Specialist vs generalist

Tidal Blast
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Tidal Blast polycounter lvl 5
Many times I've heard that the best thing someone can do is to specialize in one specific field and that generalists will end up as jack of all trades, masters of none. Well, that's bullshit.

It usually takes 2 to 5 years to get really good at something (professional level), to become specialize. Obviously, the number of years necessary depends on the complexity of the field. But what is important to understand here is that once a person reached a professional level, then the learning curve slows down significantly.

specialistlearningcurve.jpg

In reality, after just 10-15 years of practice, while a specialist is only good at one thing, the generalist will be just as good at 2-5 things. And at the top of that, when we master another field, it makes us better at other things as well, because everything is interconnected. And the better you get at connecting dots, the faster your learn and master new fields. Big studios want you to specialize, because it makes you less valuable, so that way they can pay you less and you are dispensable.

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  • Spoon
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    Spoon polycounter lvl 7
    I read studies that most people stop learning much after having been in a position for just 1 year. Its kind of scary!

    But what is your point here? That we should all spread out more, career wise? :)
  • Tidal Blast
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    Tidal Blast polycounter lvl 5
    Some people only like to do one very specific thing and that's fine. But whoever likes everything shouldn't be afraid to learn and master one thing and then move to the next.
  • ysalex
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    ysalex interpolator
    I don't agree, and beyond that I think your conspiracy oriented conclusion is a bit paranoid.
    Big studios want you to specialize, because it makes you less valuable, so that way they can pay you less and you are dispensable.

    Suggesting that this advice is somehow a big corporation conspiracy to keep workers down? I don't see it.

    But beyond that, I think you are using some extremes here.

    The reason that a generalist is generally not desired is because they lack a lot of knowledge about a specific area. A bad generalist skill-set looks something like this (red is skill):http://i.imgur.com/UcDYIkZ.jpg

    This guy does everything, but nothing well.

    It seems like you are saying that this other theoretical guy is better off with a maximized skillset in all areas after 20 years or something. Which, no, that guy isn't better off. He masters all areas of CG, but then what? He produces fantastic art forever in every discipline? People are much more likely to jump out of the production role and into a management/creative director role a long time before that.

    On the flipside, the other extreme is this guy:http://i.imgur.com/Cxi61uU.jpg

    , who masters one area fantastically and can't do much more. He is easier to work into a workflow/pipeline, but he is not at all flexible or knowledgeable about what is going on around him, which doesn't make him the greatest co-worker ever. Also, you have to be either very narrow-minded, or very theoretical(like you don't exist) to become this guy.

    You are much more likely to become something like: http://i.imgur.com/0CaeLp7.jpg

    , a master (specialist) of one area, but competant enough in the rest to be flexible, and possibly very very competant. Imagining that a person has two specialties isn't far-fetched at all.

    __________________________

    But again, your argument that studios want you to stick to one discipline so that they don't have to pay is sorta crazy to me. They want to hire for specific roles so that they can control their in/out workflow, to keep production moving at a steady pace, to keep pipelines standardized, to keep creative organized. They have to manage a big pool of talent, and it makes more sense to hire 'plug and play' type artists who are there to do one thing, instead of what would seem like the management hell that would be hiring people to wear several pairs of shoes. In a small company, it totally works, but in larger companies I think it would be much more difficult.
  • Two Listen
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    Two Listen polycounter lvl 10
    What you should take away from that chart (in the OP) isn't that specializing makes you less skilled than someone who works on multiple things, it's simply that anyone who stops looking to improve after they hit a "professional" level is going to stagnate. That's all.

    Specializing doesn't mean that you must, or should, ignore all other crafts, studies, interests, or sources of information. It simply means focusing your efforts towards a specific goal. To become an expert in something specific, or sometimes to work primarily in your area of choice from a professional standpoint. It is possible to specialize in more than one thing, without claiming to be - or working in the same manner as a "generalist".

    I think it unwise to say "big studios want you to specialize, it makes you less valuable". This makes it sound like some weird thing the "suits" have conjured up to keep folks down. This is silly, nobody's stopping anyone from learning anything they want.

