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I've always been bound mainly by curiosity, and my current career path shows it:

  • First job was in a startup
  • Second was in a < 100 employees company
  • Third is in a large > 15000 corporation

The same could be said about my technical skills:

  • Learned through the standard path, C then C++, where I mostly did systems programming and some games
  • Got into Python for fast dev, DevOps, quick and dirty scripting, and later some rather large programs
  • Learned a lot of little things, Bash scripting, some Perl + Regexes, Dlang, little cryptography, bit of ML, etc etc

And I am also decent at handling projects and teams and have minor experience in both.

I am currently building my way to learning one or two extra programming languages(JS, Dlang, Crystal) in case I'll need them, or because I'm curious. And going into some extra technical fields I've never touched (specifically, server side backend web development).

I do not intend to work on web dev, ever. I just want to not be the guy who answers "no idea" when asked about something I think I should know, and I believe knowing at least the basics of Web dev is necessary in 2019.

I am currently learning all sorts of skills and enjoy myself doing it, but I also feel as if my growth in "side things" is just a waste of career time. I also have more clear-cut career paths I wish to follow. I'd love to work in game development, AI dev, or machine learning, and I would like in time to lead projects/teams or have my own company in one of those fields, as each of them passionate me.

What worries me is that most employers seem to want one guy for one job. Yet I am slowly progressing towards being 1/3rd of a guy for 8 jobs. So I would like opinions from more experienced managers/recruiters.

Would a disjointed career with minor knowledge in all things, even clearly unrelated things, put me in any kind of good light? I imagine myself saying in future interviews "I can do whatever you need and bring ideas to the table on how to make things easier", but I'm afraid that might be taken as arrogant.

Ultimately, my question is, Should I stop trying to get "capable" in all fields, and pursue getting good at my end goals skillset?

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    "worthwhile" is a subjective assessment that leads to opinionated answers, which are off-topic for Workplace.SE. On top of that,you're also asking about career advice, which is simiarly off-topic.
    – Flater
    Dec 17 '19 at 11:19
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    @flater modified the title to fit. I do not ask for career advice per se, simply for recruiter appreciation of jack of all trades types. Sorry if I'm in the wrong place, but where should I post this? Dec 17 '19 at 13:57
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    I think the edit improves the quality of the question. I am going to make an additional edit to make your actual question more clear. Personally, I don't think this is the wrong place for this question. I think this is a valuable question and I hope it remains open and gets the attention it deserves.
    – dwizum
    Dec 17 '19 at 14:45
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Your title question is,

Is being a jack of all trades interesting to most recruiters?

Ultimately, the answer to that is, it's interesting to recruiters who are looking for a jack of all trades.

In other words, it's not really an answerable question, because recruiters will naturally be looking for candidates that meet their needs. A jack of all trades might be a terrible fit in a large, well structured team focused on a single technology or subject matter, where roles are well divided and very narrow. But, a jack of all trades might be a wonderful fit for a smaller, more flexible team where everyone needs to wear different hats and the work is constantly changing.

It's generally hard to give specific answers to should I... questions, but we can give you a framework in which to come up with your own answer:

  • Take a step back. Stop focusing on "looking good" to recruiters in the general sense.
  • Instead, Focus on understanding your own professional goals. You mention some industries you want to work in, which is a good start. But, perhaps more importantly, you need to determine the size/style/format of team you want to work in. Do you want to be a cog in a giant, efficient machine? Or do you want to be a problem-solver in a small, flexible team? Do you want a steady stream of similar tasks, or do you want to wake up every day not knowing what might happen?
  • After some brainstorming, write your own job description for the kind of job you want. Be sure to describe not only the job but also the employer.
  • Once you have refined your goals, and described your ideal job, work backwards from there to determine which opportunities actually make sense. Look at job listings, and put them next to your dream job, and see what lines up.
  • Focus your attention on closing gaps between your current skills and those required by your ideal job. This may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: Focus on "looking good" to recruiters that are representing the jobs you actually want.

Answers to a questions like "does this look good to a recruiter?" are meaningless without context. Something might look terrible to a specific recruiter, but that's okay if you don't want that person's job!

In many hiring process related questions on this site, it quickly becomes obvious that candidates sometimes subconsciously approach the job hunt like it's some sort of popularity contest, with the ultimate goal of looking good to all recruiters no matter what. The reality is, the only recruiter that matters is the one that's filling your ideal job. A recruiter looking at your resume and thinking, ugh, this person is totally uninteresting to me is an acceptable (perhaps even desirable) outcome if that recruiter is trying to fill a job you don't want! To put this a different way, the magic in the process is focusing on getting the job you actually want, not on having a positive outcome from every interaction.

Simply put, your final line in your question is,

Should I stop trying to get "capable" in all fields, and pursue getting good at my end goals skillset?

And the answer to that is a resounding YES.

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    I've had a lot of good comments despite the question being closed, but yours is the one that made me reflect the most. Thank you. Dec 18 '19 at 14:30
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Should I stop trying to get "capable" in all fields, and pursue getting good at my end goals skillset?

No. Life (and your career) isn't a game where there's a goal of "this is what I must have to win". Your "end goals" will continually change as you grow in both your personal and professional life.

