The Synergist Engineer

Carve your own career path by leveraging your unique combination of skills.

Credits Nicolas Solerieu

In The Developing Dev’s latest installment, Ryan Peterman tackled a question many engineers face during their careers: Generalist or specialist? Should you learn a bit of everything or drill into a particular field?

I’d like to add a third option to the mix: Become a synergist.

A synergist has deep knowledge in a curated number of subjects, which, here’s where things get interesting, they combine to offer one original and valuable service.

I once worked with a front-end developer who was also great at drawing and passionate about art. The CSS he wrote didn’t use all the most modern features, but he made up for it by elevating every design to something beautiful and stylish. He had found a synergy between his skills, resulting in a more valuable output than if he had pursued only one of them to a higher level of mastery.

The path of the synergist engineer can give you an edge in the job market. Software engineers compete in a global marketplace, where being “the best” at something is virtually impossible. The synergist sides step this problem because they compete in a combination of skills. A great synergist can even carve their own playing field where no one else can compete because of the unique combination of skills they sharpened.

Embarking into the synergist journey means taking a “choose your own adventure” approach to your career. It’s a way to forge your own path and build resilience in an uncertain market.

Of course, the synergist approach comes with its own tradeoffs. Only some jobs can fully leverage your particular combination of skills, and you might have to settle for something suboptimal while waiting for a better opportunity to come along.

Unique combinations have the potential to reap huge rewards, but they also come with higher risks. If your expertise is Android development, combining it with juggling and vegan curries might not materialize in unique job opportunities.

As Ryan points out in his article, career paths are not mutually exclusive. The generalist-synergist-specialist distinction is not black and white. Labels might be helpful to filter job listings but don’t let that limit you.

We are all multivariate individuals. A synergist knows that and finds clever and valuable ways to combine and leverage their strengths.

What’s your skills combination?

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