Becoming a T-Shaped Developer
It's difficult to differentiate yourself if you don't have a single area of expertise. Either you'll have difficulty landing work or you'll be forced to compete with a host of other non-specialists on rate. By becoming a T-shaped developer, you can market yourself as an expert in a particular area and stand out from the crowd!
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Show Notes / Transcript
In this episode, I'm going to talk about what it means to be a "T-Shaped" developer. But before we get into that, let's talk a little bit about how software developers typically market themselves, and how companies post job openings, using some real data and numbers. Let's consider a pretty common, but vague, job description: "web developer". Let's search for jobs using this term on a few different sites. We'll leave location out of the search - remote work is becoming increasingly acceptable and it's just easier to compare numbers if we don't restrict by location. Looking at Indeed.com, there are 40,000 jobs matching this search string. LinkedIn's Job Search has over 14,000. GlassDoor finds 110,000. Monster.com will only tell us there were over 1000 results found, but it's a good guess it was a lot more than 1000. The point is, there are a huge number of positions out there that match the search term (or exact job title) of 'web developer'. If you identify primarily as simply a 'web developer', you're in a crowd of hundreds of thousands. The good news is, there's definitely demand for people to fill that kind of role. The bad news is, how do you convince a particular client that you're the best candidate for their 'web developer' vacancy, if that's as far as you've gone in differentiating yourself?
When you're marketing a product, one that isn't creating a brand new market segment, it can be useful to identify how big the market for that kind of product is. Say you're looking to enter the footwear business. It's good to know that there are billions of dollars spent by millions of customers on footwear every year. However, when you go to actually sell your footwear, you're probably not going to try to market it to "people who buy shoes" - you're going to niche down to a particular segment. Maybe basketball playing teens who aspire to be NBA players. Maybe outdoor fanatics who want the best hiking shoes. Maybe fashion-conscious women who will pay a premium for comfort. You'll sell more shoes by appealing to specific demographics of buyers than by trying to appeal broadly to any shoe-buyer. People can only remember one or two leaders in a given market niche, and as a marketer you want your product to occupy one of those positions. If you can't be the #1 or #2 for the market, you need to pick a smaller, more focused market in which you can occupy that position.
Think about it for automobile companies. What's the most successful automobile company? In my opinion there's not even a clear winner here. What if we narrow it down to trucks? Many of you would probably say Ford or Chevrolet. How about electric cars? I would argue Tesla has done an excellent job of being first in mind as the electric car manufacturer, even though last year Nissan sold more electric vehicles globally than did Tesla.
Now think about a particular skill or passion you have that goes beyond mere competence. Maybe you could have a podcast all about your git knowledge and the dark arts of mastering its intricacies. Maybe you could write a book about the most powerful ways to use CSS selectors to achieve amazing results. Whole programming languages might be tough to become well-known for (think Jon Skeet for C# for example), but you could position yourself as the go-to expert in lambda expressions or arrow functions or a particular design pattern. Whatever skill you already have, or could have, that's where you're going to go deep with your knowledge. Visualize that thick horizontal line representing your shallow knowledge of a wide variety of topics, and now draw a much deeper vertical line dropping down from its center, forming a 'T' shape. This T-shape represents your skillset, or at least how you'd like to market your skillset.
The T-shaped developer has greater success because they're able to position themselves in the minds of customers, managers, and peers as experts in a particular niche. How you choose your niche and how you make sure others are aware of your expertise will have to wait for future shows. Please leave a comment at weeklydevtips.com/016 if you have questions or ideas you'd like to share.