A Weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch





Back to Archive Index

Go to


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 careers.

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 goals.

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:

He can reached via email at

Book Recommendation

Browse the WelchWrite Bookstore



Also on