The concept of T-shaped skills, or T-shaped persons is a metaphor used in job recruitment to describe the abilities of persons in the workforce. The vertical bar on the letter T represents the depth of related skills and expertise in a single field, whereas the horizontal bar is the ability to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas and to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one’s own.


I’m not much for business lingo, but the term succinctly describes the type of people I most enjoy working with and for: those who are many-dimensional, with depth in a few areas and breadth in numerous others.

Breadth doesn’t mean “full-stack software engineering”. Breadth is a colleague who builds software infrastructure by day and plays drums in a jazz band at night, or a manager who studies modern philosophy. I look for these traits in potential hires and when I’m considering a new job myself.

Steven Johnson speaks to this perspective in his books on innovation (Where Good Ideas Come From, How We Got to Now), as does David Epstein in Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. I wish these values would be more common than they are.