In the ever-changing landscape that is IT, there is a growing pressure to diversify skills. While organizations and people have varying degrees of success with this, the reason for that pressure is clear: teams need to be able to cover more ground with fewer people. The trouble with this is that diversifying skills necessarily takes away from advancing one’s skills in their chosen (or directed) specialization.
Enter: The Jack of All Trades. This is the member of the team whose specialty is to not be specialized. They’re the person that has a better-than-even chance of knowing the answer to any and every question you can throw at them, perform every job on the team to an acceptable level in the absence of the primary, speak knowledgeably and eloquently to leadership about the team’s duties, objectives, and challenges, and, most importantly, recognize and acknowledge the limit of their own competence. This is the person that is simultaneously the team’s backup, mentor, and spokesperson.
As the world of IT has evolved into a more dynamic industry, the number of required skills and competencies are growing rapidly and, as a result, driving up the demand for people with these skills. The trouble that organizations are slowly becoming aware of is the Jack of All Trades is more of a personality type than a skillset. Cross-training team members is never a bad thing, but the results are usually not as fruitful as organizations would like because the individuals with the drive and desire to truly handle a bit of everything are usually already doing it all on their own. Basically: Jacks of All Trades are not trained; they’re born.
Any team that has someone that meets this description has undoubtedly felt their impact, but it’s vital that leadership recognizes their importance and invests in their development and retention. Teams that do not have a Jack of All Trades would do well for themselves to find one even if they don’t have a hole to fill in headcount; every member of the team will benefit, as will every customer that the team services. And if leadership is the reason that a team hasn’t been able to search for and hire a person whose role is to not have a specific role, then shame on them; they’re failing their team, their customers, and their organization by depriving them of one of the most valuable assets a team can have.