Iris Classon
Iris Classon - In Love with Code

Stupid Question 218: What are T-shaped, Pi-shaped and Comb-shaped skills, and which one should I aim for?

T-skills, Pi-Skills and Comb skills

I asked on Twitter which skills are the ones that matter in RE to software engineering and I learned about the concept of T-shaped skills, which I hadn’t heard of before. A big thank you to wonderful Lisa Crispin for teaching me something new with ‘I think it’s imp. to have “T-shaped” skills - some deep expertise combined w/ broad & shallower skills/experience’.

Many gave excellent advice in RE to skills that matter and I’ll sum them up later this week as that takes a bit more work :)

As for T-skills, there is also the concept of Pi skills and Comb-skills. Let’s have look at what those are:

T-shaped skills

T-shaped skills
Shaped in the form of a T the person has a broad base with one area of expertise

Pi shaped skills

Pi shaped skills
Broad base with two expertise areas which gives the shape of Pi

Comb shaped skills

Comb shaped skills
Broad base with multiple expertise areas which gives the shape of a comb

As for which one to aim for?

I would say start with T-skills, and that most people would be able to have two expertise areas , maybe with one being prioritized over the other. Comb-skills I believe are hard to maintain, and some can pull it of- but definitive not everybody and you can become ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ instead of ‘Jack of all trades, master of many’.

You have to know yourself, and know your limits, as well as how much time you can invest in maintaining the skills.

But what all the skills do have in common are two things. A broad and solid base that dominates the shape, and at least one area of expertise. This gives you two roles to work on, you as a generalist and you as a specialist.

Have a plan for both and make sure you don’t forget to cover one of them. As a generalist you need to be aware of what is out there, past and present, and keep an eye on the future things (predictions). As a specialist you need to master one area well, and spend time learning the details and stay u to date on new releases/updates. You should also have good insight to competing technologies or similar technologies.

And that is what I think of that, and now I really want to know what your thoughts are!

  • Are you a T, Pi or Comb, and is one better/more realistic than the other?

  • What do employers want?


    Leave a comment below, or by email.
    7/29/2013 6:59:58 PM
    Great article, it got me thinking which shape is the most important in crafting a sustainable career. In response to that I wrote this blog post: Thanks for inspiration, Iris! 
    Ross Dawson
    11/22/2013 7:07:21 PM
    Thanks Iris. The idea of T-shaped, Pi-shaped and Comb-shaped skills was originally described here: 
    Derk-Jan de Grood
    9/22/2015 11:59:08 PM
    Hi Iris, I referred to your blog post in my column. Thanks for the quote you provided me. 
    Cheers, Derk-Jan 

Last modified on 2013-07-08

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