There is a common saying — Jack of all trades, master of none. But in the start-up world, someone with diverse skills and broad knowledge can be a huge asset.
At product agency ITR8, we need employees who are flexible and can work between departments… people like Jan Eric Kühne. Proud ‘generalist’ and Senior Product Manager, he’s the mediator helping everyone to see the bigger picture.
1. How did you evolve into a Product Manager?
Ever since I was young, I was interested in design and good at coding. I worked as a print designer before studying Media Informatics at university.
At university, I founded a small digital agency called REQU, building fun websites for brands like Levi’s and Sony Ericsson.
Over the years, I evolved from direct coding to software architecture, from design to art direction. Working in both coding and design, I was always the bridge between the two perspectives — I liked having an overview of the project, which is what first drew me to Product Management.
2. What’s the best thing about being a generalist?
My favourite thing is playing the mediator. Someone who can speak the language of the specialists, understand their goals, and add new perspectives.
In product management, I look at products from all different angles. From the user’s side, the business’ side, and the technical side. The best thing about being a generalist is combining those perspectives, to develop a truly successful product. We’re big picture thinkers.
3. Any tips for having a broad skill set?
Follow your interests, even if they’re outside of your industry. Don’t just stick to what you know.
And be ok with being a generalist. People will always tell you that you need to dig deeper or specialise. And hey, maybe it’s easier to find a job that way. But I feel generalists have more fun.
When I worked in e-Commerce, colleagues would only look at other e-Commerce platforms for inspiration. Why not look at Spotify, or supermarkets instead? For me, innovation lies outside your industry.
4. How did you find your way to ITR8?
After working in a big company with all its rigid structures and processes, I wanted to get back to agency life — to take on more responsibility.
I met ITR8 founder Semir, at World Usability Day last year, while I was completing my Usability and UX consulting certificate.
We had a drink together, and about a month later I started at ITR8!
5. How has your ITR8 experience been so far?
There’s nothing ‘old school’ about working in a young agency. I can really bring my knowledge to the table.
We have a small team, so I’m working as a Product Manager but also helping to develop the company’s business strategy. I’m always involved, and I love the personal connection I have with the team. It’s refreshing.
6. Predictions for generalists in the future?
Back in the days, it was trickier to establish dialogue between designers and developers. They were always seen as separate professions and sat at different tables… usually even different buildings.
Over the past five years, roles were established to bridge the gap. In the lean/agile approach, everyone’s talking and it’s less about boundaries. There are designers who can code, and developers who know typography.
It’s great that communication has improved, but I still believe there will always be demand for specialists, as well as generalists. We need each other!