    When other artists recommend that people specialize, they're not saying "Do this and only this forever and ever." At least, I've never interpreted it that way. What is the alternative, to tell people to generalize? So that they'll run off and try to cram a bunch of different things into their brain, without actually knowing what information is relevant - or how it could be used? Specializing allows you to master something well enough to know what other skills might be relevant. It makes it so that when you DO branch out, you do it with purpose, not simply because people told you to do it online.

    Your point of how relevant other skills can potentially be to any given craft is a good one - but understanding which skills to go and obtain is arguably something learned by specializing. :)

    tl:dr - Anyone who grows content with their skill, such as when they start getting paid to do it, will stop improving. Work hard, work smart, and learn whatever seems potentially relevant or helpful if it's within your ability to do so. :) Just maybe don't advertise how you're so awesome at all the things.
  • unit187
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    unit187 polycounter lvl 5
    I can't agree with the post at all. I mean, look at those character riggers or VFX artists at a studio like Weta Digital or Disney. They are extremely skilled, they push the limits of computer graphics beyond imagination. You need probably at least 5 years of specialized experience and even more years earning your technical degree (masters or PhD), so your are awesome at math and maybe even doing some science.
  • ysalex
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    ysalex interpolator
    If you were hiring a guy to build you a house would you hire 1 guy who knew everything, who charge 30% more for his knowledge, to spend 10 years building your house? Or would you hire 10 guys who didn't know everything, but had at least 1 guy who specialized in each discipline, to spend 1 year building your house for 30% less?
  • Spoon
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    Spoon polycounter lvl 7
    ysalex wrote: »
    If you were hiring a guy to build you a house would you hire 1 guy who knew everything, who charge 30% more for his knowledge, to spend 10 years building your house? Or would you hire 10 guys who didn't know everything, but had at least 1 guy who specialized in each discipline, to spend 1 year building your house for 30% less?

    Or you get shot!

    What doctor do you go to, the doctor who knows a bit about diseases, a bit about medication, a bit a bout brain surgey
    Or the doctor who is specialized in gunshot injuries?

    I really agree with your above graph, Ysalex. Unless you are working in a very small team, and are forced to do a lot of stuff, it is imo better to master 1 or 2 things, and then being as good as possible as some other relevant stuff.

    Especially because there are so many benefits to be "the best".
    When you go to hire a modeller, you dont want the second best, or the average one. You want the best. The best modeller in the world! "The world" here is within the budget, who is available, who fits the style etc etc, but the point is you always hire the guy who is the best at what you need done.

    So, in my opinion, it is very important, especially for people trying to break in to the industry, to be very good at ONE thing - then you can build on that later, if you want.
  • Makkon
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    Makkon interpolator
    From my experience, it's important to have something you're really really good at, and several other things you're pretty good at (like Ysalex was saying). It helps if you have at least some experience in most aspects of the pipeline, so you don't end up making the next guy you hand your work off to miserable and angry at your bad topology etc. Part of being a master is knowing the needs of those who come after you in the pipeline.

    I used to have the same perspective as you Hermit, but understand that part of working in a team is trust in your coworkers. You all have something to contribute to a project, and you all have something to learn from one another.

    With the medical example mentioned earlier, my brother had an extreme case of tonsillitis, but the generalist doctor couldn't identify it, so he suffer excruciating pain for a week while they tried to figure it out (like pain levels that could make you pass out). He was sent to a ear/nose/throat specialist who IMMEDIATELY identified the problem and drained his tonsils in the hour.

