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  • 1.  Exploring the Balance Between Generalists and Specialists in Engineering Firms

    Posted 18 days ago

    I work on a team that requires a fair bit of programming knowledge to write scripts to manipulate, read, and write model input/output data, and store that data in various Access or SQL-based databases such as Postgres. 

    There is just one problem: None of the engineers on our staff are programmers by trade. 

    Have you found that a predominantly generalist team is more effective in handling the dynamic nature of engineering work, or have you experienced situations where specialists significantly enhanced project outcomes? At what point does it become more advantageous to bring in specialists for specific tasks or projects? 

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 2.  RE: Exploring the Balance Between Generalists and Specialists in Engineering Firms

    Posted 17 days ago

    That's a question often faced by small to mid-sized organizations, particularly as new expertise or new technologies is needed.

    For something like the IT example cited, adding it to the duties of existing staff is usually a losing proposition, producing sub-optimum work and annoyed staff. For light workload of that sort, I found that outsourcing to a contractor is expensive on a per task basis but cheaper than a separate hire. With growth to a full-time workload an embedded contractor or a new hire becomes more attractive. Large organizations usually want IT work done by in-house IT staff but I have found them unresponsive unless they are embedded with the engineering staff.

    For engineering expertise, the choice depends on whether management sees it as a growth area or a one-off effort. One-offs are for sub-contracts, of course. Growth areas deserve a new hire, even a new graduate with either specialized knowledge or the ability to gain that specialization.

    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., BC.CE, BC.NE, F.ASCE
    Columbus MS