T-Shaped people

By Steve Philp, The Open Group

We recently had an exhibition stand at the HR Directors Business Summit, which took place in Birmingham, UK. One of the main reasons for us attending this event was to find out the role HR plays in developing an internal IT profession, particularly for their IT Specialists.

On the second day of the conference there was a keynote presentation from Jill McDonald, the CEO and President of McDonald’s UK, who was talking about the CEO’s viewpoint of what is required from the strategic HR Director. Part of this presentation discussed the need to find t-shaped people within the organization. This is something that we often hear from both vendors and corporate organizations when they talk about what they are looking for from their IT staff.

T-shaped people are individuals who are experts or specialists in a core skill but also have a broad range of skills in other areas. A t-shaped person combines the broad level of skills and knowledge (the top horizontal part of the T) with specialist skills in a specific functional area (the bottom, vertical part of the T). They are not generalists because they have a specific core area of expertise but are often also referred to as generalizing specialists as well as T-shaped people.

A generalizing specialist is someone who: 1) Has one or more technical specialties […]. 2) Has at least a general knowledge of software development. 3) Has at least a general knowledge of the business domain in which they work. 4) Actively seeks to gain new skills in both their existing specialties as well as in other areas, including both technical and domain areas. – Scott Ambler, “Generalizing Specialist: A Definition

T-shaped people work well in teams because they can see a situation from a different perspective, can reduce bottlenecks, fill skills gaps and take on new skill sets quickly. This then leads to higher team productivity and greater flexibility.

The Open Group IT Specialist (ITSC) program measures an individual’s core competence in a specific stream or domain. However, it also covers a broader range of skills and competencies related to people, business, project management and architecture. In addition, the program looks at an individual’s work experience, professional development and community contribution. The conformance requirements of the program are mapped against your skills and experience rather than a body of knowledge and we assess people skills as well as technical abilities. Therefore, if it’s t-shaped people that you are looking for, then hiring somebody with ITSC status is a good place to start.

Find out more about the ITSC program by joining our webinar on Thursday, March 3.

Steve PhilpSteve Philp is the Marketing Director for the IT Architect and IT Specialist certification programs at The Open Group. Over the past 20 years, Steve has worked predominantly in sales, marketing and general management roles within the IT training industry. Based in Reading, UK, he joined the Open Group in 2008 to promote and develop the organization’s skills and experience-based IT certifications.


  1. Nice Post. I left IBM about a year ago to start my own company T Shape Solutions. I always considered myself T Shaped as my responsibility at IBM was that of an Account Manager which meant I lead the strategy and direction for ALL products and service at several large customers. The problem was I always felt too broad and never felt I had my own niche. When I left IBM I struggled to find the purpose of my business. Well I found it and I’m finding that I have the ability to leverage my T Shape skills to round out the solutions we offer to differenciate ourselves from our competition. So in summary it is good to be T Shaped but not so good as a business start up.

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