The importance of cross-training

This afternoon, as we were watching a singing contest, I found myself being superbly impressed by contestants whom, apart from having great voices, also had a great ability to present themselves. (One was a theatre performer as well.) These cross-trained contestants were able to subtly tweak their performance according to their extra knowledge that, when added together, amounted to excellence made on full display.

This made me thing about the importance of cross-training. Cross-training in a second discipline can help enhance our abilities in our main discipline. For example, for a data scientist, having some amount of domain expertise, or having the ability to very quickly pick up a new domain, can help focus the work that we do on the problems that matter the most in our domain.

An essay on Forbes also makes the case that cross-training can be great for an organization as well. For an individual contributor, cross-training colleagues on my own own duties forces me to possess clarity in purpose and process, which will level-up my own skillset as well. Additionally, as a team, we become more resilient as an organization when we are able to cover for one another.

Operate outside your pay grade

I have heard before rumblings that one shouldn't deliver more value than what we're paid for. Grumbles that sound like, "It's just a job", or, "The company won't take care of you."

As a matter of career advice I would give to someone else, though, I think operating outside our pay grade is what we ought to be doing.

Operating outside our pay grade means both going above what we are paid to do, to get a better/higher contextual view of what we're doing, and moving sideways to do adjacent things beyond our role. (That is where "above and beyond" comes from, I guess.)

What does "operating outside of our paygrade" mean? I think the following:

  1. Taking projects from conception to completion, so that you can build that portfolio of stuff done. (see: Build a project portfolio)
  2. Mastering something rare and valuable.
  3. Constantly cross-training (see: The importance of cross-training) to learn adjacent skills (see: Learn adjacent topics) and complementary ones.

So operating outside of our paygrade really means mastering adjacent skills in pursuit of being able to own a project end-to-end.