I am not a university degree. You aren’t either. Fixed school programs and standardized job descriptions have never defined mine or anyone's personality. We used to accept a world that insists on absorbing formatted version of humans. Yet, our changing economic ecosystem is finally presenting other possibilities. Today it is not just a matter of deciding a degree, but of being open to modeling yourself the way you are, merging soft skills and making the most of passionate talent.
Before getting my first formal job in product design, I was a linguistics and intermedia researcher for the Federal University, where I also attended to Literature and Linguistics classes. My time studying narratives and interaction from the point of view of intermedia relations was a boundless joy. I never got close to these subjects during my design courses.
The result? Today, here I am, working in a technology consultancy firm, designing and delivering software. If we were talking twenty years ago, I would probably be at an University classroom, teaching other people how to teach people. Isn’t it marvelous to see how many opportunities can be formed from useful relationships between different areas of study?
Today’s economic patterns actually celebrate improvisation and informality. Just as the genius of a great jazz musician is defined by being able to escape the melody without betraying it, the profile of the present-day professional is determined by our capacity to perform in different areas without losing creativity and unique idiosyncrasies. Variety helps us thrive in a constantly changing world.
Narrowly defined jobs are becoming diverse crafts. Multidisciplinarity is a requirement to understand and take part in this perpetually shifting world. You need to be a specialist, but a specialist in what you can do, not simply in what the market wants you to do. This might seem paradoxical, but it isn’t. There is no one formula to get the right job. In fact, there is no right job. New job possibilities surface every hour. There is not enough time to create a new degree for everything that is happening. Instead, the solution is found by merging a variety traditional fields and empowering the people with this diverse knowledge. Someone that has graduated in Linguistics today can (and should) become a designer tomorrow.
It’s okay to have job descriptions and positions to fill. In fact, they help organize our work in pragmatic ways. If someone is putting together a team for a project, they will have to fill specific positions. The trick is choosing an exceptional person for the job. Maybe there is a need for a designer who is good at the fast moving exploration required by continuous design. But don’t stop there, find a designer who has a uniquely interesting background that adds to the soft skills part of the project. What else might the designer have to offer? Probably, the only person who can answer to that is the designer.
What sort of contributions are expected from someone who comes to a technology project being trained to do something other than technology? For example, what would a Linguistics specialist do? There are often unexpected contributions from someone who is technically capable, and who also has a unique life story of self development in other areas.I am not talking about excluding specialised people from the team, but like me, and like you, someone with a diverse background can tackle problems with a unique and unexpected vision. The relationship I have yet to establish with the existing structure of a challenge is often the best contribution possible.
Skill development is personal. It is a matter of individual perception, of knowing yourself, what you do, what your instruments are and delivering. To the spectator, the music I make is not directly related to what I have been doing for the past four years of my life, but it is still perceived as beautiful. Clearly I haven’t exactly been standing still this whole time. Constant learning and understanding takes us to another level of self comprehension. That's why studying a specific subject is still important. What you study is no longer as relevant as what you present to the world, but it still adds to the foundation of your possibilities.
Studying is composing, delivering is playing. For a musician confident in his instrument, nothing is more exciting than a jam session. You will never know before starting what the scores demand of you, but if you are conscious that you have to go through that path, you won’t be afraid of embracing the melody.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.