5 Strategies To Advance Your IT Career (From Shawshank's Andy Dufresne)

Posted by Ben Weiss on Mon, Dec 9, 2013 @ 17:12 PM

By: Ben Weiss - @InfusiveInc/@BWeissPresents

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As Jerry Garcia notes in the classic Grateful Dead tune Scarlet Begonias, “once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

With that sentiment in mind, we analyzed best practices exhibited by Andy Dufresne - the protagonist in Frank Darabont’s 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption - and analyzed how they can be used to facilitate successful career development for Information Technology professionals.

Sound crazy? Let’s take a closer look at 5 strategies that helped Dufresne throughout the film and how they can launch your Information Technology career sky high.

Note: For those unfamiliar, The Shawshank Redemption is a film based on the Steven King novel of similar name. The plot revolves around protagonist Dufresne, a banker falsely accused of killing his wife and sentenced to life imprisonment at Shawshank State Penitentiary in the late 1940’s. If you haven’t seen it, please bookmark this article, check it out and return. Actually, just finish reading it.

1. Wield Subject Matter Expert: Andy Dufresne was a whiz with financials, a key characteristic that propelled his status with both the hierarchy and his fellow inmates at Shawshank, thus making his stay in prison more tolerable (more on that later).

Similarly, professionals in the Information Technology landscape can also enjoy huge benefits (especially with regard to salary) by becoming a guru in a relevant technology.

For example, as spelled out in our recent analysis ‘3 Strategies Helping Windows Engineers Make 100K+’ we found one candidate placed as a Senior Windows Engineer earlier this year managed to command a salary that’s $40K higher than another candidate we placed with the same title in no small part due to his prodigious virtualization savvy.

So if you’re skills with an in-demand technology are sharp enough to make you the go-to person for the related responsibilities at your firm, make sure your forearms are strong because you’re gonna be climbing up really fast.

2. Get Close to the Execs: When Dufresne first arrives at Shawshank, it’s hard times. However, with patience and poise, he manages to deploy his subject matter expertise in a way that builds rapport with the prison’s guards and warden, ultimately earning him major credentials within the institution (it’s because he’s cooking the books, but of course you’d pick a more reputable focus at your firm).

This idea of using your skills to solve business problems couldn’t be more important in IT.

As tech recruiters in New York City, we’ve seen time and time again that the key difference between great and good candidates is the ability to proactively solve business problems. In fact, as SQL Server MVP and former PASS president Kevin Kline explains, “There aren’t IT problems. There are business problems that are solved with IT solutions. So by knowing what the business problems are, you as a technical professional are not only able to elevate the quality of service you provide but make a difference with new ideas.”

For Dufresne, he realizes Shawshank has financial issues and steps up to make them go away, improving his status in the process. For you as an IT professional, you can similarly rise the ranks by explaining how your skills can help solve big problems that plague virtually every organization. For example, how a new network infrastructure would improve connectivity and thus productivity or how a new internal portal would improve communication across an enterprise.

This is the stuff that gets the C-level noticing who you are and your growth potential. And of course, even if they don’t like your suggestion, at least they can’t throw you in solitary!

3. Help Out Colleagues: In a critical turning point in the film, Dufresne overhears a prison guard lamenting the taxes to be paid on a forthcoming inheritance and bravely approaches to offer a financial loophole. The guard embraces his assistance and in return, Dufresne asks the other inmates on his work crew each be provided with several cold beers. He doesn’t drink any himself but the selfless move earns him major respect and therefore status and protection.

In the Information Technology department, proactively lending a hand can afford tremendous benefits as well. First, if you take the time to teach or support others and help enhance their performance, you’ll carve yourself out as the archetypal ‘team player’ primed for career elevation.

At the same time, demonstrating willingness to empower your colleagues and network comes back to you by sparking rich collaboration and mindshare. For example, if you help your team’s UX person polish his/her backend coding savvy, you may find yourself with some free graphic design lessons down the road, diversifying your marketability.

As SQL Server DBA Ayman El-Ghazali sums it up in a recent blog post, “If you are blessed to have some special skills or knowledge, share it with others! If you are selfish, know that sharing it makes you even better … because a person only masters something when they can teach it.”

4. Exhibit Mental Toughness: Dufresne was served up painful challenges everyday in Shawshank; solitary confinement, betrayal, physical abuse. Nonetheless, he never let the circumstances out of his control break his spirit.

In IT, obstacles to success will similarly abound in the form of crappy managers, poor performance reviews, bureaucratic red tape and a lack of acknowledgement. But just like Dufresne, don’t let these factors make you crumble. Rather, maintain mental toughness by analyzing how you could change your situation internally or by working with an NYC Information Technology employment agency who can help identify better options.

5. Stay Goal Oriented: Along the same lines, while Dufresne endured countless hardships within the walls of Shawshank, he never lost hope and slowly developed a brilliant escape plan that ultimately led him to freedom.

You as an IT professional need to similarly keep your eye on your end goal - whether that be to become a technical executive, department subject matter expert, entrepreneur or work at Google. As mentioned above, hardships will abound on the road to achieving your ultimate goals but as long as you stay passionate (click here to read our feature on pro developers killing it with side projects), driven, thick skinned and hard working, even the loftiest of goals can be attained.

And of course if you need some help along the way, Infusive Solutions - the source for Information Technology recruitment in New York City - is here whenever you need.

Care to learn about tech jobs in the Tri-state area? Check out our current openings here.



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