Thoughts on being multi-disciplinary
5 min read

Thoughts on being multi-disciplinary

The industry these days expects you to be an expert in one thing. This excludes the people who are multi-disciplinary. Should you let your whole personality shine and not just the skill?
Thoughts on being multi-disciplinary
Photo by @vnwayne from Unsplash

All pursuit of knowledge used to be one thing: Philosophy. All hypotheses, theories, experiments, observations, discussions of Socrates, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Adi Shankara, Aryabhatta, Confucius, Tao, Ptolemy or anyone fell under one umbrella: Philosophy. Everyone who could read was to some extent religious. In a way, that's how religions were born. They were an effort to formalize the way one should lead their lives, with a sprinkle of practical knowledge here and there in the books.

To a great extent, pursuit of knowledge was for the elite. People who could read. In many cultures, not everyone was even allowed to educate themselves or their kids. To look at it another way, not everyone even had the time for it, there were more pressing things to work on like food and shelter. But that, is a discussion for another time.

Philosophers wondered, talked, discussed about mathematics, stars, weaponry, psychology and many more things. By the renaissance period, they were all given a different name: polymaths. Regardless of what words we used, curious people were always curious about more than one 'field'. They were just curious about learning new things irrespective of their 'expertise'.

Gradually the world became progressively democratic, the innovations to make our lives easier became accessible to the civilians. All of us could get educated, learn about things we were interested in. The universities became more than just cults (schools of thought). Somehow, we decided to break the ocean of knowledge into smaller seas. The islands within each sea representing the knowledge we have already discovered.

The students/professors could choose their interests and become experts at that. Diving deeper into the ocean of knowledge and discovering new things, expanding the island(s) they learned from. Everyone was free to sail in the ocean and gain the knowledge they sought, dive wherever they preferred without the risk of getting lost because they could always sail back into the island they started at.

However, today, we are in the situation where sailing from one sea to the other has become harder. A psychologist, for example, would find it hard to pursue their interest in archaeology. They seem to be quite different routes on the knowledge navigational map. It's not impossible, but harder than it has ever been.

The industry finds it extremely hard to reward people who have expertise across more than one fields. I am a computer engineer, and an information designer. Every interview I have with any company asks me the same question: "Do you see yourself as a designer or an engineer?". They have built departments over the years of operations with respective criteria to segregate people into those departments. They get confused about where to place someone like me.

I am not an engineer with a deep knowledge of every web development tool there is. I haven't worked a lot with GCP or AWS, for example. I have worked with them enough to be confident that I can make them do things that are required. I am not a designer with full-blown expertise with numerous projects under my belt. That doesn't mean that I have not designed good things, as my portfolio suggests. I have worked enough to know each field closely enough that I am a bridge between both departments.

Should I be punished for being multi-disciplinary?

A designer who knows how to program computers.

There aren't many people in the world, who can say that. There definitely are people who are great designers (better than me) with a programming knowledge and vice-versa. But only a few who enjoy doing both the things. The confusion I see on many people's faces with that is, probably, also present in some of the reader's minds.

Photo by Will Meyers from Unsplash

To feed more into that confusion, I am interested in astronomy, medicine, preventative healthcare, information freedom, psychology, archeology, history, cultural significance, photography, architecture and other things. Go figure. I love learning about different things. I am just a curious person who likes to learn about new things that I find fascinating.

In today's world (maybe in olden days as well), we like to label things with one thing. I am asked what is your area of expertise? I am not really sure what to say. I am not a philosopher in modern terms, in any way. Philosophy is a field of study now, a sea by itself, which excludes sciences.

This blog is also something I started to write about the things I am interested in. Any marketing course/video on YouTube will tell you to find your niche before you start a blog. How can I find one? Every week I am reading about different things, One week, I study something about psychology of productivity, the next one about the galaxy that James Webb Telescope found and so on. I can blog about productivity or science every now and then, but not every week. Most importantly, I don't want my life to revolve around writing blogs and focusing my interests for that.

So, the question remains, what am I? A Computer Engineer or a Designer or just someone directionless? Well, the way I see it, I am an enthusiast who likes to learn. This is the reason that data visualization suits me, because every project can be about different fields and deal with different data and challenges. They keep me amused and curious.

What do I bring to the table?

This section is for the people in the industry who are hiring. The question in the title of this section is something we are supposed to ask ourselves before interviewing; and be able to articulate the answer to the interviewer. Writing this section is my effort to learn articulating those thoughts, and hopefully, finding a way to say it concisely in an interview.

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo from Unsplash

I am a designer who knows programming. Yes, that's my skill-set.

Can one find a better programmer than I am? Most likely, yes.
Can one find a better designer than I am? Most likely, yes.

Can one find someone who knows both design and programming closely? Well, there are only a countable number of people in the world doing that.

Along with that, who is curious about learning new things? Additionally, has entreprenuerial inclinations? with teaching experience? Now, you are looking at a set of a few thousands, at most, people in the world.

According to some theories of creativity comes from knowledge of fields applied across different one(s)[source]. With my multitude of interests and knowledge, I believe my Self is good for any team. The combination will be reflected in the quality of my work, process, engagement with the team and the resulting output. Hence, you should hire me. :D But if you ask me, which department (engineering or design)… my answer is: both.

Feel free to subscribe to this blog, where I write about thoughts, learnings, experiences and such during that week. If you are someone like me, let's talk. Tweet @Navarjun.
(I don't tweet a lot, but I will respond)