A little article in Fast Company about the "new breed of programmers" got me thinking this morning about what Thomas Friedman has called "versatilists"--people who have a broad range of skills that are also very deep and highly developed. And in the case of many jobs lately, it seems that these skill sets are in areas that we haven't generally considered to co-exist very well in a single individual.
Programmers (the subject of the article) are a prime example of this. Typically, the belief has been that you can get a person with people skills who isn't necessarily that great at programming or a programmer who has atrocious people skills. And according to many employers, trying to find someone with both has been a search for the Holy Grail. To this point, it seems that companies could get by with programmers who had social issues, but with the rise of social networking platforms like MySpace and Flickr, the demand for techies who play well with others has exploded. Says Fast Company,
"As such, standard tech job listings on cutting-edge sites like CrunchBoard or 37 Signals often call for "excellent communications skills" on top of LAMP, DRUPAL, AJAX and open source experience. They also co-mingle with listings for consumer insight directors, online audience managers and other marketing-like positions."
This development fascinates me, in part because I think that it has the potential to make work vastly richer and more satisfying to most people. I've often questioned the notion that workers are really as specialized as we've tried to make them be. I know tons of tech people who are very social (can anyone say D&D?) and I know a lot of social people who love to play around with technology. I think in the past, though, it has suited companies to be more narrowly focused, so they've designed jobs that were more specialized and compartmentalized and then expected workers to fit into the the neat little boxes they'd created.
As companies begin to see the synergies created by cross-breeding various strengths and capabilities from widely divergent areas of thinking, I believe that not only will we see some amazing developments in terms of products and services, we'll also create a work environment that is more rewarding for workers. I'd like to see more individuals push this envelope as well, working harder to develop some of the capacities in themselves that have seemed contradictory in the past. I think we'll all be richer for it.