There were a lot of excellent comments and discussion on "What Separates a Generalist and a Dabbler?"
I'd recommend you check them all out - lots of good insights - and I thought this one by Phaedrus ought to have its own top level post -
Mmmm excellent post! A very good question, and an intriguing style too.
I think Soham hit on an excellent point, which you touched on as well. A generalist may not have a theme for all of his generalities, but he usually does have a purpose for them. The end result of this purpose manifests in shipping, yes. But it also manifests in a consistency of various actions over time.
I’m going to pick two examples from my own life that straddle the line…
I dabble in music. I studied piano for several years as a child, and several times since then I’ve spent several months on end playing consistently, even teaching myself basic guitar. But I’ve also spent YEARS playing no music at all, nor do I have any real goals to progress further.
But I would say I’m a generalist in web technology. I’m not too skilled in any part of the stack, but I can speak intelligently top to bottom, and have been active on some part of this goal or another constantly for many years. It’s not something I do with all or even most of my time. But it’s a consistent theme, with goals that support my life.
I think I’ve talked myself into saying the same thing you did. It’s all about results. A dabbler starts things, maybe shows some promise, maybe gets frustrated, and moves on, and the result is wasted time. A generalist has MUCH to learn, and probably abhors wasted time, and also needs to learn how to ship imperfect products. But over time, I think the wide array of skillsets will actually lead to higher quality than a specialist. It just takes longer, but ultimately the ceiling is much higher.
Good stuff. Thanks for the high quality post!
That's an interesting thought. I always reckoned that a specialist would outperform a generalist. In some fields, like complex surgery, that's almost certainly true. But yes, maybe a generalist outperforms a specialist at fields that benefit from a variety of perspectives and don't have consistent pathways to success.
Phaedrus writes at http://letterstoafriend.cc/ - it's high quality stuff and recommended.
Kind of a speculative entry today, I don't have a complete answer. I've been trying to crack this nut for a while -
What's the difference between a generalist and a dabbler?
Rather, what separates a generalist from a dabbler?
They're very similar. Both dive into a wide variety of things and affairs. Both pick up new skills regularly, sometimes at the expense of the highest level of mastery in a specialized field.
But we all know people who dabble in this, do a little of that, and never make any contributions. And then, on the other hand, you've got people like Thomas Jefferson and Leonardo da Vinci, who did excellent work in a variety of fields.
So lately I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve gotten apretty good handle on this “coding stuff”. I've been doing OOP for about four years now, and I've got a really, really solid handle on it. But one area I still really need to work on is in mycommunity outreach, marketing, whatever you want to call it.
A lot of developers create a personal marketing story bywriting blog posts or explaining features in their games and/or writinghow-to’s for other developers. Some devs write about games from a higherperspective: they talk about what games are, what they should be, what they aretrying to tell us, or how to develop them better. What I’ve been strugglingwith for the last few days was, which of these activities is real match for me?Not just me, but my audience. I’m a kindof light hearted guy, and the idea of sitting down to write in-depth, detailedaccounts of how systems work and stuff… man, it just sounds boring. I know somefolks like that, but it’s not my cup of tea. So what IS my flavor of teadammit!? Well, my father gave me an idea that I ended up taking to a usableconclusion that I’m going to test out over the next several months. Developmentstories from the perspective of characters within the game.
Whenever I want to convey something to my audience – a newfeature, a bug fix, etc., I do it through the vehicle of the characters withinmy game. Maybe the Head of the Royal Engineering Corp. publishes a memo to allEngineers about how the Royal Treasurer has been building his forts near chasmslately, that ass, and so bridges will be necessary to navigate the steepterrain – materials to be found in the kennel due to lack of storage space –watch out for the dog in the third pen to the left. This is really beneficialbecause…