Focus on what you're interested in, and in what will provide good employment opportunities in the area(s) where you want to live. Don't worry about some sort of career endgame.

The end of your career won't be anything like what you expect it to be when you're near the start.

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  • Rephrasing that, there are things I generally aim for. I am currently not aiming for them, because I'm focusing on secondary skills. I'm wondering whether any returns may come from that, or if I'm just essentially idling, career-wise. Dec 17 '19 at 13:43
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100% - it's worthwhile.

  • It will make you a better developer.
  • It shows prospective employers that you are capable of ramping up on new technologies independently.
  • It shows ambition and initiative
  • It suggests a genuine interest in coding and tech in general. IMO somebody who has a genuine interest will take pride in their work and be committed to doing it to the best of their ability. When interviewing developers I'll always ask if the candidate has a raspberry pi or arduino (and what do they use it for) or what tech that they don't use in their day job do they want to get their hands on.
  • It presents you as somebody who isn't afraid to step out of their comfort zone and take on new challenges.

The risk, as I see it, is that you might come across as having a great breadth of experience but with no great depth in any of those areas. (I think that's unlikely to be an accurate reflection of your ability)

You should aim to (to quote Aldous Huxley) "know something about everything and everything about something".

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  • "somebody who has a genuine interest will take pride in their work and be committed to doing it to the best of their ability" I agree with this. When screening developer CVs, the ones that I put at the bottom of the pile are the the single-track developers: studied something about programming at university, then went into a graduate programme at a big company (PwC, KPMG, etc), blah blah boring! Give me someone who was working in a completely different sector, discovered progamming, automated their old job, automated their home at the weekend, and is now looking for new challenges!
    – Aaron F
    Dec 17 '19 at 13:16
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    Agree 100% - I also like to ask what tech blogs they subscribe to. If they can rattle off a handful without thinking, you can be reasonably confident they are not somebody who is going to commit any old mess of code that gets the job done and then walk out the door bang on quitting time. (Also a great way to get suggestions for new tech blogs!)
    – amcdermott
    Dec 17 '19 at 13:21
  • Very interesting. Thank you. Hehe, I have a PI4 at home I'm using as a NAS, home controller, and some extra jobs. Nice touch. It unfortunately pretty much is an accurate reflection on my ability at the time, to have a finger in all but a hand in none. Your quote is perfect. I was wondering mainly if it is possible to sell "I can do x" to a recruiter that is hiring for Y. I want to do Y, but not by abandoning the capacity to do X if needed, and I want to know if that can be defended in an interview. Dec 17 '19 at 13:53
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    Something like "I don't have a great deal of experience in Y right now - but I do know a little about it and I know a good bit about X. Also, I've taught myself A, B and C so I don't see ramping up in Y being an issue for me" would be the approach I'd take. Only thing is it would take a hiring manager with the courage to see the potential in you and take a chance on that rather than wait for somebody already well versed in Y so you'll really need to sell yourself on initiative and passion for tech. Don't be discouraged though - there are people who'd hire you because you have a PI4. I'm one.
    – amcdermott
    Dec 17 '19 at 14:00
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    @QuiteNotSerious unfortunately recruiters don't understand any of that.To them, the only valid experience is that which you can demonstrate with your work history. They will pre-screen your CV and the client will never see it. Bypass the recruiter and send your CV straight to the relevant person at the company. In the past I've been offered jobs this way: have been invited to interviews when my initial applications via recruiters were denied in pre-screening.
    – Aaron F
    Dec 17 '19 at 16:59
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I have 35 years experience in the software industry, and am very much a jack-of-all-trades, motivated by curiosity to learn new things. This has worked very well for me, but I think it's important to give the right message to interviewers. The way I look at things, I do have a specialty. My specialty is diving into new things, and quickly learning what I need to evaluate or use them

I try to paint a picture of how someone like me can benefit the company. Usually at the beginning of an interview, they ask you to give an overview of your career to date. While doing that, I emphasise times that I've had to learn something quickly. Having established that, later on I might tell them something like this: "Because I learn quickly, in my previous roles I've been the person they ask to evaluate new technologies, launch new projects, or help troubled projects get back on track." Obviously, put that in your own words and tailor it to your interests and experience.

Is there a common theme in the technologies you've explored? That could be useful to highlight.

One big advantage of my background is that it has keep me in employment through all the recessions during my career. When I look at a job listing, there's a good chance that at some point in my career I've used the technology they're interested in. Also, over time you probably will become an expert in something. For example, most of my work has been on Linux. Even during tough times, there were always job listings looking for Linux experience.

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Speaking of personal experience being a jack of all trades isn't valued that much by employers unfortunately. On the contrary - it can easily be turned against you. I have had interviewers tell me I don't have enough experience in framework X while having years of experience in frameworks Y and Z or that they are afraid I might get bored in their company because of my wide experience with different languages/technologies compared to their limited stack.

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  • That is what I am afraid to hear in interviews, indeed. People will expect you to be specialised for their tool, and believe you won't fit the role if you are not. Dec 17 '19 at 13:56
  • Depends on the role you're looking for. You'll find plenty that want that deep knowledge, but you'll find a handful that want the jack-of-all-trades skillset and will reward you for it. Dec 17 '19 at 14:10

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