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T-shaped employee

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

A T-shaped employee, in the context of human resources, is an individual who has deep knowledge and skills in a particular area of specialization, along with and the desire and ability to make connections across disciplines. The horizontal bar of the T symbolizes a breadth of general knowledge and soft skills, while the vertical stem of the T symbolizes the depth of technical hard skills. Essentially, a T-shaped individual is both a niche-topic specialist and a generalist with people skills.

Today in information technology, T-shaped employees are in great demand because of an increasing convergence of technologies and changes in software development and delivery models. For some software development jobs, such as those that involve DevOps for example, the ability to work in a multidisciplinary team is essential. This contrasts with the I-shaped skills model that information technology departments valued in the past -- one in which an employee's depth of knowledge in one niche area of IT was valued above all else.

One approach to ensuring that a company has employees with the required knowledge and skills for success is to encourage projects that break down silo walls and create a company culture that nurtures soft skill development. In such a working environment, employees will naturally gain general knowledge and develop people skills as they continue to build the in-depth knowledge required to support the company's business goals.

The term T-shaped employee was popularized by Tim Brown, the CEO of the IDEO, a California design firm known for its collaborative and innovative workplace practices. 

This was last updated in September 2016

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