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This article is part of our Conference Coverage: 2018 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium: A SearchCIO guide

IT career skills: Does being a specialist make a difference?

When it comes to developing IT skills, is it better to be the jack-of-all-trades or master of one? Airtel's Harmeen Mehta shares her perspective in this ATE.

Should modern-day technologists looking to advance their IT career skills focus on building a depth of expertise in a specific area or develop a wide range of skills? Harmeen Mehta, global CIO and head of digital at Indian telecom giant Bharti Airtel, doled out her advice at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium.

"The world of generalization is dead; it is a world of specialization," Mehta told the audience when talking about the IT career skills that are expected of technologists in the digital age.

In this Ask the Expert, she explains how being a specialist can help technologists move their career forward by creating value for the organization.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What IT career skills tips do you have for someone getting started in a technology role?

Harmeen Mehta: I really think it is a world of specialization. If I were to look within my own engineering organization, people who bring specific niche skills and [who] have mastered how to build products using those technologies are invaluable. They are the ones who make the thoughts really happen; they turn dreams into reality. And I think that's only possible if you're a specialist at a particular technology. You can be a specialist at two or three technologies, as long as they're related.

Harmeen MehtaHarmeen Mehta

A few years back or a decade back, it was far more about saying, 'I know this and I know that. I know C and C++ and Java', rather than saying, 'I'm a specialist, and this is what I know and this is what I'm a master at.' Jacks-of-all-trades are useful in certain organizations, to a certain level. But if you are a master of a trade, that's where you bring the expertise in and you really create value both for yourself as well as for the organization because you have that ability of going really deep and creating something magical.

I think data science is a great example; big data is yet another. The kind of people who are experts at mining large volumes of data and being able to see patterns in those, that's a really specialized skill.

India produces millions of Java developers every year, but there are only a handful of them who really take their craft to a different level and have a level of expertise that allows you to create massive platforms using the same technology that most of the world is using. What they bring is a much deeper understanding of how the power of that tech can really be used to create that product. I encourage that within my teams as well.

This was last published in June 2018

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