Monday, February 5, 2007

Just what is a versatilist?

Those Swiss army knives are the versatilists.

Almost a year back, when I was all set to embark upon my maiden voyage to the Netherlands for an internship, the term "versatilist" first became known to me. I was reading my supervisor's blog and came across an enthralling article on versatilists. Tarry, my internship supervisor (presently, the top boss of Avastu, a friend & mentor) who himself is a true versatilist, says that Aristotle, Plato and the likes were true versatilists. But those were the good old days. They had all the time in the world. He adds -

"And then we have you. A regular IT Joe/Jane. A true specialist and even proudly touting as a generalist. But is it enough for you to stay afloat? Enough for you to keep your job? Enough for you to advice your kids to take up a Sysadmin job as a profession?Answer = NO!

How are you going to cope with the ever changing scenario and at the same time stay competitive. Its hard to stay motivated with the rapid globalisation, massive outsourcing, new technologies sweeping you off your feet and constantly feeling like a lost zombie when suddenly being exposed to some 17 year old who has done a lot of work like yours just for fun!!!"

Wikipedia would describe a versatilist as someone who can be a specialist for a particular discipline, while at the same time be able to change to another role with the same ease. The term "versatilist" was first coined in an article from Gartner, where it states: "Versatilists are able to apply a depth of skill to a progressively widening scope of situations and experiences, equally at ease with technical issues as with business strategy."

It is to the advantage of an organization to employ versatilist because an enterprise will be able to easily redeploy this type of employee based on changes in business requirements or strategy. To illustrate this using a math term, the versatilist has a higher area under the curve rating. Think of a person having some level of knowledge/experience in 15 knowledge areas. That person may have a very high competency (score 5) in 3 areas, a medium level of competency (score 3) in 5 areas an introductory level of competency (score 1) in 4 areas and no competency (score 0) in 3 areas. This creates an area under the curve of 34. This is different from a specialist who may score very high in 1 area and have no competency in others. This breadth of knowledge and experience is what enables faster changes to other roles.

The future IT worker will not be a technology guru but rather a versatilist. He will have technical aptitude, local knowledge, knowledge of industry processes and leadership ability. A wise investment for large firms would be to hire this guy to fuel business value.
So what are you guys waiting for? It's time for you to practice the principles of versatilism!

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