ARTICLE: Specialize vs Generalize

This topic can be applied to pretty much any industry, but I particularly find that many novel film makers and game developers run into this dilemma. Should I specialize on one subject? Or should I learn a little of everything?

Truth is, it’s not that simple, and that’s why most people often feel confused about which track they should commit to. I suggest you consider the following factors to help you determine whether you should purchase that new book on 3D modelling or take that Python course.

YOUR INTERESTS

Above all, you should only ‘specialize’ in what you’re interested in. It’s OK if you inform yourself on subjects you’re not particularly excited about – knowledge is power – but when considering what you’ll spend most of your time working on, it better be something you can somewhat enjoy. It’s not even about being ‘passionate’ about something. If you are, great. But you don’t need to be passionate about it to still enjoy it and make a living off it. Being interested in the subject matter will simply be more efficient in the long run. You’ll learn things faster, you’ll be more productive, you’ll have longer stamina and you will naturally express your enthusiasm for it. I’ve rarely seen people work on something they didn’t like for very long.

THE POSITION

Consider the role you’re applying for. Being a programmer and being a producer requires a very different set of skills. Same with being a camera operator or a director. Managerial roles usually require generalized skills. However, in order to land a management job, you may need to go through a position that is known for being more specialized. In such cases it may be wise to start out specializing on an area and, once you’re in, start educating yourself on other departments.

Be conscious that employers would rather hire a programmer who is an expert in their coding language rather than someone who may be familiar with 10 different ones, but is master of none. At the same time, having diverse skills will reveal benefits during production overall and adds value to your work.

Here is where you may also determine what sort of job you’d enjoy more. Are you passionate about a single field? Or are you interested in the various aspects of production? Don’t force yourself into a job you simply won’t enjoy.

JOB OPPORTUNITIES

Scouting the job market may also set specialization goals. Maybe there are trends in what software is currently being used, or maybe there’s a big company in your city that focuses in a specific technology. There is no point in learning something if no employers are interested in that skill. Make sure you understand the current demand, and your chances of getting hired will multiply.

TEAM COMMUNICATION

I’ve always suggested everyone, no matter what your career is, to try a different job at some point. I’ve personally been a camera operator, assistant director, sound engineer… and even though I don’t particularly like working with sound, for instance, I do understand it better. Hence, when I speak to professional sound engineers, I am able to, not only understand them better, but also articulate my ideas more efficiently.

Putting a little effort in studying the basis of the departments you work with, and even setting small projects of your own, will help you in the workplace and make you an invaluable employee.

BUSINESS CARDS / WEB PRESENCE

I’ve personally fallen victim of this, and still make the same mistake sometimes. I’ve had film students hand me cards that say “Actor, Writer, Camera, Editor, Director, Producer”. Might as well say “I don’t know what I am”.Even if it’s true, and you are qualified in every discipline, it does you no good. Above all, think who your ‘customers’ or ’employers’ are, and give them what they want. Nobody will hire you to be all those things at once. Think about this: if you were looking for a director of photography, would you rather hire the guy who has “Director of Photography” on his card, or the one that says “Writer, Director of Photography, Editor, Director”? There’s your answer.

CONCLUSION

Even if you are a generalist (ie. producer, director, designer, etc.), specialize in being a generalist, if that makes any sense.

On the other hand, if you are heading down a road that appreciates and values specialists, make sure you not only research the market, but also your own personal interests.