In the age of the cloud, generalists will rule


// The advent of AWS changed the entire tech landscape – yet the most important change has more to do with the people who will thrive in this new world.

When I started in tech the path was clear – you would choose a narrow subject field and become an expert in it.

IT was too broad a field to be efficient in more than one domain. By focusing on a single domain you could become a highly sought after specialist with the ability to become the lynch-pin of an organisation.

It was easy to see this reflected in organisational structures. The database guy had to be contacted before every change. The front end guy was in every meeting from marketing to sales. The middleware guy would dictate how often a company could release software.

Yet it often stifled innovation.

A company of specialist workers has little to no overlap of skills, making a team bond hard to form. Conflict grows as a lack of understanding for other teams’ problems leads to frustration.

This problem gave birth to practices like Agile as way to co-ordinate specialist teams and bring them together on a project requiring their specialist skillsets.

Coordinated specialists. Usually requires heavy management resources.

This can work well for large multinational companies, in fact it is a luxury that large companies have bought themselves. But in startup you can rarely afford the heavy management overhead. When funding comes up short it’s usually these resources that are first to go. What if you never needed them to begin with? How far could your startup go?

Your hidden general(ist)

The cloud has unlocked a new power play that startups can leverage.

In an hour a developer can spin up a web page, lambda function and choose between an array of databases. You can cut through organisational bureaucracy to the heart of the problem and have a solution for your customer prototyped that same day.

You can supercharge a small team of people with a broad range of skills to work together on a solution.

The startup model. A small team of generalists with overlapping skillsets and flat management structure.

So why are startups still recruiting specialists? Why does every job application request a narrow set of skills?

The truth is that you really only need to become good at one thing – and that is the process of learning itself.

A generalist creed

The people who thrive in this environment are those who welcome chaotic learning and adaptive problem solving, who dive into new tech and novel problems with a smile on their faces. The ones who have developed the elasticity to handle this ever-changing landscape.

These people are generalists.

Before AWS, cloud generalists could not move quickly enough across technological fields before the landscape had changed and the knowledge learned was not applicable in time.

The artistry behind the engineering

Now more than ever it’s the soft skills that matter.

Understanding human behaviour and common design patterns matters. Being able to play with countless iterations and variations is key. Knowing how to remain calm and work your way through an unknown problem domain and the integrate it into your ongoing understanding is what you want.

Yet I think the people who will truly excel are those with the ability to find the common abstractions between apparently contrasting disciplines which in turn allows them to move freely between them and combine them in unique and compelling ways.

They will build up a skill set which allows them to harness the power of the cloud to rapidly iterate in developing real world applications and feed that back into the creative process to evolve their products.

In the age of the cloud, generalists will rule.


About me: I’m Brian Foody and I work in Product & Engineering at Bamboo. We’re not afraid to dream big. Our goal is to initiate a similarly seismic change in the financial landscape.

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