Selective Ignorance in the Name of Specialization

I was reading the Passionate Programmer when I was struck by this line:

“Too many of us seem to believe that specializing in something simply means you don’t know about other things.”

Now that I’ve been in the web industry for a number of years, I’ve run into people who practice this “selective ignorance in the name of specialization”. It often comes in the form of phrases like “that’s not my job,” or “that’s outside my area”.

What if, instead, we took advantage of every opportunity to learn, no matter where in the tech stack it was? What if, instead of being bored in meetings when the conversation drifts outside of our area, we focused on trying to understand the unfamiliar topic?

We’d still have the skills of a specialist, but we’d also develop the context of a generalist. Our skill set would still be T-shaped, but broader.

The t-shaped skills of selective-ignorance specialists vs opportunist specialists

This “opportunist-specialist” isn’t just more valuable… they also get to have more fun. The variety makes their days more interesting, and being generally curious makes them more pleasant to be around. Embracing this approach has no real downsides as far as I can tell.