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Tina Huynh
Tina Huynh

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Who's the Better Hire? - Jack of All Trades OR Master of One

Table of Contents

  1. What's a Jack of All Trades?
  2. Origin of the Saying
  3. Which is a Better Hire?
  4. How to Become a Jack of All Trades

What's a Jack of All Trades?

The phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none" refers to a person who is competent in many skills but is not exactly outstanding in any of them. Even though "jack of all trades" sometimes is used as an insult, it did not begin as one. The complete saying goes "A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one." It's intended as a compliment and means that a person as a generalist rather than a specialist, being versatile and adept is better.

Origin of the Saying

The phrase dates back to the 14th century. At this time "Jack" was a typical name to describe the ordinary man. The working class often had to supplement their income by doing other jobs. A builder would supplement his income by painting or farming as well.

One very well-known jack of all trades was William Shakespeare. He would help with the stage, the set, the costumes, and try directing as well.

Which is a Better Hire?

Benefits of Hiring a Jack of All Trades

1. They have a diverse set of skills

Most jack of all trades have picked up an increasingly amount of self-confidence while learning their different skills. This will help them in whatever new skills they will need to learn in the future.

2. They are a wonderful addition to the team for startups

Since startups have limited funds, individuals with multiple skills-sets are extremely useful. Instead of hiring multiple people for different tasks, startups are able to save by hiring a single person who efficiently gets all the necessary tasks completed.

3. They love to learn

Jack of all trades are often lifelong learners. They have a thirst for knowledge and will constantly be looking for the next new thing to improve upon.

4. They are a great fit for leadership

A leader who knows and understands every aspect of the business will always have an edge over someone who only specialized in one area. This is where jack of all trades shin in leadership.

How to Become a Jack of All Trades?

When learning new skills (aka on your way to becoming a jack of all trades), you learn very useful skills. Some of these benefits includes better understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses as well as learning time management and healthy-boundaries.

How you can be a jack of all trades

Here are a few tips for what you can do:

1. "Not making a decision is a decision"

Do you believe that refusing to make a decision between your options means you're keeping your options open? Think again. Remember how time is limited. And what time and effort you are not spending on one thing, whatever you saying "yes" to? You are implicitly or explicitly saying "no" to everything else.

2. Don't limit yourself to one thing

Who says you can't do it all? If you think it's possible, give it a try. The worse that can happen is that you fail. But guess what? That's fantastic! Because most people won't even have the guts to try in the first place.

Now you have the lessons you've learned from your previous attempt to try again. Let's go again. Let's figure this out. You can do this. Need to cut back on responsibilities? Let's do that. Need to delegate? Let's figure out how. You can do whatever you set your mind to.

3. Learn skills that complement each other

Look for skills that can complement the ones you've already developed. For example, those working in IT can think about learning the basics of networking, security, and software development.

Discussion (21)

automate profile image
Jubril Abdulsalam

one of my mentors used to say, "you should know something about everything, and know everything about something"

ethand91 profile image

Nice quote!

tmchuynh profile image
Tina Huynh Author

I absolutely love that! What a wonderful mentor

jestingrabbit profile image
Bill C

I've heard this described as being T shaped: You've got a lot of depth in one place, and coverage of a lot of places.

peerreynders profile image

The smaller the team the more likely you're going to have to be comb-shaped.

ada_pow profile image
Ada Powers

Perfectly put!

metaverse profile image
Meta Verse

I would vote for a T shaped skill set, that mean you must master one of your trade and stretch your skills horizontally.

The vertical bar on the letter T represents the depth of related skills and expertise in a single field, whereas the horizontal bar is the ability to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas and to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one's own.

stiby profile image
stiby • Edited on

Good article. What you need is a balance where someone is a master of one thing but can as the saying goes turn there hand to anything. This is referred to as T shaped, as in the virtical line depects the depth of knowledge, skill and experience in a specific area whilst the horizontal depects the breadth which is more shallow.

I look for depth of skill, experience, knowledge in areas which will compliment the teams and business requirements. Though each team member needs a breadth of skills and experience and finally an aptitude to learn new things.

jmau111 profile image
jmau111 • Edited on

I prefer the way of the master. However, I believe the standards have been significantly raised in the industry over the past years.

As a result, even if you don't want to be Jack, you'll have to know a few things in other specialities.

tmchuynh profile image
Tina Huynh Author

Appreciate your opinion and insight

tmchuynh profile image
Tina Huynh Author

Yeah it is! I didn't realize there was a shorthand for "jack of all trades" and it's my favorite quote! Lol

kvetoslavnovak profile image

I also share the opinion that the best way to go is "Jack of all trades and the master of one ".

skeetmtp profile image

Jack of all trades are what a startup need and look for when it's small. The more the company grow the more they need specialist

tmchuynh profile image
Tina Huynh Author

Absolutely agree!

curiousdev profile image

Just my opinion, this article possibly is written in a nice way, but very general.
The reality is different, you are limited what you can learn in a certain amount of time and most likely will adapt your "path of learning" to what you are currently working (if you have a job) or what you are looking for. But as soon you have the job, it again will influence a lot what you will do to get better and this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Finally the decision relies a lot on what kind of roles or work you are actually referring to in your article, because even if we are discussing about Software Development, it can be very different, if we are writing about Web Development or any other work related to development.
To be more clear on what I am writing about, getting better in development (e.g. programming) depends a lot on actual projects being done, you know, just reading theory and maybe also doing little practice yourself can be very different compared to what work will be. You need to do real projects and these in turn will dictate what can be improved well for future.
Just to provide an example (from my own experience), I have to work a lot with different products/technologies and this does not allow too much to focus on what I "prefer to learn and practice".
To answer your question from my perspective: I am not hiring myself at the moment, but I would simply try to get right person for whatever I am looking for and a person who is a good, motivated learner, especially if the person is unexperienced and needs to learn anyway (like looking Junior Developers instead of Senior Developers, but the latter still should be good at improving skills).

hunghvu profile image
Hung Vu

Right now, even though I mostly focus on web dev, I still consider myself as a generalist, and market myself as is due to the few reasons.

  1. I don't have enough experience to confidently say I'm a specialist (years of experience).
  2. I like technologies in general, so I learn a wide range of skillset as a hobby.
  3. Most importantly, I have not decided which definitive path to invest my time in yet. Web dev itself is huge!

I think people at the starting point of their career are always generalists, even with international certificates like CCNA, GCP associate, etc. However, to advance your career, I guess specialize in one aspect is the only way (T-shaped). At least to me, I have never seen a job listing to hire a senior "generalist".

curiousdev profile image
CuriousDev • Edited on

Also do not forget how difficult it would be to become a "Senior Generalist", if becoming just a "Senior Specialist" (with good fundamental knowledge of course) is already very hard.
You have to specialize to some extend, you cannot just know "a bit of everything".

ada_pow profile image
Ada Powers • Edited on

This is apt - I've just finished a piece on DevOps engineer shortage and automation. In all my research for that piece, I've learnt that the most valuable DevOps engineer is the one who knows enough about everything to "guide the bots".

nefofortressia profile image
Nefo Fortressia

I feel it's like this.

Jack of all trades means you can communicate with other employees with the same technical buzzwords tjry use, so you can understand their problem and coordinate better.

And... master of one means you can do a better job at something.

tonyknibbmakarahealth profile image

Everyone you hire should be T shaped. If they can't at least diversify enough to make coffee for the team, what are they going to do when you have no work for them?

I like to think of myself as shaped like a comb, with some broken teeth.