black and white, I know shades of gray exist.

As an example, you can face a similar dilemma in project management: which one is better, agile or waterfall?

The answer: it depends.

A few years ago, in an interview on the radio, Samanta Cristoforetti—the first Italian woman to go to space—mentioned that astronauts are people with a wide set of skills. Being a generalist is a prerogative for them, because of the many tasks they need to perform in space.

On the other end, if a firm wants to hire a senior accountant, they may be looking into profiles with at least 10 years of experience in the same role, people highly skilled in accounting. We could say, being specialists in accounting.

Now, is it better to be a specialist or a generalist? As I mentioned above, there is no wrong or correct answer, it depends. However, in my case, being a generalist has proven to be a competitive advantage.

About me

As a kid, and later on as a teenager, I’ve always struggled to find a ‘passion’: something I could pursue that I wanted to be good at or that would represent an important piece of my life.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

I was attracted to many things, but I just couldn’t stick to a single one. Few of these interests, like playing guitar or reading comics are still things I like to do today, but I would never define them as a passion or a vocation. Same with sports, I enjoyed them, but there was none I would really love.

Now that I’m 31 years old, I don’t see it as an issue anymore but when I was younger I was questioning myself, trying to understand why I couldn’t find a single thing I could call ‘my passion’.

Few years ago, reading about it in a book, I realized I spent my entire life (until now) becoming a generalist.

How being a generalist helped my career

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business Economics and a master’s degree in Economics and Management. I would have loved to study computer science, but at the time I thought it was too tough and that’s why I ended up enrolling in Economics. Choice that I’m happy I made.

Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash

The beginning

After my graduation, I applied to several job positions spanning from accounting to marketing, and soon after I landed a job as a Product Analyst in the Product Marketing team of a multinational manufacturing home appliances.
In this job, I was unexpectedly successful in mixing some personal interests (like graphic design or using software like Adobe) with my daily work. For example, when creating presentations or working on reports, I would spend time in improving visuals or editing pictures I didn’t like to make the output look ‘nicer’.

I remember editing a picture of an existing washing machine for a presentation about a newer model, by changing its color and adding UI elements to it, trying to create a realistic product mockup. I usually did this kind of work in my free time, I didn’t want my manager to think I wanted to be a graphic designer while instead I was enjoying my job as a product analyst.

When my internship ended, I joined a project promoted by Google and the Chamber of Commerce as Digital Strategist, to help small businesses develop their online presence. From taking pictures of products created by artisans with my DSLR, to helping SMBs to build websites, and developing digital marketing campaigns on Google or Facebook, I embraced the diversity that this role encompassed.

Learning more and more about digital marketing and website creation, I developed an interest in the IT world, but I didn’t feel ready to work in that industry. I felt I was missing a wider understanding of the processes and tools used in this space.

Filling this gap became my next goal.

Photo by Alex Radelich on Unsplash

Balancing experience with earnings

Unhappy with the low earnings, I applied for an Operations Specialist role posted by a company in the vehicle logistics industry, offering a better salary than the one I had. That was my first step into operations.

Dealing with the complexity of handling operations in a warehouse and planning deliveries of auto vehicle spare parts across Italy and few other countries has taught me one of the essential skills a project manager should have: being self-organized.

While developing project management skills, I became more proficient with data. Excel and Tableau became my best friends to show the performance of the operations to our clients. I didn’t know how much this would matter later on.

After work, I was studying for exams since I enrolled to earn a nanodegree (online certification) with a company called Udacity.
This was my way to fill the gap: learning front-end development skills. I thought it would help to interview for an IT company one day.

And luckily, I was right.

Flying away

My work was going well, but I couldn’t get out of my head the desire to work abroad, I was sure it would be an exceptional experience both personally and professionally.

Photo by yousef alfuhigi on Unsplash

By chance, I was working with a French colleague who told me about a website where French companies post job openings. That’s how I found a small international web agency that was looking for a Digital Project Manager.
It was the best deal for me: working abroad in the IT sector.

Thanks to my nanodegree studies and a hefty dose of charm, I could prove to possess the skills needed for this job.

On a Thursday, the HR called me to confirm they were happy to hire me.

A few weeks later, I was leaving Italy for France.

End of Part One

So far, being a generalist meant: developing competencies and skills on the job and in my leisure time and finding the right opportunities at work to leverage both personal and professional skills.

Learning product and project management, digital marketing and website development, data analysis, and running operations was just the beginning.

In the five following years, I would learn even more skills and master the art of fusing and reusing them whether for the simplest task or the most complex project.

To be continued...

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Marco Gudini

Marco Gudini

9 Followers

Senior Program Manager @Facebook. Tech enthusiast, master of none, proud geek.