    What I want to take from this is that it's important to be well rounded, but you also need to have a specialty. That makes you more effective in your field, and valuable.
  • Ruz
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    Ruz interpolator
    become a farmer then you will be a specialist in your own field.
  • lotet
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    lotet quad damage
    Ruz wrote: »
    become a farmer then you will be a specialist in your own field.

    lol
  • Snefer
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    Snefer polycounter lvl 11
    Another thing worth mentioning is that our industry is still advancing at a pretty rapid rate, so sure, it may only take a few years to learn it all, but by then there is so much new things to learn.

    also the conspiracy thing is of course 100% not true.
  • Ged
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    Ged interpolator
    ysalex wrote: »
    You are much more likely to become something like: http://i.imgur.com/0CaeLp7.jpg

    , a master (specialist) of one area, but competant enough in the rest to be flexible, and possibly very very competant. Imagining that a person has two specialties isn't far-fetched at all.

    totally agree but I would also add that sometimes we dont even get to choose what we specialise in, for example Ive been tasked with making quite a lot of vfx lately - now management is starting to treat me like Im the vfx guy. Thats not what I would have chosen to become when I first started at the company but I really dont mind because Im very useful to the team and I get to make stuff look awesome. :) Also it really just depends on how big the company is that you work for and what sort of management style the directors are going for. In a small company being at least competent in 3 or more areas is a big plus but at a larger company being a master specialist in one or 2 areas could be much more useful.
  • Torch
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    Torch greentooth
    Ruz wrote: »
    become a farmer then you will be a specialist in your own field.

    I was going to be a poultry farmer, but chickened out at the last minute.
  • Tidal Blast
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    Tidal Blast polycounter lvl 5
    First of all, a generalist shouldn't be someone who does many things and isn't professionally good at anything, because that doesn't make sense whatsoever. A generalist should be someone who is a specialist in multiple fields, so at least 2 fields... let's say programming and game design or 3D modeling and level design or else.

    That argument about a generalist doctors is not very relevant, because they are stuck with specific job positions while in the video games industry, we can learn whatever we want whenever we want and it won't cost us an arm and two legs.

    My point simply was that some people firmly wrongly believe that it would be better for them to stick with let's say modeling characters (scultping,texturing, shaders, etc.). Simply because the image they have from a generalist is this...
    UcDYIkZ.jpg

    Which is fairly absurd, ridiculous and inaccurate.

    So, they might realize after 10 years that they almost didn't learn anything during the past 5 years and should have put their time on other things like drawing, design, environments, programming, etc. Obviously, something that would be strongly complementary to their initial skill. The graphs shown by @ysalex are strongly inaccurate. It doesn't show how much time it takes to reach master level (which is also very vague) and it doesn't show how much time someone could waste.

    Who wouldn't want to have generalists (specialists in multiple fields) instead of just specialists?

    Now, about that conspiracy thing. Look at it this way. Game studios have IPs and make games to make money. Their goal isn't to help us grow as artists, designers or whatever. In many cases, the tasks are in fact very repetitive and boring. That doesn't mean someone can't find a way to develop new skills or have the opportunity to work on a genre he truly loves, I'm just saying that it usually is not the purpose of most game companies. I'd say most people work on side projects to step up their game. You can also find many articles on gamasutra.com that talk about how hard it can be to find jobs once you pass 5 years of experience, because at that point you clearly understand what works, what doesn't and how a production pipeline should work to avoid pointless hours of overtime, etc. But the reality is, many game companies prefer to hire new young artists, designers or programmers that just graduated and are willing to say yes to everything and do countless hours of overtime. And that's not exclusive only to the video games industry. The same way I've seen many people getting fired without any valid reasons, I even experienced it myself and only learned the whole story a few weeks or months later. I think some of you would be surprised to know how much influence some game companies have outside just the video games industry, like politics, especially here in Montreal. And this is just the tip of an iceberg. The bottom line is, most employees usually are dispensable and game companies do not necessarily have our best interest at heart. Still, the industry is young, we have much to learn and hopefully thing well get better over time.
  • stevston89
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    stevston89 polycounter lvl 7
    hermit wrote: »
    Now, about that conspiracy thing. Look at it this way. Game studios have IPs and make games to make money. Their goal isn't to help us grow as artists, designers or whatever.

    This is completely wrong. No studio wants their employees to be unhappy or stagnate. Good studios want to keep their talent and have them grow more talented while they are there. The positions you are referring to that they don't care about are contract positions. Contractors are hired to assist in completing specific task and then their contracts are over. Now maybe the business people at the company don't care about in house employees, but your Art Director certainly will.

