I’ve stumbled upon the term “T-shaped professional” for the first time on Stanford University website a few years ago and it instantly helped me realize why I constantly felt the need to learn something new (my mother was beginning to worry I was just escaping reality by jumping from one educational experience to another).
The term is closely associated with the pioneering design firm IDEO and their CEO Tim Brown who said in one of his interview
“We look for people who are so inquisitive about the world that they’re willing to try to do what you do. We call them ‘T-shaped people.’ They have a principal skill that describes the vertical leg of the T — they’re mechanical engineers or industrial designers. But they are so empathetic that they can branch out into other skills, such as anthropology, and do them as well. They are able to explore insights from many different perspectives and recognize patterns of behavior that point to a universal human need. That’s what you’re after at this point — patterns that yield ideas.” (Fast Company, 2012)
Eventually the term got picked by educational institutions and large firms looking for professionals who have deep knowledge in their field of specialization and yet are capable and willing to learn other skills/explore fields that may become part of their work/study for various reasons.
Below is a graph that captures well what T-Shaped professionals are about:
My longest academic stint (a combined BA/MA) was in the field of Linguistics – the leg of my “T”. It was substantial, very rigorous, and gave me a solid foundation for the rest of my academic and professional endeavors. Linguistics is a highly structural, analytical, logical scientific field that requires commitment to many hours of work to understand how languages evolved and became what they are. It’s time consuming, requires a lot of memorization and at times can be very boring. I decided to change fields and never pursued a career in linguistics after graduation, but everything I do is and will always be about understanding structures, analyzing patters, and finding root and cause of changes of different phenomena. Everything I added on top of the leg of my “T” was not as deep, not as time and effort consuming and can change if I switch professional fields or jobs. Linguistics stay and always will.