Software Development: Specialize or Generalize?

This content is syndicated from Edge of Chaos | Agile Development Blog by Michael Dubakov. To view the original post in full, click here.

Now here’s a good topic for discussion. Many years ago we were hiring software developers as such. For the most part, they were good at their job, but not all of them.  Me, personally, and all my teammates back from these times – we were writing in any language. Something needs to be done in .NET? There we go. Any HTML work? No problem (well, the HTML work was mostly for me). Shoot something in javascript? Done. I’m not talking about the quality of these solutions, not yet.

Then, we became set apart from each other:  here’s the JS team, and they give zero consideration to the server-side tasks. These guys are .NET guys, and God forbid if they lay their hands on the client-side (with rare exceptions). This distinction projects into hiring as well: here’s a .NET, a .JS and an iOS position. It manifested itself in particular as we got down to tp3, putting the clear boundaries between various areas of responsibility. The UI is done in .JS and .JS only, everything communicates with REST API, the core team negotiates the query/response format with the .JS team, and off we go. This is a nice way to start a new project. Each team is busy with their part: they design architecture and do the refactoring as they aspire to perfection within their boundaries.

However, there comes a time when the teams are almost done with the architecture, but there’s a flurry of horizontal application-specific issues.  It somehow turns out that there’re tons of the UI related tasks, and few server-side tasks. That’s when specialization delivers the heaviest blow. The teams are not aligned, there’re twice as less developers in the UI team as compared to the .NET team.   As a result, a half of the core team developers hang around nagging for new tasks, and one has to assign them to not so important jobs. On the contrary, the UI team is permanently slammed.

My opinion is simple: there’s no ultimate specialization. Sure thing, someone prefers one technology over another, and works with it most of the time. But a classy developer is able to adapt to a new ecosystem quickly and write in any programming language efficiently enough. The 80/20 rule of thumb might well be in effect here.  You’re focused on your core competencies, at the same time reaching out to the new areas.

From the company’s standpoint, it’s very cool when someone can create a feature in its entirety. There’re less delays, the feature passes all the developments stages faster, there’re less discussions and handovers. One can truly stay focused on the tasks that are important at this very moment, and not shop for some work of a lower priority.

From the developer’s standpoint, it’s not as simple as that. I’ve never had any problems or issues doing something by myself.  For some reasons, it is a big problem for some people. Yes, at the beginning you’re not likely to come up with perfect solutions. Yes, there will be some naive mistakes. But, in my opinion, a great software developer can deliver sensible solutions even in a fairly unknown environment.
Next, it’s about personal involvement. Many people hold .JS for HELL. However, if the framework is done, as well as HTML, it doesn’t look that bad. Some interesting things can be accomplished with .JS as well.

Why I liked to do a feature all by myself? It’s about the great feeling that I did it on my own, that’s why. This feeling means a lot to me. How about you?

To sum up, we will now resume hiring classy software developers, the ones that can create the entire feature from start to end, despite the technologies, and have nothing against that.

Translated from Russian by Olga Kouzina

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

seventeen − twelve =

There are 101 ways to do anything.
To find the best way, sometimes you need expert help

What People Say

“Kelly was engaged as a Program Director on a complex business and technology transformation program for Suncorp Commercial Insurance. Kelly drew on his key capabilities and depth of experience to bring together disparate parties in a harmonised way, ensuring the initiate and concept phases of the program were understood and well formulated. Excellent outcome in a very short time frame. ”


“I worked with Kelly whilst at Thoughtworks and found him to be a most inspiring individual, his common-sense approach coupled with a deep understanding of Agile and business makes him an invaluable asset to any organisation. I can't recommend Kelly enough.”


“Kelly came to the department and has really made a huge impact on how the department communicates, collaborates and generally gets things done. We were already developing in an agile way, but Kelly has brought us even more into alignment with agile and scrum best practices, being eager to share information and willing to work with us to change our processes rather than dictate how things must be done. He is highly knowledgable about agile development (as his active blog proves) but his blog won't show what a friendly and knowledgeable guy he is. I highly recommend Kelly to anyone looking for a CTO or a seminar on agile/scrum practices - you won't be disappointed!”


“Kelly revolutionised the way our digital department operated. A true advocate of agile principles, he quickly improved internal communication within our teams and our internal clients by aligning our business and creating a much enhanced sense of transparency in the decisions the business was making. Kelly also introduced a higher sense of empowerment to the development teams...”


“Kelly and I worked together on a very large project trying to secure a new Insurer client. Kelly had fantastic commercial awareness as well as his technical expertise. Without him I would never had secured this client so I owe a lot to him. He is also a really great guy!”


“Kelly was a brilliant CTO and a great support to me in the time we worked together. I owe Kelly a great deal in terms of direction and how to get things done under sometimes difficult circumstances. Thanks Kelly.”


“I worked with Kelly on many projects at IPC and I was always impressed with his approach to all of them, always ensuring the most commercially viable route was taken. He is great at managing relationships and it was always a pleasure working with him.”


“Kelly was a great colleague to work with - highly competent, trustworthy and generally a nice bloke.”


“Kelly is an extremely talented and visionary leader. As such he manages to inspire all around him to achieve their best. He is passionate about agile and has a wealth of experience to bring to bear in this area. If you're 'lucky' he might even tell you all about his agile blog. Above all this, Kelly is great fun to work with. He is always relaxed and never gets stressed - and trust me, he had plenty of opportunity here! If you get the chance to work with Kelly, don't pass it up.”


“Kelly’s a leading program director with the ability to take charge from day one and keep strong momentum at both a program and project level driving prioritisation, resourcing and budgeting agendas. Kelly operates with an easy-going style and possesses a strong facilitation skill set. From my 5 months experience working with Kelly, I would recommend Kelly to program manage large scale, complex, cross company change programs both from a business and IT perspective.”


“Kelly is an Agile heavy-weight. He came in to assess my multi-million $ Agile development program which wasn’t delivering the right throughput. He interviewed most of the team and made some key recommendations that, when implemented, showed immediate results. I couldn’t ask for more than that except he’s a really nice guy as well.”



To explore how we can help you, please get in touch