    Second no one hires generalists because when hiring you usually have specific roles to fill. If you need someone to make characters and someone to make environments you hire a character artist and an environment artist not a generalist. The reason being that you need someone to handle the task specifically. Those people will either be doing characters full time or environments full time and chances are the specialists are going to know more, do a better job, and do it faster.
  • Muzzoid
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    Muzzoid polycounter lvl 9
    The only reason why learn every skill set is so that i can get an understanding of what everyone on the team does. so that when the time comes and if I'm able to make dreams become a reality i can understand what people do and make the right choices about human resources and running teams.
  • Tidal Blast
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    Tidal Blast polycounter lvl 5
    Just curious, do you guys watch UFC?
  • Muzzoid
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    Muzzoid polycounter lvl 9
    ...um why is that relevant.

    And no.
  • MM
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    MM polycounter lvl 13
    you cannot be a good specialist without being a good generalist first.

    a specialist who really wants to be good at one thing also has to be decent enough at everything else in the related field.

    for example, if you want to specialize in character art then you should already be good in environment, props, weapons, vehicles etc. and vise verse.
    hermit wrote: »
    Big studios want you to specialize, because it makes you less valuable, so that way they can pay you less and you are dispensable.

    this doesn't make sense and pretty much the opposite of what i have observed.

    studios usually seem to want more generalists so they can have them work different things at different time, this way they can hire a characters and have them be a environment, prop etc artists when ever needed.
  • pior
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    pior insane polycounter
    Who wouldn't want to have generalists (specialists in multiple fields) instead of just specialists?

    The potential problem is that a so-called generalist can be very good at figuring things out on a technical level because of a natural curiosity (how to work an engine, how to script, how to tile textures, and so on). But because of that, he/she might not have much time left in order to sit down and put the hours (= years) necessary to master things like hardcore engine programming, scene composition, in-depth anatomy, and so on. Specialists' stuff.

    I guess it really depends on the type of project and the kind of team that the person in charge wants to build anyways. But still, even for a super small 3D project I think I would personally be more comfortable hiring 5 specialists (1 programmer, 1 animator, 1 modeler, 1 concept artist, 1 sound guy) and end up with something solid on all fronts, rather than hiring 5 generalists which would result in average models, potentially sub-par animation and a duct-taped engine. And no audio, because the team forgot about it along the way :D

    Regarding stagnation : It's up to the individual to decide when comes the time to evolve.
    studios usually seem to want more generalists so they can have them work different things at different time, this way they can hire a characters and have them be a environment, prop etc artists when ever needed.

    On a small project this might actually work, but I think that as soon as you reach a headcount of around 30-ish it just become a scheduling nightmare.
  • Tidal Blast
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    Tidal Blast polycounter lvl 5
    I asked if some of you were actually watching UFC, because it is all about mixed martial arts (generalists) and the champions are the most well-rounded fighters. Silva, GSP, Chris Weidman, etc. Some of you argued that in the industry we need the best of the best. Well, that's where I agree in a sense and disagree. I think we need the best at making games, not necessarily the most talented artists the same way I wouldn't need Dan Luvisi to make comic books.

    My belief is that generalists better understand how to make games, they better understand how to optimize the production pipeline how what really matters. Hourences is a living proof of this. Art-wise, the environments he create look great and his methods of production are blazing fast. And he does things that way, mainly because he is a great and very effective generalist.

    Imagine if Hourences teams up with a similar dude, another high level generalist, who is better at 3D animation and 2 others who are better at programming. With less than 10 people, such team could work faster than 80 people in a AAA studio.

    That's my point.
  • pior
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    pior insane polycounter
    Sure - but the outcome of this team would be very different from what a "regular" big studio can do. The team of badass generalists would be able to create something like Portal (= The Ball), Dive Kick, Transistor, and so on. Great stuff ! But still different (not better, not worse) than GTAV, Street Fighter IV, Skyrim, or Diablo III.

