Lifelong Learners

A guide to creating a professional development plan

by Kishore Erukulapati

In the 21st century knowledge economy driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, technology is changing rapidly, complexity is increasing, new challenges and threats are emerging, and more and more work is done in collaborative, interdisciplinary, global, diverse and virtual team environments.

In this hyper competitive, challenging and dynamic global marketplace, it is no longer sufficient for professionals to be generalists—with some knowledge of multiple disciplines but no expertise in any specific discipline—or specialists—with expertise in one specific discipline but little or no understanding of other disciplines.

Forward-thinking professionals continue to develop and update their competencies to transform into lifelong continuous learners, and develop depth and expertise in one or more disciplines while continuing to maintain the breadth and general understanding of multiple disciplines. They achieve this through a combination of various means, such as education, training, self-study, certifications, coaching, teaching, research, professional networking, professional engagement and professional practice.1

A model using shapes as a metaphor for professional expertise, illustrated in Online Table 1, can be used as a guide to help professionals devise professional development plans that suite their individual circumstances, passion, and personal and professional goals.

Online Table 1

The horizontal line in each shape represents the breadth of skills and general understanding of multiple disciplines. A vertical line represents depth and expertise in one discipline.2 Let’s look at T-shaped professionals as an example. T-shaped professionals are generalists and specialists, as indicated by the horizontal and vertical lines that make up the “T” shape. They have breadth of knowledge in multiple disciplines and a general understanding of multiple disciplines, but also depth of knowledge and expertise in one discipline.

Because T-shaped professionals are generalists and specialists, they are a good fit for self-organized, self-motivated and cross-functional teams.

This professional model also can help organizations create a learning environment, help educational institutions prepare professionals for the 21st century, and help professional associations assist professionals, organizations and communities.


  1. Haluk Demirkan and Jim Spohrer, “T-Shaped Innovators: Identifying the Right Talent to Support Service Innovation,” Research-Technology Management, Vol. 58, No. 5, 2015, p. 12.
  2. Philippe Kruchten, “Lifelong Learning for Lifelong Employment,” IEEE Software, Vol. 32, No. 4, 2015, pp. 85-87.

Kishore Erukulapati is a senior IT consultant in Honolulu. He earned a doctorate in technology management from Indiana State University in Terre Haute. A senior ASQ member, Erukulapati is an ASQ-certified quality manager of organizational excellence. He serves as the secretary of ASQ’s Hawaii Section. He also is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), chair of IEEE’s Hawaii Computer Society chapter and chair of IEEE’s Hawaii Section.

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