by Christopher Koch

IT Leaders Must Become Specialists In Multiple Technologies

May 01, 20062 mins

While everyone agrees that IT needs generalists today, a more accurate term might be multi-specialists. Programmers who remain solely programmers will have to be highly specialized and extremely skilled to survive against international competition. Meanwhile, other jobs in IT will require at least a solid grounding in programming, along with a strong specialization in other skills, such as project management and business process (probably both). “You can’t say, ‘I can manage but I can’t do,’” says Verizon CIO Shaygan Kheradpir. Adds Dow Chemical CIO David Kepler, “[Programmers] need to maintain breadth, but they also need depth in one or two areas. Credibility comes from getting results and seeing the broader issues, but sometimes you need to be able to go into the detail. If you can’t go into the detail, you won’t be able to solve problems.”

This helps explain why, in the era of outsourced application development, CIOs who responded to CIO’s”State of the CIO” survey ( said the two skills they wanted most in entry-level employees were project management and application development—by an almost equal measure. “My people are becoming more specialized every day because the amount of technology in the infrastructure is growing so fast,” says New York Life CIO Judith Campbell.

“A generalist is often said to mean you don’t know much about anything,” says Peter Lowes, leader of Deloitte Consulting’s Outsourcing Advisory Practice. “I think you have to be an incredible specialist in your slice. It is through this specialization that you will have the leadership and focus necessary to remain innovative.”

The industrialization and compartmentalization of the IT supply chain for both products and services are driving the need for multi-specialization, he adds. “In the old days, the application designer had to think about every aspect of IT, from the CPU speed to the network to the GUI. As the supply chain develops, you are to a certain degree unburdened from those concerns. You are free to develop specialization in the areas that really matter to the end users.”