    Unlike UFC there is no winner and loser here, which is why I think that trying to pin one team organisation style as better or worse than the other is not really relevant.
  • EarthQuake
    ysalex wrote: »
    I don't agree, and beyond that I think your conspiracy oriented conclusion is a bit paranoid.



    Suggesting that this advice is somehow a big corporation conspiracy to keep workers down? I don't see it.

    But beyond that, I think you are using some extremes here.

    The reason that a generalist is generally not desired is because they lack a lot of knowledge about a specific area. A bad generalist skill-set looks something like this (red is skill):http://i.imgur.com/UcDYIkZ.jpg

    This guy does everything, but nothing well.

    It seems like you are saying that this other theoretical guy is better off with a maximized skillset in all areas after 20 years or something. Which, no, that guy isn't better off. He masters all areas of CG, but then what? He produces fantastic art forever in every discipline? People are much more likely to jump out of the production role and into a management/creative director role a long time before that.

    On the flipside, the other extreme is this guy:http://i.imgur.com/Cxi61uU.jpg

    , who masters one area fantastically and can't do much more. He is easier to work into a workflow/pipeline, but he is not at all flexible or knowledgeable about what is going on around him, which doesn't make him the greatest co-worker ever. Also, you have to be either very narrow-minded, or very theoretical(like you don't exist) to become this guy.

    You are much more likely to become something like: http://i.imgur.com/0CaeLp7.jpg

    , a master (specialist) of one area, but competant enough in the rest to be flexible, and possibly very very competant. Imagining that a person has two specialties isn't far-fetched at all.

    __________________________

    But again, your argument that studios want you to stick to one discipline so that they don't have to pay is sorta crazy to me. They want to hire for specific roles so that they can control their in/out workflow, to keep production moving at a steady pace, to keep pipelines standardized, to keep creative organized. They have to manage a big pool of talent, and it makes more sense to hire 'plug and play' type artists who are there to do one thing, instead of what would seem like the management hell that would be hiring people to wear several pairs of shoes. In a small company, it totally works, but in larger companies I think it would be much more difficult.

    Yep, all of this ^, especially those charts.
  • MagicSugar
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    MagicSugar polycounter lvl 10
    I'm in the third camp: the multi-specialist. 2D, 3D, animation portfolios ready for whatever freelance opportunity arises.
  • Jonas Ronnegard
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    Jonas Ronnegard Polycount Sponsor
    I'd say that the optimal is a specialist with good knowledge of of all other workflows.

    I think a problem for a good generalist is that they might be worth their weight in gold inside the studio, but might find it hard to find work, because although they might be at a professional level at every thing, they probably don't show that wow level at any of those things.

    there are always those few people that rock at anything they do though, but those few are an exception.
  • NegevPro
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    NegevPro polycounter lvl 4
    I don't think Hermit is entirely incorrect. There are "generalists" who can do professional level work with multiple disciplines but the dislike for generalizing probably comes from direct comparisons people make to those who specialize.

    If somebody spends 5 years learning both programming and art, then chances are they could get an entry level job doing either programming or art. Compare that to somebody who spent those 5 years only doing art, who will be much more skilled than the generalist.

    While the generalist might still be at a professional level, the specialist will have an easier time finding a job in their specific discipline(I think.)

    I'm working on a moderately sized project with a small team and so I've been forced to learn how to do both programming and art. It's quite discouraging when I see people on the internet with half my experience creating art that is at my level, if not better. I'm sure there are also tons of programmers with half my experience who can write code cleaner and faster than me as well.

    Still, at the end of the day the goal is to contribute to your team and if that means having to generalize or having to specialize, then why not pick the one which has the most benefits?
  • JacqueChoi
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    JacqueChoi interpolator
    pior wrote: »
    Sure - but the outcome of this team would be very different from what a "regular" big studio can do. The team of badass generalists would be able to create something like Portal (= The Ball), Dive Kick, Transistor, and so on. Great stuff ! But still different (not better, not worse) than GTAV, Street Fighter IV, Skyrim, or Diablo III.

    Truth!

    There are huge advantages to having smaller team sizes. Also huge advantages to having larger team sizes.
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