Wednesday, May 14, 2008

To BES, or not to BES?

Today, I draw the line at learning Blackberry development.

This blog is about being a designer and a developer. And as the only person in my Marketing department, I do the jobs of at least three distinct positions, if not more. I'm not saying I do the work of three people, they keep me busy, but not that busy! However I am the sole person responsible for internal applications development (barring IT/systems admin support for server and database management, and most reporting), marketing strategies and tactics, and graphic design/creative direction. In these varied roles I find myself making distinct "hat switches" from day to day: Monday I design and mail a few thousand postcards, Tuesday I upgrade our dashboard application, Wednesday I coordinate trade shows. And so it varies.

It's just too much of a shift to spend the first part of my day planning a direct mail campaign, and the second half programming Flex and CF. Sure, I've done it. But I find I am more productive if I put on one hat and wear it all day, than if I jump around between tasks. I'm not sure if I get more done that way, but it feels like I do! I design better if I'm not thinking "but how will I program this?." I program better if I stay knee deep in code once I'm there. I open my mind to develop marketing strategies better if my mind isn't cluttered with thoughts of design patterns and syntax.

This generally works, but I feel I could be a lot better at any one of the three, if I just focused on it all the time. Extra hours of experience aside, never having to think about the other roles would help me focus and specialize. I've struggled with this a lot lately, thinking that I need to specialize my skill set (way before Seth made this post). And I've wondered...where do I draw the line in learning new skills? Should I?

My company recently moved from hosted Blackberry service to our own BES, and the opportunity of deploying our own applications and themes has excited management. Since I do all of our internal applications development, I will theoretically be writing any Blackberry applications we develop. I read up on basic Blackberry development a few months ago when this prospect first arose, and got to understand the basics, but somehow I cannot get behind forcing myself to take on Blackberry development, nor do I see a lot of need for us to develop BB applications.

I will always learn what technology is required to do my job, and I certainly never plan to just "stop" learning new skills because my brain is full, or such nonsense. However, I do feel like venturing into BB is unnecessarily broadening my already ridiculously general skill set. As the Director of Marketing, do I "pull title" and tell the IT guys they're on their own? I'm thinking now would be a good time to do that.

Technical learning curve aside, I might feel different about this if I saw a real need for a custom BB application within our organization. But none of our core systems (the ones that would really be valuable if they were mobile-accessible) have any type of open API that would allow proper integration (read: I would have to directly connect to an undocumented legacy database, and probably violate our software license), so anything I build would be a total band-aid solution, mobile "just because we can". Hardly worth learning a new skill for that.

Despite my goal of being a lifelong learner, I feel like at some point I have to say: "let someone else deal with it!" So ends the rant of this designer-developer, and I'll put this out there to all the other generalists: where do you draw the line? How do you decide NOT to learn something? How do you juggle different roles?

1 comment:

Brian Swartzfager said...

I feel your pain. Our CIO decided that we should build native iPhone/iPod applications for the students in a small academic program who will be getting these free "iDevices" in the fall. Never mind that we have NO ONE with any previous experience in the various Apple programming languages. Somehow my group (consisting of 1 manager, 2 Java developers, and myself) has ended up taking the lead on this, so my manager's been traveling back and forth to Apple HQ to talk with them and trying to work with the SDK because the rest of us are tied up with our regular projects. A lot of effort and hubbub for what I see as little gain.

I think if you have the option of telling someone else to take this on, you probably should. If you can't completely get out of it, maybe you can offer to be a consulting resource on the visual design and usability aspects of the apps, and let the IT guys worry about learning the syntax and the technical aspects.

That's kind of how I approach similar situations: if I can't convince them that "no" is a good answer, I'll find a way to meet them halfway which makes sense based on my skill set and availability.