I come from an earlier age of the internet-era. The web in particular was all a bit new and it felt like everybody was really just making it up as we went along. An age before certifications.
More than anything it was the age of the generalist. So many people I know from 1998-2008 who made/make a living in this thing we call ‘digital’* wouldn’t tidily fit in any box. They did a little dev. Had some design skills. Understood usability. Could turn their hands at a little business analysis at a push. Understood what WebTrends was saying (ask your parents). Might be a demon with a CMS or an expert at writing for the web but generally could muddle through in a number of situations.
Most of us ended up calling ourselves Product Managers 🙂
Over the time things got much more complicated. Fields got deep but narrow. This narrowness became a badge of honour somehow. Take a look at the Government Digital, Data and Technology capability framework. Actually a totally reasonable and not over the top articulation of the ecosystem of roles that you’ll find in most digital teams.
Thing is at some time or another I think I could make a case that I have held 10 of those roles and I don’t even consider myself having that broad a skillset compared to many.
This post was spurred by catching myself talking about ‘multi-hyphenates’ (again) in a pitch yesterday. It is something I refer to a lot. To be honest I wasn’t sure why/when/where the term entered my vocabulary but I suspect it is more to do with pop culture than technology. The idea of a rapper-producer-actor-energy drink salesman is pretty established (not to mention actor-director, singer-songwriter etc) and I find that in my corner of the digital world it is these hyphens I am looking for and leaning on.
My teams are made up of people who wear more than one hat. Product Managers who are experienced delivery managers and understand user research. Business analysts who can code and love agile. Developers who enjoy UX challenges and wrangling data. They are all talented and experienced and driven by curiosity and a desire to do good work not limited by the edges of their ‘role’.
I know the common term for these people is ‘T-shaped‘ but I prefer π (pi) people – they know a few things and are pretty great at a couple (rather than know a lot but be deeply expert in one thing..).
As it happens I still see these ingredients most often in product people which may just be confirmation bias on my side but I think the role attracts people who thrive having a perspective across lots of stuff and the curiosity to identify and fill gaps in their knowledge when it becomes an issue.
The other reason I am writing this is I have just spent the morning writing job descriptions and we are going to be hiring soon. I’m not sure the job descriptions are able to get across the scope of what I am saying here so hopefully this might help anyone wondering about joining us.
*I’ve decided I am continuing to call it digital until you pry it from my cold dead fingers – YMMV