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One-Trick Pony? Better Be Good at Your Trick!

Nobody would ask that the world famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma join an orchestra so he could play bass. That said, Yo-Yo Ma is truly the best at what he does. Of course, there are quite a few of us who have a high opinion of our own capabilities, thinking we are the Yo-Yo Ma of our chosen speciality. However, unless you are really in the top ten programmers of a given technology with a world-famous reputation, chances are, you will likely need to be what is often called a multiposition player.

A multiposition player is the Java specialist who also has a deep understanding of ERP systems. It is the DBA consultant who has developed her skills in business intelligence (BI) and is working to extend those skills to dashboard development because she is frustrated by all the great BI that goes unused and unseen. There are thousands of ways you can specialize in more than one complementary skill in a manner that makes you substantially more marketable.

Taking this step, of course, is a win-win deal for you and the consulting company you work for. It helps you because in the event that despite your efforts, your technology consulting company lacks the cash flow to keep you around, you have a better resume with which to look for work. For purposes of survival, it helps because you are now an easier sell to clients, and thus, it is more likely that the consulting company will be able to place you on a project during a downturn.

  • Survival Strategy #4: Avoid being useful for only one kind of skill. The more different things you can do technically, the more likely you will find a spot on a project or with a client.

The reason for this is, during good times, budgets for projects are larger, and thus, it is easier to have both a DBA and BI expert with separate roles on a large project. When project budgets become smaller, some companies will insist that two complementary part-time roles be combined into one. Thus, the project manager has to become the business analyst/project manager. The BI expert has to become the BI expert/DBA. The developer becomes the developer/build expert, and so forth.

Is this ideal? Not usually. In recessions, there are lower budgets to be had, and frequently, the solution is not perfect (separate roles concentrating on what they do best) but is good enough to get the job done given the available budget. Having the flexibility to move between roles gives you a leg up on people who can do only one thing—particularly those specialists who might have an overly high opinion of their own capabilities and therefore refuse to do anything outside their chosen domain.

When choosing your complementary skill (often called a minor), work with your account executives and management to determine what is currently marketable and complementary to your own skill set. Given that they hear from needs frequently and from clients directly, they usually have good guidance about what you should go about learning next so that you can more easily fit into the projects coming up. Ideally, it will be something interesting to you as well, given that people are rarely happy working on technology they hate. But in the worst part of a downturn, having billing work might just be better than nothing at all.

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