The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

A New Kind of Craftsmen, Same as the Old One

The term craftsmanship brings to mind skills of yesteryear. Woodworking, textiles, cobbling, and smithery all come with the connotation of years of honing one’s ability, of apprenticeship. And, in our modern world where most of us don’t know how items for purchase come into existence, I often mourn the loss of the careful consideration men would give to their craft in these professions.

But my sense of loss also comes with hope. The reason is twofold: we're seeing a resurgence in young people picking up some of the old crafts, and at the same time, craftsmanship is being applied to new professions. Even though senior web workers have only worked in this medium for a short period of time, 10-15 years at most, there are those among us who have given the meticulous time and attention required to becoming a craftsmen.

So craftsmanship is not dead. It has waned in certain areas, but that is changing. And new frontiers and technologies are being introduced every day, and men and women are building expertise in these areas as well.

But What About Jack?

In times past there have been those who have not been focused on one thing. Their area of knowledge ran deep, but not so deep as the master craftsmen. Rather, the jack of all trades was good at many things. His knowledge had depth, but that depth was spread across many different crafts.

The same can be said for today. Indeed, the web is such a convoluted mix of technologies, tools, and processes that it is essential for a web based worker to have a wide base of knowledge to build on. And while some people build on that base to focus on one specialty, many others purposefully choose to keep their fingers in many pots.

Just as in years passed, a craftsmen of one specialty will reap financially for his or her expertise. People will seek out those with an elevated level of knowledge.

But what of jack? Can a person make a living in our modern time by being pretty good at a lot of things, rather than extremely proficient at one?

Yes, indeed.

A Way of Thinking

There is a place, and always will be, for those who can bridge the gaps between deep levels of knowledge on different subjects. Because when one’s knowledge goes extremely deep, the person wielding that knowledge can have difficulty communicating with others of lesser knowledge. Or, two experts cannot speak each other’s language. That is where Jack can come in (often called a project manager in today’s world).

Wikipedia says this about a jack of all trades:

Such a Jack of all trades may be a master of integration, as such an individual knows enough from many learned trades and skills to be able to bring their disciplines together in a practical manner.

To this I say, “Amen!”

In order to become proficient at many things, Jack has to have a certain way of thinking. He's a problem solver. I suspect this is as true for years past as it is today.

I'm talking about an ability to step back, to view a problem from all sides, then isolate the next step. Indeed, a master craftsmen also has to have this mindset, but because Jack works across multiple disciplines, this way of thinking, of approaching problems or projects, is ingrained. Each tool has its own syntax, methodology and techniques, but the process for attacking a problem can be consistent regardless of the tool, or the field of discipline.

And because a Jack of all trades switches between fields, the process becomes that much more important, and that much more efficient.

But is Jack a Craftsmen?

In today's world, yes. Although the term craftsmanship intimates the mastering of a craft, the deep knowledge we've discussed, I must make the case for a purposeful generalist.

Indeed, how many front end developers do you know that can wield Photoshop with a deft touch? I know plenty. Or javascript wizards who are adept at HTML and CSS. UX designers who are fantastic photographers. Writers who can bend a CMS to their will. Illustrators who are perfectly comfortable building out a flexible CSS grid.

Applying oneself across multiple disciplines results in a lack of time to be an expert in one. But you can consider the ability to mix and intertwine various technologies and techniques worthy of the description 'craftsmanship'. I've focused on the web professional, but the idea applies to all areas of vocation.


The modern web enables and necessitates this kind of mixed skill set. And those who are competent at many of these will find themselves rewarded; both financially and in regards to job satisfaction. Jack enjoys going deep, but also strongly feels that variety is the spice of life.

He's not a man to be pinned down.

This article was originally published in the R&T magazine.

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