How to use being the 'jack of all trades, master of a few' to your advantage.
Are you a jack of all trades, but a master of none? Do you jump from one programming language to another? That's not necessarily a bad thing.
One of the most common pieces of advice for success in programming is to focus on one language, that is, one set of complementary technologies.
For example, the knowledge and mastery of the Tech Stack below should be mutually exclusive.
- Stack 2: HTML, CSS, React, PHP, Laravel
- Stack 3: HTML, CSS, JSP, JavaEE, Spring, Hibernate
I do agree with it, so much so that I was concerned with my trajectory. There is merit to this level of concentration: you will gain mastery of the language. However, there are also benefits to defying this advice.
I use at least three programming languages in a week for different projects. As a jack of all trades, master of a few 🦄, I saw the value of being a generalist and how to use it to my advantage.
Developer Journey 👩🏻💻
First, a bit of context. I have been coding for a little over ten years now 🙈, half of those in the Tech industry.
In those years, I have:
- Coded in over 17 scripting and programming languages
- Learned over 5 frameworks
- Developed > 30 personal and professional products (some, I mentioned here), > 25 of those were created from the ground up.
You can see that in the past 5 years, I've used multiple languages each year. I've never really focused on just one thing.
In the past, I was insecure about this. It is only until recently that I found the value of wearing multiple hats.
Here's why it's awesome 😎 and advantageous 📈 to be the jack of all trades, master of a few
#1: It facilitates learning new programming languages
Most programming languages closely resemble one another. They only differ in syntax, but the basic concepts are there. It's largely similar to spoken languages, the words differ but they share the same components — grammar, parts of speech i.e. noun, verb, adjective, etc.
Here's how I transitioned from one programming language to another.
Java → C# .NET
- I had to dive into C# when I started working in 2015. Because I had a wealth of experience in Java, the transition was a breeze, and the learning curve wasn't steep. 💁🏻♀️
- JS → Swift. I learned JS in our Web Development class in college. This helped me gain enough confidence to purchased classes on Udemy, where I learned Swift.
- Swift → React Native / ES6. Because I know Swift (only for iOS), it motivated me to learn React Native for cross-platform mobile development. RN wasn't available when I took an interest in mobile development.
- React Native → React JS. Knowing React Native made learning React JS incredibly simple. Seriously, I learned React JS in a day, learned by doing.
Java EE, Spring, Hibernate → PHP, Laravel
- I learned PHP in just one day, thanks to Codecademy and my background in various programming languages.
- It's challenging to learn and adjust to new frameworks and Tech Stacks. Fortunately, PHP + Laravel was slightly similar to the projects I have done in the past with JavaEE + Sprint + Hibernate. So, it only took me less than a week to get comfortable.
#2: It increases your problem-solving capacity as you transcend language limitations
Every language has its limitation. For languages of the same type, there's at least one workflow or process that one does better, or another doesn't support.
Think outside the box. Knowing multiple programming languages means you won't be restricted to the capacity and limitations of one language. General knowledge allows you to think more deeply about problems.
#3: It helps you become a more versatile developer
With the breadth of knowledge, you can identify the best, most appropriate technological solutions on an architectural level to a variety of business problems. If you only know one, say, Java, your solutions will be limited solely for the problems the language can solve.
For example, you can easily identify the most effective Tech Stack to address the business problem in an efficient, robust, cost-effective, and scalable manner.
Last year, I was involved in AutoServed, a local Automotive startup.
- Only three of us developed the website. We had to determine the best Tech Stack to use.
- ✅ Requirement: Create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). 😎 Meaning, we should create the product with only the core features as fast as possible.
- 😓Dilemma: I was the Project Manager and Back-end Developer for the project. Planning and organizing were second nature to me, but my back-end skills were limited to Enterprise programming (JavaEE).
- 🏆Solution: Use the Tech Stack that's easy to set up and code. This is where point 1 above came in handy. I had to learn PHP and Laravel — fast! And I did! 🎉
Instead of just sticking to what I know (JavaEE tech stack), which takes time to set up and even more time to code, I adapted to the demands of the project and learned a new language so we can achieve our goals. When you know more technologies and the nuances between them, you can deliver results in the smartest way possible.
#4: It makes it easier to adapt to changing technologies
More programming languages emerge every couple of years, each with its unfair advantage. The new ones are becoming more powerful, accessible, learnable, and readable each year.
A good example is the rapid progress of mobile 📱development over the past couple of years. In 2014, my only options were Objective-C for iOS (too complicated) or Java for Android (environmental difficulties). Swift was pretty new at that time, so people were careful and doubtful — but I went for it anyway.
A few years later, cross-platform tools emerged, enabling developers to code both Apple and Android apps with one codebase, requiring only minimal modifications. Now, it has become widely popular, with React Native, Xamarin, and Unity among the most well-known.
If I adhered to Swift, I wouldn't be able to program Android apps with more flexibility and less code repetition. Nor would I discover the remarkable online community of React and React Native!
Although, there is a downside...
If you want a higher position, companies prefer mastery of certain technologies over well-roundedness. In short, they prefer people who specialists over generalists who are spread too thin.
The Silver Lining
If you're not too particular about climbing the corporate ladder, there's a multitude of job opportunities available. At this age of information, programming skills are in high demand. Even the pandemic does not deter the need for developers and designers. So, you can afford to be particular!
Don't worry too much or feel insecure about your development skills. Every developer has her own journey. When in doubt, remember why you code — for the challenge, the satisfaction of creating, for the sheer thrill of it.
My advice, become a generalist first, and then a specialist. Explore as many programming languages you fancy. Try playing the field first. Once you found your calling, stick to it. Master the craft, learn the different flavors.
That's why it's great to be the jack of all trades, master of a few. You will have breadth and depth. 😉
"I'm not a great programmer; I'm just a good programmer with great habits."
― Kent Beck