by Douglas E. Welch
February 25, 2000
© 2000, Douglas E. Welch
Over the years computer professionals have seen a seemingly endless
progression of computer operating systems. Mainframe systems gave way to CP/M and DOS. These systems have
given way to the MacOS and MS Windows. Then there was the inclusion
of network operating systems like Novell Netware, UNIX/Linux and
MS Windows NT. The cycle seems to be making yet another lap with
the recent innovations surrounding Windows CE and the Palm OS.
As time goes by we are seeing a trend towards the integration
of all operating systems into one grand unified network of computer
tools. This also points the way to some major changes in computer
More about more
In today's computer careers you are rewarded, through raises and
bonuses, for knowing more and more about less and less. The more
specialized your knowledge the higher salary you can command.
Human beings have always sought to compartmentalize knowledge
and computer careers are an extreme example of this. You are either
a Windows person, a Mac person or a network person. The future
holds a much different scenario.
As computers become more integrated into our daily life, the dividing
lines between operating systems, computer platforms and networking
systems will disappear. It will matter less and less whether you
know Windows and more that you understand the "standards" which
allow all computer systems to work together. In fact, those who
do not embrace this "generalist" viewpoint will find their career
choices limited. People are going to be more concerned with staying
connected to the net than the type of device they use.
This movement from specialist to generalist means that all computer
careerists will need to change their focus. You will to learn
more and more about even more. You will need to learn how to integrate
all the different parts of the computer world into practical solutions
for yourself and your clients.
It is possible that certifications, such as Microsoft's MCSE and
Novell's CNE, will disappear as these systems become subsumed
within the computing whole. Granted, there will still be some
specialists around. You will always need experts you can call
in to install or troubleshoot underlying systems that higher level
devices use. This will include storage systems, application servers,
and wireless communication networks. Overall, though, there will
be fewer and fewer of these specialists as the computing infrastructure
becomes more and more standardized. Most of you will spend more
of your time developing solutions for your customers instead of
trying to make disparate systems work together.
Don't be afraid
The scenario above might seem a bit frightening to some of you.
No one likes to believe that their specialized knowledge will
eventually become obsolete. The truth is, though, that as a computer
worker, your knowledge is constantly becoming out-dated and useless.
I remember very clearly how my deep knowledge of Windows 3.1 became
worthless the day that Windows 95 was released. It is a simple
fact of computing that you work very hard to accumulate knowledge
even though you know it will soon be obsolete.
However, when you become a computer generalist you don't deal
in esoteric preference settings or hidden program functions. You
deal with widely used standard and overarching concepts. The concept
of wireless computing changes very little even though the technology
underneath is in constant turmoil. If you understand the theories
behind a technology you can easily make use of the technology
itself. In fact, having a deep understanding of the concepts allow
you to make the best use of technologies since you have a deep
understanding of both the strengths and weaknesses of the system.
This general knowledge allows you to make the best choices when
deciding which manufacturer's technology can best accomplish your
Don't be afraid of the trend towards technology generalists. I
have always found that being a generalist has helped me in my
career more than it has hindered me. I have been able to quickly
learn the specialized knowledge I might need because I have a
deep understanding of computing as a whole. My generalist knowledge
also allows me to be more productive since I can handle a wide
variety of technical jobs with equal facility. If someone needs
assistance with a network project, I can help. If they need someone
to install software, I can help there, too. If they need someone
to brainstorm new systems or installations, my generalist knowledge
gives me the ability to see issues from many different viewpoints.
Finally, as a generalist, you will find that your career opportunities
will expand. Instead of being limited to one specific set of jobs,
your skills can fulfill a wide variety of positions and give you
the flexibility to choose between them as your needs require.
Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant
in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with
other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on
Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at email@example.com