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T-shaped developers: specialists of the future



Who are T-shaped specialists, how are they different from narrow-focused I-shaped professionals, why do teams become better with them, and why do many large companies want to get them?

T-shaped developer: what does it mean?

A T-shaped specialist is a person who is an expert in at least one technology but also has knowledge in many other areas and can communicate effectively with other specialists at a basic level. T-shaped specialists are contrasted with I-shaped specialists, who are experts only in one field.

For example, a back-end developer understands how to create UX/UI, while a front-end developer can deploy an application in the cloud. Large companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, etc.,actively use this approach.

Where does the term come from?

The concept of T-shaped specialists was first introduced by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, a design and innovation consultancy firm. It refers to individuals with deep expertise in one area, represented by the vertical line of the "T," and broad knowledge and skills in other areas, represented by the horizontal line of the "T."

Why do we talk about it?

The IT market highly appreciates T-shaped specialists. For example, Google doesn't have a Java, React, or PHP developer; they have a Software Engineer. During an interview at Google, they will never ask about how a particular language works under the hood without understanding the rest. The interviewer will provide a task and parameters, such as maximum algorithm runtime and memory usage. How to solve it is up to the developer, whether on C/C++ or Java. The important thing is to solve it. If you can't solve it, you won't pass the interview.

It's essential not to confuse T-shaped specialists with generalists who have knowledge in many areas but are not experts in any. It means that T-shaped specialists' duties primarily include performing tasks in the field where they are experts. However, if necessary, T-shaped specialists can work on challenges in another sphere under the supervision of an expert in that field, allowing development to proceed without compromising product quality and prioritizing tasks.

Why should you think about it?

The IT market is rapidly changing and leaning towards T-shaped specialists. We are currently on the verge of a hybrid model in which the most valuable employees are interdisciplinary. This approach has many advantages.

Holistic vision: by expanding their knowledge of technologies beyond their stack, developers can approach tasks comprehensively and find optimal solutions. A holistic vision helps developers better evaluate projects and understand potential dependencies and obstacles. In everyday tasks, T-shaped developers are more efficient, completing tasks in less time, with less risk, and fewer bottlenecks.

Task distribution: if the team consists mainly of T-shaped specialists, tasks are prioritized based on their importance, as the team is ready to adapt, and one specialist can help another. With narrow-profile developers, tasks are distributed depending on the team workload.

Efficient interaction: developers who understand the specifics of related platforms negotiate with each other faster.

Expansion of horizons and creativity: creativity, the ability to think outside the box, and technical literacy grow, allowing the developer to be more effective by projecting techniques and approaches used on other platforms onto their stack.

High motivation: diversity eliminates the transformation of work into a routine. A specialist can always switch to performing tasks from related areas and thus not lose interest in their primary activity.

To become a sought-after T-shaped professional, you should go beyond your capabilities and learn what is beyond your competence. And, of course, spent much time. After that, you will become a well-rounded developer who understands every part of the project process.