App You

What if business professionals custom tailored their skills in a way a software applications are designed to target a specific problem space? If you “app-ed” yourself, shrink wrapping relevant background, work experience, and professional skills to better appeal to a desired audience of potential employers and/or clients what would be the right approach to branding and marketing, keeping yourself up-to-date, maintaining an existing user base and knowing if and when to reinvent yourself.  Let’s talk about it…

There are off course many different types of software applications.  However, broadly, in terms of their application domains, I see internally developed/custom and externally-marketed/general-purpose applications:

Custom developed in-house to suit a specific internal need, applications of this type tend to be quite well adapt at solving a business problem within the confines of an organization.  Often, their life spans are long, releases incremental, and they’re notoriously resistant to change.  But also, quite often, they’re indispensable.  Quite similarly, business professionals with long tenures take on the same characteristics – powerful at solving a set of unique, specific problems, requiring a mastery of a particular field/domain.  They are often regarded and highly valued as SMEs, but also, over time, develop the kind of resistance to change and aging toolsets that diminish their broader relevance and appeal.

On the flip side, successful general purpose software applications gain face an entirely different set of requirements and challenges.  Initially, they’re regarded as a commodity and are often scrutinized purely on price, functionality and specifications.  They face stiff competition from established leaders and the newcomers.  Just as business professionals who move around as free radicals between organizations, filling a much needed skills and resource gap, are faced with a competitive market and difficulty in differentiating themselves.

So, then back to the dilemma – what is the right approach to model yourself – app you – as a business professional?  Do you laser in on a narrow problem space and go deep, but risk being too specialized and narrowing your appeal?  Do you instead broaden skills, constantly seeking and indeed welcoming change, ever vigilant of emerging trends, at the expense of becoming a jack of all trades and master of none?

It seems all too obvious to say that the balance lies somewhere in between these two modes – not too specialized, always relevant, but careful at chasing the hype.  Yet, on closer examination, aren’t some of the most successful applications found exactly at the polar ends of that spectrum?  Couple of examples come to my mind.

In the custom software arena, I’ve encountered a Claims Adjudication applications so tightly coupled to the underlying data model, so highly customized to suit a unique mix of clients, so heavily invested in legacy technology that it could never be effectively reused or re-architected, yet offering of the kind of a strategic advantage that’s afforded several decades of solid growth and elasticity in a highly regulated market.

WinZip comes to mind as a successful general purpose compression and archival tool.  I’ve personally used it for so long that it’s hard to even recall the initial time I came across it.  And, despite many alternatives, it maintains a broad user base and continues to reinvent itself and stay relevant.

The answer then is not quite so simple.  There appears to be no prescribed formula for application and career success.   In my view, neither approach guarantees career success nor offers a slight advantage.  Perhaps we all poses the capacity to succeed under either of these two paradigms.  And perhaps still we can transition between them with conscious effort.  Perhaps.